Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Fugitive

"The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death Row, State prison. The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent. Proved guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove was that moments before discovering his murdered wife's body, he saw a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home. Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time. And sees only darkness. But in that darkness, Fate moves its huge hand...."

As sepulchrally intoned by William Conrad (far removed from his narration of "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show!"), you couldn't reach higher levels of melodrama than "The Fugitive" starring David Janssen as Dr. Kimble, running a cross-country race between the man who wants to capture him and the man he wants to capture. I was a devoted fan of the show when it had its initial four year run on ABC-TV in the States, and watched it more religiously than "Star Trek" in syndication.

When I heard there were plans to make a big budget movie with
Harrison Ford, I groaned. How could they possibly take a stretched out concept like "The Fugitive" where half the suspense is how long the man has been on the run and make it work as a compressed two-hour film?

Pretty damned well. Of course, there are changes. The crime is a conspiracy, rather than a random act of violence. Yes, there is a one-armed man. But there are other staples of the series, too.
Kimble must change his identity--he even uses the patented black hair-dye at one point. He toils at...acouple of jobs, posing as various hospital employees and, at one point, a janitor. Yes, he still dangerously acts the Saint, taking time out from his detective work at a hospital to help a kid with a chest condition that's counfounding the residents (one of whom is Julianne Moore). They have the incident from the first season where Kimble goes to see a one-armed man in the local lock-up only to be spotted by Lt. Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar-winning role as "Sam"—not "Philip"—Gerard*) and miss getting caught by that much. And they have the gambit where a fellow passenger on public transportation recognizes the guy across the aisle in the mug-shot on the front page.

But it's action that's been amped up for the film.
In the tv series, Kimble and Gerard are on their way to Death Row when their H-O scale train (in the model shots) jump the tracks and Kimble escapes.

It's a bit more complicated in the movies—Fate's "huge hand" is ginormous in this one. Kimble and the other prisoners are being transported on a bus,
when an escape attempt kills the bus-driver, sending the bus over a guard-rail and tumbling onto a set of railroad tracks...into the path of an on-coming train. Kimble has just enough time to save one of the guards before he leaps off the bus a split-second before the train hits it. The crash causes some of the cars to detach, derail and come careening after Kimble before crashing spectacularly into a culvert, sending its load of logs exploding into everything in sight. It is spectacular. And sets the audience up by 1) getting them prepared for some stuntly fire-works and 2) lets you know just how desperate Kimble is to avoid being caught so he can find his one-armed man.

The entire chase from escape to ending takes place in a period of less than a week, so he only has to go through a couple changes of clothes, his hair turns back to Harrison Ford brown, and Kimble never has enough baggage to have baggage as he did in the series. Plus, he never has to do anything for full employment for the short period he is free in the movie. Taut, a bit more realistic in maintaining anonymity in a modern world (though not so much with the stunts), "The Fugitive" does a great job of maintaining the integrity of the original and even surpassing it.

Dr. Kimble gets his (one-armed) man.

* One of the improvements in David Twohy and Jeb Stuart's fine script is the squad of deputies Marshall Sam Gerard has helping him investigate this case. In the series, Gerard, as played by Barry Morse, was an obsessive-compulsive lone wolf. He's no less dedicated here, but its sublimated by the way he runs his deputation ragged. It provides a lot of the comedy as well.

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