The Fugitive (1963): Season 2 Volume 2
Stories involving crimes have been popular ever we as a species has been around. One of the most popular themes has always been those involving a life of crime. An honest, upstanding citizen can live vicariously through the characters in the stories while remaining in the safety of their homes. One element in common to these stories is the way it allows that good citizen to isolate himself just enough from the criminal. There is a variation of the crime thriller that employs a plot device that makes the story far more personal for the audience; the plight of an innocent man falsely accused of a crime. While watching a standard crime thriller we can reassure ourselves that since we would never commit a crime such as the one depicted we have nothing to worry about. With the innocent man twist those normal rules are thrown out the window. There is a feeling of helplessness with the audience. If you set up a story that anyone can be charged and convicted of a crime they did not commit then it just might happen to you. This adds a far greater degree of personalization and intimacy to the story strongly pulling in the audience. Throughout literature and cinema there have been many uses of this theme but one instance will remain the best implementation ever; ‘The Fugitive’. For four years starting in 1964 this was the most popular television series in America. Everything would grind to a halt on Tuesday nights as families would gather in the living room in front of the television to watch the latest episode. Unlike most series when it was cancelled the network did not just let it fade away which was the normal fate of a show. They know that the legion of fans would be in an uproar if the story did not have a satisfying conclusion so they had a series finale; the first on television. That night over 72% of the families in the country were riveted to their TVs. This was one of the very first water cooler shows that had people buzzing the next day over what happened the night before.
‘The Fugitive’ had ascended beyond a classic television series to become part of our cultural history. It has resulted in a major film and many tries at recreating its magic but nothing was ass successful as this vintage series. It was created by Roy Huggins who at the time of this show was already a well regarded writer. He cut his teeth on some of the examples of dramatic television ever and a good number of crime dramas such as ‘Hawaii Eye’, ‘The Virginian’ and ’77 Sunset Strip’. The man certainly knew how to get the audience involved in his scripts. The basic premise here is when bad things happen to a good man. Doctor Richard Kimble (David Janssen) comes home one night to discover that his wife has been murdered. He sees a one armed man fleeing from the scene and is certain he is the culprit. The doctor is arrested, charged and successfully tried for the crime. All this time he tries in vein to get people to look for the one armed man but ultimately he is sentenced to death. He is transported to death row by train under the charge of Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse). In the dark of the night the train derails and Kimble manages to escape. Two men are now engaged in a desperate manhunt. Kimble travels the country in search of the man he knows is responsible while Gerard is close behind intent on bringing Kimble back into custody.
This may seem like a typical chase plot but in the hands of the extremely talented artisans on both sides of the camera something incredible was crafted. It would rapidly get boring if every episode was just a matter of the two men almost closing in on their prey. Most stories would stop there but not this one. This was one of the first television series to introduce a sense of moral ambiguity. Gerard was obsessed with bringing back the criminal he let escape. He was the ultimate policeman and would not let a murderer go on his watch. As the chase intensified he started to have some doubts. Kimble’s post escape behavior was not what was to be expected by a man running away from the law. He realized that Kimble was risking everything to find that infamous one armed man. The only reason he would do that was if there was some truth to his account of the events that night. Gerard still had to do his duty and capture Kimble but that nagging and growing doubt made the character far more interesting and realistic.
The moral quagmire of the detective is brilliantly juxtaposed to the unshakable morality of Kimble. He is the archetype good man in the worse possible circumstances. As a doctor he dedicated his life to helping others and that aspect of his personality was so deeply ingrained in him that even on the run from the law he couldn’t ignore it. Just about every episode Kimble comes across some lamentable person in dire need of help. His instinct is to flee and not get involved but that goes against every fiber of his being. He winds up helping out usually resulting in coming to the attention of the authorities and his having to get out of town fast. This is part of what made the series so exciting. It took the stories beyond the usual crime thrillers of the day and elevated them to little morality plays. Although he is a highly intelligent physician Kimble is forced to take menial jobs to survive. This took a person who would normally be at the high end of society and brought him down to where the working Joe watching could relate to the character. It also added to the Good Samaritan nature of Kimble who was able to fit in with the working class. Of course his past was always hot on his heels. In one episode he winds up working for a woman who is plotting a murder to collect the insurance. When she discovers that Kimble was on the run from the law he becomes the perfect patsy to take the fall for her crime. Kimble is not above trying to use circumstances to his own advantage. When he is involved in a car accident he tries to use it to convince Gerard that he is dead. Since there was still two years ahead for the show this ploy doesn’t work out. The format of the show also affords the writers a lot of diversity of locations and situations. One minute Kimble may be in rural American; the next in the inner city. Throughout the run of the series this allowed each week to be fresh and new.
The series is being released to DVD through CBS Paramount. Since back in the sixties there were a lot more episodes than a television season has today, typically about thirty episodes, they are splitting things up into two volumes each season. This current release is season 2 volume 2 and contains the last fifteen episodes of the season. This is classic television at its best and will entertain you as much now as it did over forty years ago.