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Two decades and The Fugitive is still running

Sheriff badge, Getty Images
Sheriff badge, Getty Images

The Fugitive


Movie watchers are always intrigued at the sound of a remake. In the case of turning a television show into a film, the same watchers are excited. Such was the case in the summer of 1993 when a production team put together a movie that was based on a crime-drama show present in the 1960’s, The Fugitive. This tale, which was modeled after a real court case involving a man named Sam Sheppard, was transformed into a popular television series during the anti-war era. The movie, still keeping in tradition by using the same name, was to rely on modern film technology to make the heart and mystery of this story come to life.

Andrew Davis would sit at the helm of the project. He was known already for creating tense action with movies, including: Code of Silence (1985) starring Chuck Norris, and Under Siege (1992) starring Steven Seagal. The Fugitive would deliver the same level of excitement and suspense. Locations of North Carolina were chosen as the sites to create the Chicago backdrop. The train wreck scene was shot at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and the spot where Dr. Kimble jumps is called the Cheoah Dam.

Harrison Ford was cast as the lead character embroiled in a false conviction, Dr. Richard Kimble. Ford had been a popular and recognized actor since the 1970’s. Some famous roles include: Han Solo of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard of Blade Runner. He just finished a major role in the Tom Clancy written story, Patriot Games, when a call to be a part of The Fugitive was made.

Tommy Lee Jones was the foil and main adversary to Kimble, U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard. Jones was around in Hollywood at about the same time as Ford. He was on a soap opera, One Life To Live, for four years (1971-1975). He was nominated for a Best Actor award in 1980 with Coal Miner’s Daughter. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 1991 with JFK. With The Fugitive, Jones would garner his Oscar.

Sela Ward would hold a minor but pivotal role as the murdered wife, Helen Kimble. She portrayed the role with both delicacy and class. Her career was most recognized with television show roles, such as: Sisters, Emerald Point N.A.S. and Night Court.

Andreas Katsulas would be the arch-nemesis of Kimble and the true culprit in the murder mystery, former police officer Frederick Sykes. He is remembered for playing Romulan Commander Tomalak on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5. He provided a chilling menace to the role of Sykes.

Jeroen Krabbe played the friend and ultimate traitor to Kimble, Dr. Charles Nichols. He played many villains throughout films history: Franco in The Punisher (1989) and Koskov in The Living Daylights (1987).

Joe Pantoliano lent comic relief as the sidekick to Gerard, Deputy Marshal Cosmo Renfro. He was spotted as a bad character in Risky Business (1983) and won an Emmy for a role on The Sopranos, Ralph Cifaretto.

The Fugitive begins with a dramatic discovery and arrest of murder. Successful Chicago surgeon, Dr. Richard Kimble, arrives home and finds his wife, Helen, murdered. The real killer, Frederick Sykes (whose identity is unknown to all), gets into a brief scuffle with Kimble and escapes undetected. Kimble is left alone and distraught, but with his fingerprints all over the scene. Sykes was clever and therefore the house does not appear to be broken into.

Helen Kimble was a very wealthy woman with a life insurance policy that directed all remaining assets to go to her husband. This immediately presents suspicion to the police investigating. In her last moments, she made a frantic 911 call just before she died. The words, although jumbled, suggest that Helen was saying her husband was trying to kill her. However, she was really trying to warn and speak to her husband.

Dr. Kimble is tried and convicted of first-degree murder. The newspapers and tabloids have a sensational time with the story itself because it is so shocking. The case appears to be closed as the doctor is chained, along with other prisoners, on a bus headed to Death Row. All of a sudden an accident occurs. Some people are on board and are killed instantly. Some escape the scene only to be apprehended not long after. Richard Kimble is able to get away and is now considered a fugitive on the run.

From here, Harrison Ford transforms into the role of the doctor with kindness and empathy. His travels in hiding produce moving bursts of humane gestures. He saves the life of a young child in an elevator by altering the medical chart that had a misdiagnosis. The whole time flashbacks of Helen’s demise occur. Davis directs this with a stirring lens that allows the viewer to believe he or she is experiencing the same gripping sensations.

