“Clue” Ensemble Flashback!: Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum

Great Scott! (I couldn’t help myself.)

When I get that inkling that it’s time to dive into the world of my cult favorites, I usually reach for one of three movies  – The Rocky Horry Picture Show, Back to the Future, and of course, CLUE. What better than to pop open my DVD of CLUE to find the best of both worlds – Tim Curry and Christopher Lloyd. Cult films have always allowed me to celebrate strange scientists with an intriguing sex appeal. Sometimes dressed in thigh high leather boots, and other times a rumpled sweater and bow tie.

In this time of celebrating one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors – I not only wanted to drive back into the movie, Lloyd himself, but also the character of Professor Plum.

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The stock character of the mad scientists/doctor/professor has always been one that has intrigued me. I think my love for the character started when I was about seven. My grandma took us all to see THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at The Ohio Theater – and although the exploding chandelier in the first five minutes of the show scared the pants off of me – the moment the music and show began, I was captivated. And unlike most people who end up falling in love with the story and falling for the dashing and handsome character of Roul – I was the seven year old who fell in love with The Phantom. All gore and white masked. After all, he DID have a cape. He was the mad scientist genius, who made true magic happen under the Paris Opera house. I was also that kid who dressed up like the Phantom, NOT Christine, for the next seven years for every Halloween. I have pictures to prove it.

So as I grew up reveling in cult musicals I also developed a deep love for cult movies. Before the back drop of “DEXTER” (and “Dexters Lab” on Cartoon Network  – DEEDEE GET OUT OF MY LABORATORY!) and Breaking Bad I was growing up watching my favorite cult classics. My parents have an excellent taste in movies  and usually exposed their overeager only child to a lot of these movies a litter sooner than they should have. But I was fascinated by them, drawn to the dark quirkiness and strange sexuality that I didn’t quite understand yet. Each of these cult favorites of course starred a mad scientist/doctor/professor of some kind. One might have a crazy shock of white hair and the other might be dressed in thigh high leather heeled boots – but you get the idea.

Through the universe of cult movies to MARVEL and DC comics, the Mad Scientist/Doctor/Professor has always been a presence. Creating or becoming a super hero or super villain – most of these men and women are the most misunderstood and the most powerful of all characters. I could go on for pages about how women play a role in this world with all the feminism I could muster. But since I am concentrating on a very specific doctor – Professor Plum – I want to concentrate on the men who fill these stock shoes. Outside of Bruce Banner or Bruce Wayne, many of our Mad Scientists come in the form of a quiet, nerdy, not quite handsome, questionable heigined (that’s right, I made that up), brilliant man usually swathed in a bow tie or a crumpled dirty lab coat. And somehow – they always get the beautiful men and women that they dream of in the end.  And by the end of their story, they have either saved or destroyed the world – and you look at them in a whole new light. Maybe that lab coat and bow tie is a little sexier than you thought.

And then Chirstopher Lloyd walks into the light. Tall, striking, intriguing Lloyd known for his roles in Back To The Future, The Addams Family, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,  and of course as his quiet eccentric character of Professor Plum.  Although not your typical Hollywood leading man – Lloyd has sunk his teeth into some of the most delicate and challenging characters in each of these films, not leaving one stone unturned in his acting choices. The backs story he creates or the unique and unforgettable trademarks of each character that we are left with are some of my favorite things about his acting. Known for playing some of the zaniest characters to grace the silver screen he, the trademarked mad Hollywood eccentric, was quite the playboy himself.  And his character as Professor Plum was no different.

