Sunday, March 8, 2009

Running on empty

I apologize for the paucity of the blog posts over the past few days—particularly in light of the fact that I did kinda sorta promise to get started on that Ronald Reagan blogathon thing, which seems to have fallen by the wayside. I can only offer as my defense plain-bone-laziness, for I’ve been whiling away the hours working on outside projects (Radio Spirits has got a collection coming out soon that is gonna knock your socks off, and they’ve just released a set of Abbott & Costello shows in which I had a hand) and using my down time to watch reruns of a show…well, let’s let William “The Man of a Thousand Voice” Conrad describe it:

An innocent victim of blind justice…falsely convicted of murdering his wife…reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him en route to the death house…freed him to hide in lonely desperation…to change his identity…to toil at many jobs…freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime…freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture…

Yes, I know I popped off some time back about the replacement disc program for The Fugitive being offered by CBS DVD…and I’m still a little torqued off about the way they handled this from the get-go. If it were any other program that they were doing this kind of dirt to—well, to be honest, they ARE doing this to another program: My Three Sons. But while I’ve always been fond of Sons (the show ran like tap water when I was a young lad) I was able to purchase a none-too-shabby “rootpeg” set from someone off of ioffer.com a while back…and a random glance at the discs indicate it’s sufficient for my needs. The Fugitive, on the other hand, is a different story: it’s one of my all-time favorite dramatic TV series—though I should point out that I don’t rhapsodize about the program the way some of its fans at the Home Theater Forum do. I just thought—and continue to think—that it was a darn clever show; what Tise Vahimagi in a Museum of Broadcast Communications article once dubbed “the longest chase sequence in broadcast history.”

In poking around on the Internets for some critical commentary on the series, I was kind of surprised to find a lot of negative opinions expressed towards the show; this blog entry is a good example, in which the author finds the series “unwatchable” and “put off by the ponderous melodramatic voice-over and ponderous melodramatic music.” To his credit, he opines that he might possibly have been “spoiled by the slickly done movie with Harrison Ford”—at which feet I have always laid the responsibility for ruining the real series with its short-attention-span editing and MTV-style flash. This isn’t to say that the 1993 feature isn’t entertaining…but because I was so familiar with the original source I found myself throwing up my hands at some of the unfortunate plot choices in the remake (particularly the decision to make Kimble’s wife the victim of a conspiracy involving a pharmaceutical company—I’d like to see Big Pharma taken down as much as the next person…but why the deviation from the original story?).

So—although it’s a little late for that now—long story short: I’ve caved and arranged to purchase The Fugitive: Season 2, Volume 1…again…and will fill out the paperwork to get the replacement discs when the set gets here (I ordered it from Buy.com, who initially reported it was backordered, but has since informed me it was on the way). But I also heeded the advice of frequent TDOY commenter Bob “Master of His {Public} Domain” Huggins, who remarked at the time I posted of this controversy: “Outside of bootleg copies of the show, I don’t believe that we’ll ever hear all of the original music for this show again…at least in “home entertainment” form.” That’s right; I took a stroll down the dark, mean streets of ioffer.com and bought another “rootpeg” for about thirty clams. The set is serviceable (which is why I caved and bought another Season 2, Volume 1: I’d really like clean copies of this series, despite its music substitution flaws), with the sources of the episodes ranging from its short run on TVLand to A&E (a longer run, but it was a sticky-wicket trying to find it sometimes). There are even some episodes that were gleaned from its 1985 syndicated run on Seattle’s KTZZ 22. Which is, by the way, how I came to my current state of Fugitive jag; these things are as addictive as salted peanuts.

The second season of The Fugitive (of which I’ve pretty much devoured in its entirety) carries on the first-rate content of its inaugural season, with several of its episodes ranked among the series’ very best. In watching Fuge, I’ve noticed that they pretty much did two types of stories: the first—and most prolific—were sort of mini-essays on the human condition; Kimble’s a stranger in town, working a shit job for groceries and traveling money…and inevitably gets entangled in a dispute or brouhaha (brouhaha?) among the episode’s guest characters, using his human skills as both a pediatrician and all-around good Joe to solve the problem that week and move on before anyone gets wise as to who he really is. The other story-type is the episode that moves the narrative along; a new wrinkle in Kimble’s case is discovered that might possibly exonerate him…and then again, might possibly not.

