Thirty years ago today, on December 13, 1985, the movie Clue premiered, reimagining the classic board game as a zany, irreverent murder mystery with so many jokes that you can hardly catch them all the first time around.
More importantly, though: 30 years ago today, Madeline Kahn's "flames on the side of my face" speech premiered, striking eternal joy and admiration into our hearts.
The infamous moment happens in one of the film's false endings, in which Kahn's character, Mrs. White, admits to killing off all her annoying husbands. In Adam Vary's excellent BuzzFeed feature on how Clue was made, Kahn's co-star Michael McKean recalled the day the actress performed one of the most GIFable scenes of all time:
All that was written was, ‘I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her,’ or something like that. But [Kahn] just kind of went into a fugue about hatred. She did it three or four times, and each time was funnier than the last.
It was also the only improvised moment in the entire movie.
Madeline Kahn was an acerbic treasure, and every day without her is a farce
Clue's cast is the stuff comedy dreams are made of, notably featuring Tim Curry as the butler, Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, and McKean as the sputtering Mr. Green. They all spit out writer Jonathan Lynn's quick wordplay and absurdist twists with a wink, helping a once-embarrassing box office flop (Clue only made $14.6 million in theaters) become a beloved cult comedy today.
But for all the cast's skill, no one — not even Curry — could touch Kahn's cool confidence.
An accomplished comedic actress, Kahn was routinely the best part of whatever production was lucky enough to have her. (She died of cancer in 1999.) If you have more time than the few seconds it takes to watch her "flames" speech, you can find proof of her prowess in this show-stopping Blazing Saddles number as an exhausted prostitute:
Or how about her turn in History of the World: Part I, as Empress Nympho? (Mel Brooks, ladies and gentlemen.)
For Clue, Kahn takes what Lynn later admitted was a two-dimensional character and settles into the role with a detached grace, like a cat stretching on a cushion, barely deigning to acknowledge anyone else's presence.
Then, with her particular brand of pointed comedic timing and unhinged energy, Kahn rips into Mrs. White's simmering rage with salivating relish. She's ferocious and calculated, chaotic and deadly.
The "flames on the side of my face" speech, this "fugue about hatred," is only about 10 seconds long — but you wouldn't know it from the way people still respond to it even 30 years later. And as Kahn frames her face, hands shaking with latent fury, you can almost feel the heat creeping up your own neck in solidarity. It takes one hell of an actor to evoke that kind of visceral sympathy, and Kahn was one for the ages.