Last night I watched the movie version of ‘The Fugitive’ on television — and for the first time right through. I’d always thought of it as one of those far-fetched Harrison Ford actioners, if not quite as outlandish as ‘Air Force One’. Now I see it is really Tommy Lee Jones, the Fugitive’s nemesis, who dominates.
It’s inevitable with all these remakes that we compare them to the originals. This one, as with what seems like at least ninety percent of the others, falls short. That’s despite the creator of the tv series, Roy Huggins, being executive producer. I have to admit a bias here, if that’s what it is. I could always identify with David Janssen’s special hurt furtiveness he brought to the role of Dr Richard Kimble, persecuted daily by the justice system and law enforcement officers, reliant on the kindness of strangers, etc… As well as his usual mannerisms — so well known at the time because ‘The Fugitive’ was the second of Janssen’s four distinctive series that I can remember. Each week he was in a different locale, with different guest stars, and a different flavor brought by new writers. There was something involving about his screen magnetism too.
I suppose this is where Harrison Ford tends to leave me cold. (And not only him — I can only think of three modern star actors who have engaged me to the point where I can’t take my eyes off them: Jessica Lange and Ellen Barkin for their sexual magnetism, and Sean Penn for other abilities.) I once saw an interview where Harrison related a story about starting out at Columbia studio in the mid Sixties. A producer told him about Tony Curtis playing a janitor (or somesuch) but “the instant you saw him on screen you knew you were watching a star”.At this point, at least in the story as Harrison tells it, he replies like a wiseass that he thought “you were supposed to believe you’re watching a janitor”. Well, Harrison, that’s the absolute least a capable actor should be able to do. And you’ve been doing it for thirty years now.
As in the original, the Detective Lieutenant Gerard character here played by Tommy Lee Jones is an intensely ego-driven obsessive to say the least. (For some reason his christian name is ‘updated’ from Philip to Sam, maybe as a nod to the supposed true-life model for The Fugitive, the Fifties’ Dr Sam Sheppard.) But unlike the original, in which Barry Morse plays Gerard as a blinkered, determined functionary of a type well known in everyday life, this Gerard is jokesy-cool at the same time as blowing away an offender at point blank range without blinking an eye or twitching a hair. Also, while in the original series Gerard has no reason to believe Kimble is not guilty until almost the very end of a four-season series, Tommy Lee Jones is fed obvious clues all along the way but remains ruthless in his pursuit, including trying to shoot the cornered Kimble in cold blood.Then in a sudden switch at the end he ludicrously transforms into the firm-but-fair cop with a heart of gold, and repudiates his “I don’t care!” mantra (about Kimble’s guilt or innocence) for an affable mano-a-mano chat with Kimble in the back of a squad car.
This is the kind of thing that must be expected since screenwriters started thirty years ago writing primarily for wookies and other creatures rather than humans — but it doesn’t make it easier to take.