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Chevy Chase added yet another popular comedic character to his repertoire when he took on the title role in Fletch (1985), a comedy mystery about an elusive investigative reporter. First seen posing as a bum on the beach, Fletch is soon approached by a wealthy businessman with an intriguing proposition. The executive, Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), claims to be suffering from a terminal illness and offers Fletch $50,000 to murder him so that his wife will be able to collect on his life insurance policy. The scheme seems suspicious to Fletch so he decides to investigate further. As the story unfolds, Fletch uses various aliases and fake identities reminiscent of Cary Grant in Charade (1963) to unravel the mystery.
Fletch is based on the highly popular novel written by Gregory McDonald. When asked how he came up with such a fun character that inspired eight book sequels, McDonald explained in an interview with James Kanowitz from www.fletchwon.net, "I would hear from other people in the newsroom about reporters doing these things for stories, and that gave me an idea. He was running around in my head for quite some time before I actually wrote the book. I never intended to write a sequel to Fletch. If I did, I never would have put him in Rio with 3 million dollars. But the response was so overwhelming, I had to write more. I was going to pick up the story in Rio, but I didn't have the money to go there. So, I wrote Confess, Fletch with the setting of Boston, where I was living at the time. And it was the first time that a book and its sequel both won the Edgar Award for best mystery." The disguises in the stories came from his real-life experiences as well. According to McDonald, "I would change a lot when I was working for the newspaper. I would be on the streets during the day, and at night, I would change into a black tie for dinner. So I had all of my clothes in my car."
When the time came to adapt the book series to the screen, Michael Ritchie took over as director but casting the lead character became something of an obstacle. "Everybody from 12 to 72 in Hollywood wanted to play Fletch," McDonald explained. "But I kept throwing a monkey wrench into their plans. I never really wanted Chevy on "Saturday Night Live", and when his name came up for Fletch, I didn't throw the monkey wrench. And I watched it recently, and I think Chevy and Michael Ritchie did a good job with it."
One thing Chevy had in common with his onscreen persona was his love for basketball, especially the L.A. Lakers. According to Paul Myerberg, the lead set dresser on the film, "Chevy was great to work with and, of course, a big basketball fan even then. We also put basketball stuff in [Fletch's] apartment - a huge cut out as I remember" (Kanowitz).
Fletch also gleams with a first rate supporting cast, including Joe Don Baker, as the chief of police; Richard Libertini, as Fletch's editor; Geena Davis, as Fletch's research assistant; and Tim Matheson, as the suspicious businessman Alan Stanwyk. Matheson later told Kanowitz that working with Chevy Chase on Fletch was "great fun. [Chevy] likes to improv and so do I. [He] liked me to try to break him up on his close ups. I succeeded several times"
The extremely popular first film inspired a less impressive sequel, Fletch Lives, released five years later in 1989. Its poor performance at the box-office killed the possibility of a continuing franchise until recently. Kevin Smith - director of such popular films as Clerks (1994), Chasing Amy (1997), and Dogma (1999) - purchased the rights to all of the Fletch books and is currently in pre-production on Fletch Won due to begin shooting in 2004. It is based on an earlier book in the series and chronicles Fletch on his first case. According to Smith in an interview with Kanowitz, "We've taken an early novel where the author told the origin of how Fletch got his job on a newspaper. It will stick much closer to McDonald's brilliant dialogue and characters. Though these actors know nothing about this, I've worked down to a short list of Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Jimmy Fallon and Adam Sandler for the role of Fletch."
Though Chevy Chase and Michael Ritchie have been criticized for not remaining completely faithful to the Fletch novels, the film proved to be a box office hit and gave Chase one of his best comedic roles.
Producer: Peter Douglas, Alan Greisman, Gordon A. Webb
Director: Michael Ritchie
Screenplay: Andrew Bergman, Gregory McDonald (novel)
Cinematography: Fred Schuler
Film Editing: Richard A. Harris
Art Direction: Todd Hallowell
Music: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Chevy Chase (Irwin 'Fletch' Fletcher), Joe Don Baker (Chief Karlin), Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Gail Stanwyk), Richard Libertini ('Frank' Walker), Tim Matheson (Alan Stanwyk), M. Emmet Walsh (Doctor Dolan).
C-98m. Closed captioning.
by Emily R. Rice