Thursday, March 17, 2011

DVD Review: The Fugitive: Season One Volume One

The Fugitive: Season One Volume One

(Released: 2007 by CBS Paramount Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

It was perhaps the finest television drama of the early to mid 1960s – and one of the finest of all time. It was certainly one of the most popular. And, despite my fondness for all things sixties, I somehow managed to never see this program until turning to DVD in 2011.

It is THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967), and the first volume released to DVD is the subject of this review.
Giving credit where credit is due, it was the fine members of HTF (The Home Theatre Forum at THIS LINK) whose postings moved me to try THE FUGITIVE. Thanks, guys, if you’re reading this!

Back in the day, THE FUGITIVE was run at my bedtime. I have vivid memories of the opening, but never got to see any of the episodes, because it was time to “hustle upstairs” for the night.

Still, I can remember the show’s narrator, William Conrad, speaking these lines in a more deliberate manner and with less humorous hyperbole than he employed on ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS and THE BULLWINKLE SHOW:

The name: Doctor Richard Kimble.

The destination: Death Row, State Prison.

The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent.

Proven guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove is 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 it huge hand…”
…What more do you need to know? They sure knew how to efficiently set-up show premises in those days!

David Janssen is perfect as man-on-the-run Richard Kimble, who moves from town to town, becoming involved in various intrigues and narrow escapes from the law – both the local authorities and the omnipresent Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), from whose custody Kimble escaped.

With a drive and single-minded obsession to rival that of literature’s Captain Ahab, Gerard pursues Kimble across this great land of ours – with different settings and a new cast of characters introduced each week, to make things interesting.

Asked why he goes to such incredible lengths to apprehend this escaped prisoner, Gerard states: “The Law says he’s guilty. I enforce the Law.”

Complicating things is Kimble’s essential “goodness” (…perhaps, the result of his Hippocratic Oath) that compels him to “do the right thing” for the people he encounters, even at his own peril of discovery by the authorities. Sometimes, even I want to SHAKE HIM, and say “JUST GET OUTTA THERE!”

But, making things easier for our fugitive is that he existed in a time that predated the extensive identity checking and information exchange methodology of the present day. He could adopt an alias, accept a job “on a handshake”, and be paid in just enough cash, to finance his expedition to the next small town – to become another nameless face.

Only once, in these first 15 episodes, was the matter of his Social Security Number addressed – and then quickly forgotten. Perhaps the best quote on the subject is this:

Mr. Tallman (Kimble’s alias of the week), it takes a unique talent to slither through the 20th Century without numbers. Now, I have to assume that you didn’t spring into life like Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus. A man with no past may be hiding one…”
Nevertheless, “slither” Kimble does, always one step ahead of the law, and through some of the best and most suspenseful dramas TV of the time had to offer.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

No Origin Story: The first episode, “Fear in a Desert City”, though a good story, was disappointing to me, because it did not tell the story of Richard Kimble’s trial and escape, the murder of his wife in Stafford, Indiana, the intrigue of the mysterious One-Armed Man, his “association” with Lt. Gerard, the train wreck that freed him, etc.

This episode could just as easily have been plucked from mid-season, for all the “origins” it gave us. Once again, however, the members of HTF came to the rescue, by advising me to watch Episode 14 “The Girl from Little Egypt” DIRECTLY AFTER the first episode. This one actually fills-in, in flashback, many of the details I felt the pilot episode should have presented.

Extra Features: The Fugitive: Season One Volume One has NO Extra Features. This is extremely disappointing for a series with as much historical significance as this one.

The Packaging: The hard plastic packaging for The Fugitive: Season One Volume One opens like a book. It is good, sturdy packaging, offering proper protection to the discs therein. The four discs reside within the package thusly: Disc One on the “inside front cover” of the package (if one were to view the package as a book). Discs Two and Three on a hinged holder in the center of the pack, and Disc Four on the “inside back cover”.

This is all fine and well… EXCEPT that the CONTENT NOTES (listing the individual episodes) are also on the “inside front cover” and the “inside back cover” – making the episode lists impossible to read without handling and removing Discs One and Four. In my view, the content notes should never be obscured by discs – and should always be easily available to read.

