It’s no secret that I like the Fletch movies. The first movie is a classic. The sequel, Fletch Lives, is probably more of an acquired taste. Fletch is arguably Chevy Chase’s best film. I’ve watched the first movie for years, knowing that it was based on a book of the same title by Gregory Mcdonald, but I’d never read the book until now. There are several key differences between the book and the movie, but I was surprised at how faithful the movie was at adapting the novel.
Fletch is an offbeat and quick-witted investigative journalist working on busting open a drug ring operating on the local beach. One of Fletch’s character traits is that he impersonates and improvises many different personas to go undercover researching his stories. While undercover as a beach bum to work on the drug story, a wealthy man approaches him out of nowhere offering him several thousand dollars to kill him. He says that he is dying of terminal cancer and needs to be murdered for the insurance to pay his family. Fletch agrees to kill him.
Of course, he doesn’t intend to kill the man. He smells another story. One that might be even better than the drug story. He’ll stop at nothing to solve both mysteries including bending various laws and manipulating countless people. Plus, he has to dodge the cops, his estranged wife’s divorce lawyer, and his demanding editor on top of it all.
The movie seems to try to make Fletch more likable and less abrasive. In the novel, Fletch thrives on conflict. Whether he is justified or not, he can be a real jerk. It could just be the charisma of Chevy Chase that helped make the character more likable on film. There are more jokes in the movie; playing to Chase’s strong suites. The film version of Fletch relies more on costumes, sometimes goofy ones, to trick people and get into places he doesn’t belong. The book is more subtle with Fletch’s cons, with most taking place over the phone. There is no doubt that the book is witty, but it might be closer in tone to a black comedy than the film’s laugh out loud humor.
How the two mysteries get resolved is different between the two versions of the story. Both versions feel right for their form of media. The novel has more opportunity to tell a longer and more complicated story. The movie needs to wrap up all the plot points in one hour and thirty-eight minutes. With that being said, many things were shortened or not examined in the movie, but the changes made a lot of sense and didn’t feel arbitrary to me. In my opinion, it is a successful adaptation of the source material.
I regret it took me so long to read this book. It deserves to be read. It made me want to check out other books in the series, and see what could have been if they had chosen to adapt another novel instead of going with an original story in Fletch Lives. It is easy to see how this book spawned a series, and spin-offs, based on this prick of character. Without a doubt, Fletch is a prick, but he is a lovable one.
Novel by Gregory Mcdonald
Original Publication Date: 1974