U.S. Marshal Gerard is a hard-edged but wise-cracking official who seeks the immediate capture of Kimble. Soon the pursuit becomes ruthless and brutal. Gerard tracks down Kimble in a chase that leads to the ledge of a dam. To the surprise of all, Kimble makes a leap into the fast-moving waters far below. While many are convinced that Kimble is dead, Gerard insists his prey is alive and vows an all-out search to find him. Jones is as merciless as he is charming in the nuances and actions of the charismatic marshal.

The Fugitive reaches a turning point when Dr. Kimble reconnects with Dr. Nichols. Nichols is pleased but nervous to run into his convicted friend. He provides money for Kimble to continue on. Kimble announces that he has located who the real killer of Helen is, and is going to bring him to justice.

Kimble breaks into the house of Sykes. From there, he learns that this former law enforcement individual is now employed doing security. He works for a pharmaceutical company that is making a drug called Provasic. Kimble is stunned because he remembers challenging the validity of the drug years ago. He came upon information (through research) that this particular item causes liver damage. The doctor makes a call to Gerard and that allows the police to trace him to the scene of Sykes’ home. Gerard soon becomes convinced that the officer is hiding something and orders him tailed.

The film nears its intense conclusion when Dr. Nichols is exposed as the real culprit behind Helen Kimble’s murder. He has been seeking to market and profit from Provasic, but it was Dr. Kimble who stood in the way of that success. Instead, the research behind the drug was covered up and Sykes was hired to kill Kimble. The fact that the wife was at home was only a tragic coincidence.

Kimble and Sykes collide aboard a train. In the ensuing fight, Sykes manages to fatally shoot a cop who recognized Kimble. As a result, the doctor is now suspected by authorities as to having killed again. He manages to handcuff his prey to the train interior and takes off after attacking him into unconsciousness. The police are left with the battered body of the real killer: Frederick Sykes.

Kimble takes off for a hotel where Dr. Nichols is preparing to give a speech on Provasic. He is intent on stopping the doctor from implementing the drug into international distribution. He seeks to also clear his name by exposing the man for being a true murderer and conspirator.

Nichols is flabbergasted to see Kimble arrive and is stunned into silence. The crowd gasps as the notorious fugitive is standing there with his arms folded and his face looking grim. He announces to the crowd what Nichols has been doing. Nichols smiles and tries to keep order by asking Kimble to follow him. Kimble concedes and insists to the crowd that his former friend had falsified his research.

The two doctors get into a fight that has them overrun by arriving police. Cops are gunning for Kimble. At the same time, Gerard has learned the truth about the murder and frantically tries to help his one-time target. Nichols manages to elude Kimble into the hotel’s laundry room. Gerard steps in, with gun in hand, and tells the fugitive that he has to stop running. Right then Nichols is about to kill the marshal, but the doctor makes a move and saves his life.

The Fugitive ends with Sam Gerard leading Richard Kimble to safety into his squad car. The two men have a closer, friendly conversation inside the squad car. Kimble is taken aback as the marshal removes his handcuffs and smiles. It is clear that the doctor will be freed from Death Row because the police have taken Sykes into custody and discovered evidence implicating him directly to the death of Helen Kimble.

All players involved with the film deserve tremendous praise. They managed to translate this action-packed thriller into a box office hit. Andrew Davis culminated tension throughout the motion picture, and leading it steadily into a satisfying conclusion. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones were equally relentless in pursuing justice all in the name of the law. Sela Ward was both heart-breaking and memorable as an ill-fated wife unable to get away from the corruption that was happening close to her world. Katsulas and Krabbe defined faces of evil and injustice while also cementing charismatic acting jobs. Pantoliano had a minor role but his humor was effective in lightening the mood of the otherwise somber tale. The film as a whole is recommended entertainment. Both Jones and Pantoliano would return in a sequel to this film just five years later, U.S. Marshals.

Movie: The Fugitive
Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Andreas Katsulas, Joe Pantoliano
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Brian’s Rating: 5-of-5 stars


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