Robo-Promos:Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”. CBS Paramount is particularly good in this regard, as The Fugitive: Season One Volume One’s initial display on Disc One offers a CHOICE of “Previews” or “Main Menu”, thus avoiding the infliction of “Robo-Promos” on the viewer – unless he or she wishes to see them!

Music / Underscore: The unique “mood-inducing pieces” of THE FUGITIVE’S underscore for this first season was composed primarily by Peter Rugolo. Previously known for BORIS KARLOFF PRESENTS THRILLER (where Rugolo certainly induced his share of “mood”) and later for (among other things) the “Space-a-Delic” theme that punctuated the LOST IN SPACE episode The Promised Planet (uncredited). I can STILL hear that thing running through my head. It may NEVER leave me!

The reason I even mention this is because, in the Season Two and Three releases, Rugolo’s underscore will be removed and replaced – and this will cause its share of controversy. So, I say, enjoy it while you can.

The Players: A stellar list of guest players appear in The Fugitive: Season One Volume One. (In order of appearance)

Brian Keith, Vera Miles, Harry Townes, Patricia Crowley, Elisha Cook Jr., Sandy Dennis, Frank Sutton, R.G. Armstrong, Susan Oliver, Robert Duvall, James Edwards, Ruby Dee, Robert F. Simon, Brenda Vaccaro, Lou Antonio, Chris Robinson, Geraldine Brooks, Murray Matheson, David White, Tim O’ Connor, Gene Lyons, Jack Weston, Henry Beckman, Garry Walberg, Frank Overton, Paul Carr, Ian Wolfe, Leslie Nielsen, Edward Binns, Jack Klugman, Billy Halop, Ed Nelson, Pamela Tiffin, Diane Brewster, Bill Raisch (as The One-Armed Man), Andrew Prine, Jacqueline Scott, James B. Sikking, Billy Mumy, Clint Howard… and, throughout the season, Paul Birch as Lt. Gerard’s patient superior “Captain Carpenter”.

…Also, joining us each week, are William Conrad as the “in-episode narrator” and Hank Simms as the “title narrator”.
How’s THAT for a cast list!
The Episodes: 15 suspenseful episodes of THE FUGITIVE, from the first half of the 1963-1964 television season! Here are some highlights, rated up to four stars. ****

Fear in a Desert City”: As a bartender, Richard Kimble becomes involved in the conflict between the establishment’s attractive piano player, and her estranged and abusive husband. Well done but, as noted, this premiere episode does little or nothing to set up the show’s premise, beyond William Conrad’s weekly opening narration. ***

The Witch”: A disturbed little girl makes trouble for Kimble and her schoolteacher with her compulsive lying. As seen here, little girls can sometimes be scarier than gangsters and monsters combined! **

Never Wave Goodbye: Parts One and Two”: Kimble finds happiness with the boss’ daughter while working in a New England sail factory. Oh, but here comes Gerard to spoil it all! The life-endangering lengths Gerard goes to in pursuit of Kimble at the end of Part Two is where I draw my parallels between the lieutenant and literature’s Captain Ahab. ***

Decision in the Ring”: When Kimble applies his medical skills to assist “Joe Smith” an aspiring boxer who’s taken a beating in the ring, he is hired by the boxer’s manager to work as a “cut man”. Kimble soon realizes that Smith may have a potentially fatal brain injury, and urges that he quit the fight game. However, despite having studied medicine himself, Smith believes that boxing is the best ticket for a black man in those days. The episode features James Edwards, the mess steward who ate the “legendary strawberries” in the Humphrey Bogart classic “The Caine Mutiny” as “Joe Smith”. Written by Arthur Weiss, who was a major contributor to the 4th Season of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. ****

See Hollywood and Die”: Kimble and a female motorist (Brenda Vaccaro) are taken hostage by a pair of young punk killers and endure a perilous ride from New Mexico to Los Angeles. “Old Friends” to fans of sixties sci-fi TV Lou Antonio (STAR TREK: “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”) and Chris Robinson (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: “The Death Clock”) are superbly fear inducing as the killers! ****