A very good example of this is an episode (one of the series’ best, in my opinion) entitled “Escape Into Black” (11/17/64): Kimble is in Decatur, Illinois and stops at a diner to ask about the one-armed man, whom he’s heard is working in one of the restaurants in town. A freak stove explosion in the kitchen both injures the diner’s owner (Herb Vigran) and Kimble—who awakens to discover he’s completely lost his memory. While a social worker (Betty Garrett)—who knows of Kimble’s plight—investigates his one-arm man claim…and finds the very man (Bill Raisch) the fugitive has described working as a dishwasher, Kimble’s doc (Ivan Dixon) administers treatment to force him to remember who he is and upon learning of his identity, threatens to hand him over to the authorities. The highlight of this episode is when Kimble phones Lt. Gerard in Stafford, Indiana to let him know he’s turning himself in (Gerard’s reaction is priceless: “Kimble, is this some sort of joke?”) but en route by train, the Garrett character helps him remember of the train wreck that allowed him to escape previously and Kimble, now cognizant of his innocence, makes a daring escape off the speeding locomotive seconds before Gerard can put the snatch on him. “Black” is one pip of an episode; the performances by Garrett, Dixon (a tremendously underrated actor who, for better or for worse, has achieved television immortality as Sgt. James “Kinch” Kinchloe on the long-running Hogan’s Heroes), Vigran, Maxine Stuart and B-western legend Don “Red” Barry are all splendid, and the episode—written by future Branded/Coronet Blue/The Invaders creator Larry Cohen—is both suspenseful and revelatory (someone else besides Kimble knows there’s a one-armed man) at the same time.

Another interesting episode from The Fugitive’s sophomore year surfaces in “Nemesis” (10/13/64), in which once again Kimble is all ass and elbows trying to get as much distance between him and Gerard—only to discover that Gerard’s son, Phil, Jr. (Kurt Russell), has hidden in the back of the car stolen by Kimble in his getaway. This episode contains an exchange of dialogue between the younger and older Gerards that I found particularly impressive; Junior is having difficulty understanding Kimble’s guilt since while he was with the medico he was always treated with the utmost care and kindness. His father and Kimble can’t both be right about the case—and Gerard tells him that if indeed Kimble is right…that makes him (Gerard) wrong. In a time when TV dads like Andy Taylor or Jim Anderson were always right even when they were wrong, it’s intriguing to see a father on television admit to such a possible frailty. The only problem with “Nemesis” is that the show’s producers reused the concept in the third season with a two-part episode, “Landscape with Running Figures,” in which Kimble ends up in the company of a temporarily blinded Mrs. Gerard (played by Barbara Rush). I realize it’s just a damn TV show—but the odds of Kimble having run-ins with both the son and wife of his pursuer are only slightly less plausible than Gilligan, Ginger Grant and Thurston Howell III running into their exact look-alikes on an uncharted desert isle.

Other standout episodes from Season 2 include “Nicest Fella You’d Ever Want to Meet,” which stars the late Pat Hingle (a doozy of a bad guy) as a redneck sheriff who picks Kimble up for vagrancy and puts him to work on a personal project that results in the death of another prisoner (Tom Skerritt) at the hands of the lawman; Dabney Coleman plays Hingle’s deputy and the ever-reliable Burt Mustin is the world’s oldest paperboy in this one. “Corner of Hell” takes the show’s premise and turns it inside out: Gerard, while chasing Kimble in moonshine country, comes across an injured girl (Sharon Farrell) who stole his car and is ordered to stand trial by her father (R.G. Armstrong) despite the lawman’s protests of innocence; he claims he never touched her and witnessed another man (Bruce Dern) running away from the scene of the crime! (Irony, pick up on line two). Then there are episodes that are great but suffer from a case of Returning-to-the-Same-Well Syndrome: “The End is But the Beginning” borrows the faked-death plot of the second part of “Never Wave Goodbye” with Kimble planning to make Gerard think he was killed in a truck accident (a hitchhiker that was with Kimble at the time is the actual victim) with the help of guest stars Barbara Barrie and Andrew Duggan. “The Survivors” is a different take on one of my favorite Fuges, “Home is the Hunted,” with Kimble returning once again to Indiana—this time, to Helen’s hometown…where he gets a predictably frosty reception even though he helps her father (Lloyd Gough) out of a financial pinch by finding the information for a savings account of his late wife’s. I can understand Kimble returning home upon learning that his father is ill (the plot of “Hunted”) but ending up in Indiana just for the sake of a savings account number is the act of a crazy man—and what’s more, Gerard isn’t even in this episode! (Kimble’s practically in his backyard, and Gerard never even shows up—I don’t even think Ripley would believe that. Particularly since in “The Iron Maiden,” where a wire photo of Kimble giving first aid to a Congresswoman is seen by Gerard and he’s out of Stafford like eggs through a hen.)