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Being an actor myself, it’s hard for me to sit here and critique any great actor. Especially someone like Lloyd. We are both in the same boat of the types of characters we play – we play the character parts; the funny, strange, different characters that are saved for people who aren’t your normal Hollywood glam. They also happen to be some of the best characters and usually end up stealing the show. Look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: the villain that Lloyd plays was one of the most frightening of my childhood.  I still don’t trust leather clad men with barrels of strange cartoon melting goo to this day.  I have loved following Lloyds career – it’s more massive than you think, just check out his IMDB page. The man was smart, he knew his strengths and used them to his advantage. He created characters that we can all quote. He also found a niche of the mad scientist/doctor/professor that wasn’t quite mad – but one that you easily have a soft spot for. He is loud and over the top with some of the most well-known facial expressions around. The first time I saw Clue though, I was a little shocked to see a different side of Lloyd.

Watching his quiet, bumbling character next to Madeline Khan and Lesley Ann Warren always intrigued me. None of these characters were written as a total straight man – but Lloyd is as close as it gets. His humor was found in stating the truth of the situation, or chiming in at the most inappropriate times. His humor and his choices were the quiet consistency that kept the movie together. He was the under current and the character that you never thought could actually kill someone. But could he? Maybe there is a reason why Professor Plum rolls last when playing the board game. He is the least suspected. It’s always the quiet ones you need to look out for. In so much that it is the professor who is being blackmailed after he lost his license for having an affair with a married patient.  He then went on to work for the United Nations’ WHO. It’s a perfect addition in the McCarthy backdrop, but in what world would the UN hire a doctor who lost his license? Someone who could do a very dirty deed, indeed. So dirty that the singing telegram girl was actually one of his patients, who he had an affair with. Very clever Mr. Body.

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If you see the movie at a young age – like I did – Professor Plum might not be the first character you remember. He isn’t the over the top Miss Scarlet, the top heavy Yvette, or the crazy Mrs. White (Madeline Khan and I also share the same name). You also don’t quite understand his story – what is the United Nations or an affair when you’re ten? But studying the story and the character later in my life, I’ve realized how important he is to the story. He is that character at the end that surprises you the most. With his outbursts and the actions he took. He’s the one at the end of the movie who actually turns out to be the killer. Bet you didn’t see THAT coming, huh? Well, at least in one of the versions.

Looking back on the release date of the movie – I didn’t realize that certain showings at the theater had different endings. They would be advertised ahead of time – a brilliant advertising scheme to get you to come back to the movies over and over just to see whodunit. I wore out my VHS copy watching the three endings happen in sequence. Following the idea that you didn’t see Professor Plum coming – he ended up being the murderer in option C. The last ending, and the least expected. In all honesty, although I am focusing on the Professor and should say he should have been the original murderer, I’ve always been okay with him being the last murderer. It is consistent with the idea that you didn’t see it coming. And in all reality, he didn’t end up even killing Mr. Body in the first place. Once the truth is revealed that our beloved Wadsworth (Tim Curry in a suit always makes me swoon) is actually Mr. Body – the poor professor just killed the Butler. Although he tried his hand at being the villain of all Villains, he still couldn’t quiet even get that. And what better, loveable, and strange actor to play it than Christopher Lloyd.

So no matter which ending you’ve picked as your favorite, which Villian you’ve always called your doppelganger, which shade of green you like on Miss Scarlett, or that you just want to don a bowtie– it’s your turn and your choice to roll the dice.

Now, go to your Netflix app, settle in, and watch a little sensual mystery and fun with CLUE! Happy 30th you fantastic devil!

IMG_6615More About Maddie!

  • Favorite Movie – Garden State
  • First Clue Experience – I was going through a period where I was watching a lot of cult films – I had just watched Rocky Horror for the first time and was talking to my parents about it. My mom asked if I had seen Clue yet – and I hadn’t. The next day she came home from Blockbuster (ahh…the days) and it was our Friday Night Movie.
  • Where and With What Would You Kill Mr. Body? – In The Library with The Revolver
  • Most-Anticipated Movie? –  Victor Frankenstein
  • Give an Oscar to a Nominated Performance that Didn’t Win – Viola Davis for The Help

More of Ensemble Flashback!:

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