Ticket to Alaska”: Kimble travels from Washington to Alaska via a passenger boat, when the craft is boarded at sea by a police detective seeking an undisclosed suspect. When the lawman is murdered, suspicion falls over everyone aboard – especially Kimble, the one man without a verifiable past. ****

Nightmare at Northoak”: A wandering Kimble saves a group of children and the unconscious driver from a wrecked and burning school bus. The unwanted publicity he receives for his Samaritan act attracts the attention of Lt. Gerard, who travels to the small town and places Kimble under arrest. This outstanding episode is notable for Kimble’s recurring nightmare sequence (where he is shot and captured by Gerard) and for a GREAT ending scene… no spoilers! ****

Terror at High Point”: An earthmoving crew in Utah is Kimble’s latest refuge. That is until the crew-boss’ wife is attacked in what is clearly a sort of homage to “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho” (…indelibly burned into our collective psyche just a few years prior!) and a mentally deficient “water-boy” is blamed for the crime. Jack Klugman gives one heck of a performance as the boss – and is the only one, thus far, to even broach the subject of our many-named fugitive’s social security number. ****

The Girl from Little Egypt”: A stewardess, upset by her married “boyfriend”, drives off with emotions racing… and hits Kimble walking along the side of the highway! (He has the WORST LUCK, doesn’t he?). While injured and under sedation, Kimble inadvertently reveals many details of the murder of his wife, his trial, conviction, and flight as a fugitive. This is all nicely presented in flashback, giving us the ORIGIN STORY we should have had at the series’ beginning. ****

Home is the Hunted”: Word of his father’s heart problems reaches Kimble, and he risks great jeopardy to reunite with his family – loyal sister “Donna” and her husband, resentful younger brother “Ray”, and Donna’s two kids played by consummate child actors Billy Mumy and Clint Howard. Needless to say, Gerard is also present – for once not even having to leave town to pursue his quarry. ****

We try to be as spoiler free as we can… but, if you plan to watch THE FUGITIVE all the way through to the climactic finale (in THE FUGITIVE: Season 4 Volume 2 DVD set), play close attention to at least TWO of the episodes described above. As a “favor” to you all, I’ll not say which two!

As previously stated, THE FUGITIVE was (and remains) one of television’s most significant dramatic series. The impact of its historic series finale is still felt today.

THE FUGITIVE’S impact on subsequent series of the era is also apparent. Producer Quinn Martin “ported over” the “Man Alone and on the Run” concept to a Sci-Fi platform for his later THE INVADERS.

And, remaining within Sci-Fi, I get the same vibe from THE FUGITIVE that I get when watching LAND OF THE GIANTS! The “On the run from the authorities”, “Everyone’s out to get you!”, “Get outta there!” and “Stop helping those strangers!” feeling. …And GIANTS’ “Inspector Kobick” is just one great big, giant-sized version of Lt. Gerard – only with better hair!

Nevertheless, THE FUGITIVE remains unique in the history of television drama. And, thanks to DVD, you can experience the adventures of Richard Kimble and Lt. Gerard – whether they occurred “before you were born” or “after your bedtime”!

Highly recommended! Thanks, HTF-ers!


Anonymous said...

This is a great look at season one and much appreciated by this Fugitive Fan!


Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you! It was great to experience this series for the first time!

rockfish said...

Nice review! You cover a lot of ground and i like that you give your pros and cons... although instead of a big list of actors at the top, might i suggest that you list guest stars as part of your episode synopsis? Also, which of these episodes was your favourite?
Looking forward to season 1v2!

Joe Torcivia said...


Welcome! Always glad to greet a new contributor.

My aim, in these DVD reviews, is to give the reader a feel for the experience of watching the DVD as a whole – not just watching the episodes. Thus, the Pros and Cons. Once in a while, I’ll come across a DVD with no Cons – and I’ll state that. One thing that seems important to DVD consumers, and something I cannot accurately review given my own equipment, is the sound quality. I’ll have to leave that to others. But, beyond that, I try to discuss the set in as many different aspects as I can.

