Paramount // 1963 // 760 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // August 15th, 2007
Name: Richard Kimble. Profession: Doctor of Medicine. Destination: Death Row, State Prison.
Laws were made by Man, and Man is imperfect. Such is the case with Dr. Kimble, falsely convicted in the Indiana State Court for murdering his wife. Unfortunately the large hand of fate moves in the darkness, wrecking the train carrying him to death row. Now Richard Kimble is free, and he thought he was off the hook, until he got subpoenaed to appear for a retrial...on DVD!
A fugitive must always be watching his back, carefully planning every move, and ready to jettison his past at a moment's notice. Dr. Richard Kimble is a man on the run, and we're there with him as he travels from town to town across the United States, hunting for that one-armed man...the man that somehow killed his wife. That's how it goes in the thrilling, episodic world of The Fugitive.
Debuting back in 1963, The Fugitive started off slow in the ratings, but quickly became one of the biggest hits of the decade. It's easy to understand why: the show balances the overarching plot of Kimble's hunt for the one-armed man with localized episode-specific conflicts. Kimble, played by the lovably desperate David Janssen (Harry O), travels from town to town, trying to blend in by performing odd jobs and picking average American names. All the while he is chased by the obsessive Lieutenant Gerard (Barry Morse), who will go to the ends of the earth to uphold the law.
Each episode follows a strict formula found in all QM Productions: a narrator introduces the show and sets the premise for the episode, which is broken up into four acts and an epilogue. The show ends with the narrator returning to remind us that Richard Kimble is still...the fugitive.
This debut season jumps right in, with Kimble already on the run for months at the start of the first episode. Over the next 14 episodes in the set, he travels to small towns in Utah, California, and West Virginia, among many other places, and gets in all sorts of mixed-up situations. One episode has him working as a cut man for a boxing champ, and another has him working with some Norwegian sailmakers in California (one of which is played by Robert Duvall!). He's able to blend in at these jobs, but his education as a doctor and his sophisticated way of speaking always make people a little suspicious. By the end of the episode, the threat of being captured is stalking him again and he must move on to another town.
* "Fear in a Desert City"
* "The Witch"
* "The Other Side of the Mountain"
* "Never Wave Goodbye" Pt. 1
* "Never Wave Goodbye" Pt. 2
* "Decision in the Ring"
* "Smoke Screen"
* "See Hollywood and Die"
* "Ticket to Alaska"
* "Nightmare at Northoak"
* "Glass Tightrope"
* "Terror at High Point"
* "The Girl from Little Egypt"
* "Home is the Hunted"
When I think about all the crap Dr. Richard Kimble is going through to find his wife's killer, and then I look at all the stuff O.J.Simpson is going through to find his wife's killer...well, it's pretty clear Kimble is innocent.
The Fugitive has been called one of the best dramas to come out of the 1960s. Once you start watching this show today, it's easy to see why. From the very first episode, when I met Kimble posing as a bartender in Tuscon, Ariz., I was instantly drawn in to this man's plight. The show does an excellent job of presenting local conflicts for Kimble to get involved with, while never losing sight of the two main threats in his life: Lt. Gerard and the one-armed man.
David Janssen plays the role of Kimble with sophisticated subtlety. Kimble seems innocently naïve, while never ceasing to surprise the viewer with some clever means of escape. He's a doctor, a scholar, and a traveler, a nobody and everybody all at the same time. Janssen is so subdued as Kimble that it made me anxious to even watch him. Don't just stand there silently and take this abuse, Kimble...tell 'em you're innocent!
Lt. Gerard, the only other real reoccurring character in the series, is another story altogether. He's a driven detective who is willing to risk everything, even the love of his family, to uphold the law and arrest Kimble. The show constantly challenges Gerard's belief in Kimble's guilt, and he always replies "the Law says he's guilty!" Morse plays Gerard extremely well, injecting him with just enough humanity to make us care about him. You almost pity the man for being so dedicated to finding Kimble.
The Fugitive is a show that challenges the viewer to draw conclusions about people in all walks of life. The supporting actors in each episode range in their ability, some playing their roles with absolute realism while others ham it up. But Kimble rarely stumbles upon the normal type of folk you find in a show; instead he mixes it up with a lot of social rejects and stereotypes. The show isn't afraid to show Kimble working with illegal immigrants in an onion field or battling drunken hillbillies in West Virginia. There's something to be said of the fact that in most episodes, his identity is called in to question because of the way he talks (which is more deliberate and educated than the rest).
The 15 episodes in The Fugitive: Season 1, Volume 1 are fairly consistent in quality, with a few standing out from the crowd as being superlative. In "Smoke Screen," Kimble must deliver a baby while in the middle of a forest fire. In "Nightmare at Northoak," Kimble saves a group of kids from a burning bus and is embraced by an entire community while being identified in the national news. Surprisingly, it's not until the last two episodes of the set that we begin to actually learn the details surrounding the murder of Kimble's wife. In "The Girl from Little Egypt," Kimble has a series of flashbacks about fighting with his wife over adoption and then discovering the one-armed man. And in the last episode of the set, "Home is the Hunted," Kimble travels back home to be with his sick father. These four episodes are the best in a set that is great all around.
One thing I realized while watching this show is that it is clearly perfect for the era in which it was made. The early '60s has just the right balance of technology and manpower to make this interesting. While I love the film adaptation with Harrison Ford, a show like this made in the 21st century would just be boring. A man simply can't travel like Kimble did for four seasons without any identification. It's a show that really serves as a time capsule of the '60s, and it's aged to perfection.
The video quality of The Fugitive is surprisingly good given its age. The show was transferred from its original negative, providing an extremely crisp picture most of the time. The show has deep, pure blacks and whites with a good range of gray in between. There are occasional spots where some grain creeps in or a scratch appears at one of the edges, but otherwise it's clean.
The audio for the show sounds pretty good as well. All of the voices come in nice and clear, and the music is loud and robust. The show had an excellent theme song by Pete Rugolo, while the rest of score consisted mainly of stock music. The packaging does state that some music has been changed from its original version. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital mono, so it's nothing too special, but it gets the job done.
There aren't any special features in this release, but it's not surprising given the show's age (and the fact that Janssen passed away in 1980, canning any idea for a retrospective featurette).
The four discs in Volume 1 come packaged precariously in a standard DVD case. The case is clear plastic and has one disc on each side, and then a hinged flap in the middle holding two other discs. The episode listings and descriptions are on the back of the cover and can be read through the clear plastic. It's a neat way to package everything together, but I was always a fan of the slimline cases. The cover design is pretty solid, portraying a colorized Janssen with a wrecked train in the background. Overall, a good presentation.
It's easy to misjudge this show as a relic of the past, but consider giving it another chance! It's a show that is consistently thoughtful and exciting, plus it's also a forerunner to The Incredible Hulk, in which each episode finds the main character in a new locale with a new set of problems.
Guilty of being a true classic in American television. Not guilty of murdering anyone's wife.
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 760 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Museum of Broadcast Communications