The Fugitive – 1960's TV Drama at its Best

by Guy Belleranti
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Without a doubt one of the best television dramas of the 1960's was the series The Fugitive. Created by Roy Huggins (Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip) and produced by Quinn Martin (The Untouchables and The FBI) this program ran from September 1963 to August 1967.

David Janssen played Dr. Richard Kimble a man convicted of murdering his wife who is on the run from the law as he attempts to find the real killer. The program adopted a semi-documentary style at times using voice-over narration by William Conrad at the beginning and end of every episode. Conrad, by the way, was also the voice of Marshall Matt Dillon in the early radio version of Gunsmoke.

At the onset of the series Dr. Richard Kimble sees a man running from the vicinity of his home. The distinctive thing about the fleeing man is that he has only one arm. Moments later, Kimble finds his wife dead. The police do not believe Kimble's story of the One-Armed Man, and soon Kimble himself is arrested and then convicted of the crime.

Handcuffed and in the custody of Lt. Philip Gerard (played wonderfully throughout the series by Barry Morse) Kimble is loaded on to a train bound for death row. However, before the train can reach its destination it is involved in a wreck. In the commotion that follows Kimble escapes and becomes "the fugitive".

Gerard is determined to re-capture Kimble, and thus begins perhaps the longest chase in television history. Kimble's only hope is to prove himself innocent, and the only way he can do that is to find the person really responsible for his wife's murder. So he lives a life of running and hiding while at the same time searching for the One-Armed Man.

Janssen brought great sympathy to his character, a man who is in dire straits through no fault of his own. Each week the series followed Kimble as he stumbled into another town and into new people's lives. Sometimes Kimble helps others in need, and sometimes someone helps him. But by the episode's end he must again go on the run, with Gerard's ominous presence close behind.

The first three seasons of The Fugitive was in black and white, and the final season in color. It was television noir at its best, and Janssen portrayed Kimble's feeling of hopelessness perfectly in both expression and manner.

Bill Raisch played the One-Armed man Bill Johnson, and until the final episode the viewer never knew for sure whether or not this man was, in fact, the real murderer. And speaking of the final episode, it was actually done in two parts under the title "The Judgment". It also became the most viewed program in television history, holding this honor for many years.

The Fugitive obviously drew influence from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables where the policeman Javert relentlessly pursues the peasant Jean Valjean for stealing food. At the same time it can also be considered a prototype for several later television programs including Run for Your Life, The Invaders and The Incredible Hulk.

The Fugitive even spawned a very successful 1993 theatrical movie of the same name with Harrison Ford in the title role. And while good, I don't believe the movie came close to equaling the original series.

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