We talk a lot about movies and tv shows here, and you might think we don’t read much pulp, but we do and are. Both Matt and I recently picked up a collection of Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin stories and I bought a new collection of Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale (RIP the tv series after three seasons), so we’ll get back to written pulp in a week or two. However, I wanted to explain why so many of the Pulp Appeals and Consumptions seem focused on visual media.
In between the fall of the pulp greats and the rise of new pulp magazines in the last ten years, much of what we would consider to be pulp fiction was in fact being produced on film. This is still true to a large extent. Pulp magazines were first established as the entertainment for the masses in the age when televisions were new and expensive and radio ruled the night for entertainment. As television slowly took over, and as a moral majority began to censor pulp fiction in the name of protecting children and advancing moral correctness, pulp as a medium made two major shifts–to film, in the guise of noirs, and to television, in the guise of procedural drama, particularly police procedurals. What was left in print were the comic books and a few hangers-on. The fiction landscape for magazines was firmly entrenched in the New Wave. There are still some written gems from the 70s through the 90s, but the pulp of old was pretty much left only in film. Although born at the end of the 70s, I identify as an 80s kid, with Transformers, GI Joe, Ghostbusters, and Friday the 13th (and a healthy dose of 70s era Scooby-Doo), and that era had a lot of great pulp in the form of television and movies.
And that brings me to the 1985 pulp neo-noir, Fletch, starring Chevy Chase as Irwin Fletcher, an LA Times reporter who is brought into the dark world of millionaires with sordid pasts, police corruption, drug-smuggling, and murder-for-hire. At the start of the film, Fletch is working on an expose of the drug trade along the beach, when he is approached by an aviation executive. The executive tells Fletch a story about terminal cancer and wanting to go out on his own terms, so he hires Fletch to kill him and then run away with the money. Of course there’s a lot more to the story, as alluded to above.
Although Chevy Chase is better known for his madcap antics in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, here he is more restrained, and, I believe, better capable of demonstrating his range as an actor. In that, he shares a lot with Robin Williams and Steve Martin. When left to the antics and wild stream-of-consciousness, they can go off the rails enough that the story gets lost. When reined in a bit and directed more closely, they manage to transcend the work. That’s not to say the wacky behavior doesn’t work occasionally, because it does, but when they slow down just a touch, the rest of the film can shine through, creating something stronger.
In any case, if you haven’t seen Fletch in awhile (or at all, but who are you people?), think about it again in terms of pulp serials, with intrepid undercover reporters caught up in a world of greed, sex, and murder. The movie has some fantastically funny parts, as when Fletch impersonates a rich tennis bro and puts thousands of dollars on the jerk’s tab, but what makes it work for me is when it embraces its pulp roots.
 The revival of pulp magazines is relatively new. As such Matt and I have been attempting to keep up with other publications doing what we do, so you should check out our Twitter, where Matt does a great job of highlighting other places you can get your pulp fix.