Since no television series can hit every pitch out of the park with each episode, the second season of The Fugitive also features some installments that do not represent the show’s finest hour. If I had to choose, it’d be a tough tossup between “Scapegoat” (Kimble returns to a town that he once worked in under one of his aliases to free an innocent man suspected of his death) and “Moon Child” (a retarded girl hides Kimble in the basement of her house, which is connected to the ruins of a crumbling, abandoned factory next store)—but I think the real clunker is “Devil’s Carnival”; which not only wastes a great cast (Warren Oates, Philip Abbott, Madeleine Sherwood, Strother Martin, Woodrow Parfrey) but focuses on one of those implausible scenarios where a sheriff (Abbott) learns of Kimble’s identity…and lets him escape anyway.

Then there are episodes that I like as guilty pleasures—they’re not necessarily great episodes, but they feature actors of which I’m particularly fond: Ed Binns is in an effort entitled “Cry Uncle” which finds Kimble impersonating the titular relation at an orphanage run by Binns and Brett Somers (Klugman); the show also features Ron Howard as an aspiring con man who grifts a quarter from Kimble. Mrs. Somers’ ex-husband Jack is the star in “Everybody Gets Hit in the Mouth Sometime”: he owns a trucking concern that’s about to go bust because the wife (Geraldine Brooks) of one of his drivers has been playing on his guilt (the driver died in an accident, only Klugman was behind the wheel) and accepting large blackmail payments that she spends frivolously on herself and her bratty kids. Michael Constantine also appears in “Mouth,” and the episode closes with a hilarious bit as Kimble, hit in the back of the head with a rubber band shot at him by Brooks’ son, turns the little essobee around and gives him a much needed swat on his backside!

6 comments:

comicsnstories said...

What Radio Spirits doesn't seem to advertise much is that this new A&C collection contains seven previously uncirculated episodes (including the Chase & Sandborn episode). This is the kind of thing that we OTR fans should support.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

As usual, you are 100% right, Brother Rodney. It's not like it's a state secret and there are some interesting rarities in this collection--the March 20, 1947 broadcast has Baby Snooks padre Hanley Stafford filling in for a sidelined Bud Abbott in a very entertaining show.

Bobh said...

I received my replacement DVD set of "The Fugitive" over the weekend. It only took about two weeks from the time that I sent in my form and POP to them. The set was sent back, surprise, by first class mail and included a replacement case in addition to the discs and cover art.

I've only watched the first episode thus far and it sounds pretty good. The cues that Pete Rugolo developed for the series are there and if there is replacement music in this revised version, it's much better integrated into the series than it was with the first edition of season 2, volume 1. For me, the "feel" of "The Fugitive" is definitely back; YMMV.

Bobh

Chris Riesbeck said...

Was it in "Nemesis" where the cops call Kimble a murderer, and Gerard responds with, "no, that's what a jury said?" I found that an interesting response on Gerard's part.

mike doran said...

I think it was during this season that Barry Morse made a few appearnces on talk shows, where he would send the hosts into mild shock with his clipped British voice. The idea that a Brit could sound like a Hoosier cop was enough to send Merv or Mike or Les Crane into awestruck wonderment (you can imagine how they'd react to Hugh Laurie these days). On these shows, Mr. Morse would occasionally favor us with a song, usually a Noel Coward novelty or Music Hall number. These appearances are most likely gone - but wouldn't it be a kick to see one included as an extra on a FUGTIVE DVD? (Hey it's a possibilty; didn't they dig up that STUMP THE STARS segment for the PERRY MASON Anniversary set?) Wel, we can always wish...

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

but wouldn't it be a kick to see one included as an extra on a FUGTIVE DVD?

If push came to shove, they could use the intros Morse did for The Fugitive episodes they released on VHS a good ways back...I know there's one floating around on YouTube.