Viking Night: Fletch
By Bruce Hall
January 12, 2016
Remember that chubby, eccentric old guy from Community? No, not that one. The other one, who looked like condom filled with Haagen Dazs and left after Season 4. That man, ladies and germs, is Chevy Chase. And if you’re old enough to remember parachute pants as an unfortunate fashion choice and not something you wear jumping out of a plane, you might remember him as one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1980s. If not, you should at least be craving a pint of rum raisin right about now.
Chase was a founding cast member of Saturday Night Live, and the original host of Weekend Update. He made his name on the show by insulting the president, doing a lot of coke, and acting like a taller, considerably more acerbic David Spade when David Spade was still in elementary school. All in all, Chase helped set the tone for what has since become an American institution. Chase left after one year, believing he was more important than God, who allowed him to believe this until around 1993.
But before the bottom fell out, Chase had a pretty good run, cranking out a string of classics like Caddyshack, Vacation, Fletch and Three Amigos. Most have aged well, but the one I want to talk about today is Fletch, since that’s the one I haven’t seen in the longest. Chase was at the height of his career and watching him perform, it’s hard to imagine him as the turgid loaf he’s since become. It's a clever, consistently funny adaptation of a 1974 novel by Gregory McDonald, which you don't have to feel bad about not having read, because neither have I.
Lucky for us, it's a simple story.
Irwin Fletcher (Chase) is an investigative reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, writing under the nom de plume Jane Doe. He does a lot of undercover work, which lends itself well to his universally disdainful attitude. He is fond of outrageous disguises, criminal trespass, and aliases vaguely reminiscent of unmentionable body parts. Lately, he’s been posing as an unusually clean shaven junkie investigating a sudden influx of hard drugs on the Los Angeles beach scene. So far he’s got no leads, save for a hot dog vendor named Fat Sam (George Wendt) and a scummy drifter named Gummy (Larry "Flash" Jenkins). Fat Sam is peddling the drugs on the beach, but nobody can figure out where he gets his stash. Fletch is on the hunt for the source.
This is when he’s approached by a man in an expensive suit who seems to be hanging around under the boardwalk, looking for junkies to approach with an unusual proposal. Wealthy industrialist Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson) claims to be dying of bone cancer, and wishes to die before succumbing to the disease. But if he commits suicide his insurance won’t pay out - so he needs Fletch to kill him. An arrangement is made whereby Fletch will enter Stanwyck’s home on a predetermined date, shoot him, and make off free and clear with a shiny new Jaguar, $50,000 in cash, and a one way ticket to Rio.
No muss, no fuss.