Fletch: The “Jane Doe” Edition
October 24, 2007
For my money, Fletch (1985) is the best film Chevy Chase ever made. I can put the movie on at almost any time and still find it just as funny, no matter how many times I have seen it. And yet, the film is too often dismissed as just another dated piece of 1980s pop-culture. To be sure, the soundtrack is horribly dated – Stephanie Mills’ “Bit by Bit” anyone? Or worse, it is deemed the sole highlight of Chase’s career that subsequently went downhill over the years. But Fletch has endured, thanks in large part to repeated broadcasts on television channels like TBS and rock-steady video rentals (with revenues of $24 million in the USA alone and the DVD now out-of-print). So why does Fletch continue to inspire such a strong and loyal following after more than 20 years? It is simple: insanely quotable dialogue, a colorful assortment of character actors and, of course, Chevy Chase’s inimitable, vintage smart-ass person.
When he’s not avoiding his ex-wife’s attorney – Arnold T. Pants, Esq. (George Wyner) – Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher (Chase) is an investigative reporter who writes under the anonymous pen name, Jane Doe for a Los Angeles newspaper. He is checking out the local drug trade on the beach, and its links to police corruption, when he is approached by Alan Stanwyk (Matheson), a rich businessman who says that he is dying from bone cancer. He wants to pay Fletch $50,000 to kill him. After doing some digging, Fletch finds out that Stanwyk is lying and may also have some kind of involvement in the city’s drug trade. His investigation ends up connecting these two seemingly unrelated plots for an exciting finale.
Fletch is essentially a vehicle tailor-made for Chevy Chase. He shows a stellar range of physical comedy with a technique that ranges from broader displays, such as the dream sequence when he imagines himself as the unusually aggressive L.A. Lakers star power forward, to more subtle bits such as when he bangs his nose into a door, posing as the accident-prone Mr. Poon. In addition to his affinity for physical comedy, the movie is famous for showcasing his trademark deadpan smart-ass delivery of dialogue and his knack for playing a wide variety of characters – abilities he perfected on Saturday Night Live. Chase expertly juggles Fletch’s numerous aliases. From the likes of the absent-minded, Dr. Rosenrosen to Mr. Underhill’s country club “friend,” John Cocktosten, Chase makes each one distinctive and hilariously memorable.
Capitalizing on the immensely popular action comedy, Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Fletch adheres to the same formula: the maverick protagonist who has a problem with authority, the use of multiple disguises to get in and out of dicey situations for comedic effect, the obligatory car chase, and even the hopelessly dated synth-soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer. Fletch deviates in one significant aspect: Chase’s character never uses a gun (he also repeatedly gets the bejeezus kicked out of him).
Another aspect of Fletch that makes it so unforgettable is the strong supporting cast. The film features character actors like Joe Don Baker as the slimy Chief of Police Karlin (who brings a wonderfully scary intensity to his role), George Wendt as the amiable drug dealer Fat Sam, Tim Matheson as the double-dealing bigamist Alan Stanwyk, M. Emmet Walsh as the probing Dr. Dolan, and a young, pre-Thelma and Louise (1991) Geena Davis as Larry, Fletch’s ever loyal co-worker. One of the joys of the movie is how Chase interacts with all these people and how they react to his flippant, off-handed remarks. Watch him in action in the hospital sequence as he confuses and befuddles the staff in order to get the information he wants – it is not only what he says to them but, more importantly, how he delivers the dialogue that makes it so funny.
More so than in any other film, Fletch is classic Chevy Chase. While he is in exceptional form in Caddyshack (1980) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), they do not showcase his unique talents as befittingly as Fletch. In every scene, Chase does a fantastic job carrying the picture with the right mix of comedy and drama.
Fletch has aged surprisingly well over the years. The jokes are still funny and many of Chase’s one-liners are insanely quotable. So much so that Fletch has become a cult film, inspiring several web pages dedicated to every alias, character, and catch-phrase of the movie. The previous DVD edition of the movie went out-of-print and so Universal has decided to release a new special edition with retrospective featurettes.
“Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch.” In keeping in the spirit of the movie, the DVDs two producers “document” how they put these extras together. They interview the film’s producers and its screenwriter Andrew Bergman who talk about how the project came together. They also talk to many of the supporting cast, including M. Emmet Walsh, George Wyner, Richard Libertini, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Tim Matheson who all recall their experiences on the film. Sadly, Chevy Chase is not interviewed and the DVD producers wisely acknowledge and make fun of this.
“From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises” takes a look at the many disguises Chase uses throughout the film. Crew members talk about how Chase was allowed to improvise and had fun playing all kinds of different characters. They also point out that the comedian had a lot of input into the look of these colourful disguises.
“Favorite Fletch Moments” is a forgettable extra that is merely a montage of clips from the film.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.