I kinda fell into the overall “list of guest players” when reviewing ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Season One. It seemed appropriate to do for that set, and I’ve carried it over to other reviews. I like having a feel for the roster of guest stars as a whole, anyway. I’ve always enjoyed the “familiar and repeating faces” of ‘60s and later ‘50s TV, and like having that information in one place.

Sometimes, I think I spend too much time on the individual episodes and, by not utilizing the space on the episode’s specific guest stars (unless they are particular standouts as were Jack Klugman, Lou Antiono, and Chris Robinson in this set), I keep what is a long section just a bit shorter.

It’s WAY too hard to pick a favorite from this excellent grouping! If I were forced to, I’d say “Terror at High Point”, “Nightmare at Northoak” or “See Hollywood and Die”. Oh, but what about “Passage to Alaska”, or “Girl from Little Egypt”? …See? I can’t even pick ONE! Do you have an easier time than I do with this?

I’ll also pick “Search in a Windy City”, “The Survivors”, and (especially) “Corner of Hell” as three more of my huge favorites! If I didn’t mention another great one, it might be because I haven’t seen it yet.

Not certain when (or if) I’ll get around to reviewing Season 1 Volume 2 for a simple reason… the way I’ve approached the series.

Earlier, I picked up Season 4, Volume 1. I’d never seen the series before, but was interested in the historic finale episode that would conclude Volume 2.

During that time (as I mentioned in the post), members of HTF were actively advising me to go back and start from the beginning. So, I got Season 1, Volume 1 – and DEVOURED it! I also churned out the review – which (as some of my writings do) sit around for a while before being posted.

In that time, I’ve since gotten Season Two Volumes One and Two – and Season 4, Volume 2. I skipped ahead to the finale. And, I’ve also skipped around on all the other volumes, based on recommendations from HTF members – and which set happens to have been most recently purchased (…so, I can see if any flaws that may require return or exchange exist). I’ll also be getting the Season Three volumes, as time and pricing allow.

That means, I’m just a few episodes into Season 1 Volume 2… and a few episodes into all the other volumes. I’m content to experience it in this disjointed fashion, though I run the risk of running into an occasional “sequel” episode that I’ll just bypass until I see the original.

And, then there’s that backlog of that various STAR TREK series, and Warner Bros. gangster films that I’m still working my way through. I just completed VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season Four Volume Two a short time ago. I want to work up a review for that one too.

I have a backlog of four or five unpublished reviews, with some others in various forms of completion. And, there’s always something to write about comics – especially as my upcoming trio of Disney comic book scripts draws nearer to release date.

It’s a fun fix to be in…

Thanks for the comment… Please drop back in.


Mark Lungo said...

Nice review, Joe! I have a question about Volume 4, Part 2. Some of the music in later episodes of The Fugitive was taken from Dominic Frontiere's wonderful score for The Outer Limits. Is the Outer Limits music still present on the DVDs?

Joe Torcivia said...


Dominic Frontiere's music from THE OUTER LIMITS does indeed appear throughout Season 4 of THE FUGITIVE. This would be on BOTH Season 4 Volumes.

Apparently, this was not a “music replacement” as was done with Peter Rugolo’s scores in the Second and Third Season DVDs – but it was the score used originally. In fact, interview features with Frontiere appear on both Season 4 Volumes. You might want to check them out just for that!

Beware, though… For the Season 4 Volume Two set, there’s a section about scoring the series finale – and scenes are shown that SPOIL the episode that fans were waiting years for.

I made the mistake of wanting to see the interview feature before the finale, noticed what they were about to do… and quickly switched it off, before the historic final episode was irreparably spoiled for me.

Producer Quinn Martin also carried Frontiere's music forward into THE INVADERS as well. And, you can even hear some of it in THE RAT PATROL! Isn’t DVD great?!


Mark Lungo said...

Thanks for writing back, Joe! In response:

1. Thanks for letting me know about the Dominic Frontiere interviews! I'll definitely have to take a look at these Fugitive DVDs. (And now, I'd better stop myself before I start grumbling about the lack of extras on the Outer Limits DVDs...)

