The Fugitive Kind

Posted on August 12, 2007
Filed Under Culture, Main, TV | Leave a Comment

fugitive_s4.jpgIn the fall of 1963 I was in the middle of a teenage existential angst. Fresh out of high school, facing the uncertainties of college and on the verge of a world gone mad (Vietnam, Civil Rights fights, the continuing threat of nuclear war), not sure of who I was or where my future lay, it certainly seemed like it was me against the world. What better time to turn on the TV and discover “The Fugitive,” a new TV series about a man wrongly convicted of murder who goes on the run, trying to find the real killer of his wife.

Here was an upper-middle class Jack Kerouac on the road, searching for justice (meaning) in a hostile world. Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), wrongly accused of murdering his wife, escapes custody on the way to Death Row when the train he’s traveling on crashes. For four years he has to elude the police – in particular Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), who is obsessed with his capture – while trying to track down the real murderer, a one-armed man (Bill Raisch) he saw leave the scene of the crime. Kimble constantly moves from city to city, town to town, job to job, name to name, getting involved with local people and their lives before coming to the attention of the police and being forced to move on again.fugitive_s2.jpg

Premiering on ABC on Tuesday, September 17, 1963, “The Fugitive” was the brainchild of Roy Huggins (who recently died) and can be seen as a modern incarnation of “Les Miserables” with its Jean Valjean/Inspector Javert (Kimble/Gerard) doppelganger motif. Though Huggins always denied it, there were many who believed that “The Fugitive” was based on the famous 1950s case of Sam Sheppard, an osteopathic physician accused and convicted of brutally murdering his wife. Sheppard maintained she had been killed by an intruder but was found guilty; he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and was finally acquitted.

The episodes of “The Fugitive” provided some of best dramatic TV fiction of the era, with tightly written and acted one-hour shows that explored the modern human condition, touching on all the foibles (greed, lust, pride, envy, fear, hatred) of humankind as well as explfugitive_s1.jpgoring topical issues of the time: racisim, migrant workers, suburbanization, human rights, justice vs. the law, etc). In each episode Kimble generally takes the side of the downtrodden and poor, righting wrongs and solving personal problems among the people he meets – many times saving the innocent and helping punish the guilty. There’s always a woman; a bully; a greedy businessman; a corrupt official. But there’s always a sympathetic mother, a loving father, honest, hard-working citizens, even lawyers and lawmen who come to his aid. Kimble’s a modern-day Knight or Samurai minus the sword.

“The Fugitive” and Kimble ran for 118 episodes before a final two-part episode that brought the series to a close by – unusual for its time – wrapping up all the loose ends. The finale was the most-watched episode of all-time until the November 21, 1980 “Who Shot J.R.” episode of Dallas. That last episode – “The Judgment” – ran on Tuesday, August 29, 1967: “The day the running stopped.”

William Conrad provided the voice narration for the show; jazz man Pete Rugolo (“Thriller,””Checkmate,” “Leave It to Beaver”) provided the music. David Janssen died of a heart attack in 1980.

fug_dvd.jpgParamount Home Video will release this week the first half of the first season of the series: “The Fugitive – Season One, Vol. 1,” a four-disc set with 15 episodes for $38.99. There are no frills or extras, just the pure adrenalin of the chase.

Narrator: Name: Richard Kimble. Profession: Doctor of Medicine. Destination: Death Row, State Prison. Richard Kimble has been tried and convicted for the murder of his wife. But laws are made by men, carried out by men. And men are imperfect. Richard Kimble is innocent. Proved guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove was that moments before discovering his wife’s body, he encountered a man running from the vicinity of his home. A man with one arm. A man he had never seen before. A man who has not yet been found. 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.

Here’s the opening sequence for Season 1, Episode 4:

Narrator: The Fugitive, a QM Production, starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent victim of blind justice, falsely convicted for the murder of his wife, reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him en route to the death house; freed him to hide in lonely desperation, to change his identity, to toil at many jobs; freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime; freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture.More information on “The Fugitive” can be found at: episode guide
The Museum of Broadcast Communications
Home Page of the Hunted


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