2. I've already seen the Fugitive finale, so I don't have to worry about anything being spoiled for me. Thanks for warning your readers, though!

Joe Torcivia said...

Just want to make certain that you are aware that Dominic Frontiere's interview features are on the Season 4 sets only (Volumes One and Two). As he only provided music for that season.

They aren’t as long as they should be, but any time you get someone from that wonderful era, on camera and speaking in their own words, it is a treat!

If only DVD, and its features, came along years sooner!

And I hate having things spoiled! There’s lots of stuff I’m seeing on DVD for the first time, and I want to enjoy it to the fullest.

The LOST Season 2 DVD spoiled something MAJOR for me, and so would the Frontiere feature on FUGITIVE Season 4 Volume 2, if I’d allowed it to!

As a rule, I try to keep things spoiler-free for anyone who stops here!


Pete Fernbaugh said...

ey Joe,

Glad you're enjoying "The Fugitive." It's one of my all-time favorite series. Discovered it during a 48-hour marathon on TV Land back in Fall 2000...back when TV Land was rerunning shows with old celebrities rather than making shows with old celebrities. (Not that I mind new shows with old celebrities, especially if her name is Betty White.)

Our family was out of town that weekend, and I remember grasping as many seconds to remain in the hotel to watch the show as I possibly could (socializing and sightseeing are never my priorities when good TV is on). I also remember staying up late into Sunday night as the finale was replayed in the waning hours of the marathon.

Even though I had only seen a half-dozen or so episodes, I was already emotionally invested in the characters, and the ending was deeply satisfying for me. And ironically, it didn't spoil the rest of the series for me. In many ways, it made me appreciate all the episodes leading up to the finale even more.

To me, "The Fugitive" is flawlessly constructed. The situations Kimble encounters are creatively lifelike and realistic. Very few episodes feel "forced."

One thing I like about the series is that Gerard is used sparingly, and the one-armed man even less so. They become spectres almost. You never know when they're going to appear, and as the series progresses, their appearances become even more suspense-filled and nerve-racking.

I have a great book titled "The Fugitive Recaptured: The 30th Anniversary Companion to a Television Classic" by Ed Robertson (one of the hosts of "TV Confidential" on Shokus Internet Radio, I believe). Great resource. I've read it many times as a whole and in pieces, and it's a good analysis not only of the episodes, but also of the show's cultural impact. I found my copy of the book on eBay years and years ago, and glancing at Amazon, it looks like it's out-of-print. If you'd like to see it or can't find it, let me know, and you can borrow it. I think you'll enjoy it.

Incidentally, David Janssen appeared with William Conrad in the two-hour third-season opener of Conrad's seventies TV series, "Cannon," titled, "He Who Digs a Grave." I've never seen it, but someone sent me a bunch of "Cannon" episodes years ago that I never watched. (As much as I love Conrad, the series never did anything for me.) I'll have to see if maybe I have those episodes somewhere in that stash.

You probably know this, but there's also a Superman/Justice League connection to "The Fugitive."

The TV Land marathon was being held as a promotion for the 2000 series remake of "The Fugitive" starring "Superman: The Animated Series" voice, Tim Daly. In fact, the only reason I've heard for why Daly was replaced with George Newbern as Superman on "Justice League" is because Daly was under contract for "The Fugitive" remake.

Guess which one lasted longer. Guess which one is available on DVD.

Actually, the 2000 remake on its own was pretty good and very well-acted and well-written. It was canceled on a cliffhanger, too.

In a way, quite appropriate for any incarnation of "The Fugitive."

Joe Torcivia said...

Great comments as always, Pete! You really should have your own Blog!

The great thing about discovering THE FUGITIVE now, on DVD, is that I keep discovering new great favorite episodes!

“Nemisis” (Kimble takes off in a car with young “Philip Gerard, Jr.” – wonderfully played by Kurt Russell, about the time he played the warrior boy “Quanno” on LOST IN SPACE –stowed away in the back!) and “Corner of Hell” (Gerard pursues Kimble into a region of – for lack of a better description – “Moonshine Country”, and per their ways becomes a prisoner facing death!).

The series is just one great discovery after another.