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Thursday, March 12, 2009

THE FUGITIVE: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO -- DVD review by porfle

When I was growing up, "The Fugitive" was a television show that just about everybody watched. Not only was it very well made on all counts, but the premise was one which anyone could identify with. There was something for everyone--fast action, nail-biting suspense, intense human drama, desperate romance. The only thing I don't remember was comedy, since the story of an innocent, haunted man on the run after being found guilty of murdering his wife doesn't really lend itself to comic relief. For such a popular show, which had a four-season (1963-67) run of 120 episodes, it's consistently somber and downbeat.

The tragic odyssey of Dr. Richard Kimble continues with CBS-Paramount's four-disc DVD collection THE FUGITIVE: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO. In these fifteen episodes, David Janssen's classic character travels from town to town, taking different jobs under assumed names as he stays one step ahead of his dogged pursuer Lt. Philip Gerard (co-star Barry Morse) and searches for the one-armed man who killed his wife and got away with it. Try as he might to mind his own business and remain anonymous, the kind-hearted, compassionate Kimble can't help but get mixed up in the personal lives of those around him, often being forced to expose his identity and risk capture in order to help others.

One of the main assets of this series is its perfect casting. David Janssen, one of television's most unusual stars, invests the Kimble character with a deeply sad and wistful quality that's never less than totally convincing. Always introspective and withdrawn, Kimble often stands slumped with his hands in his pockets, looking down and mumbling as though beaten by the world. At any moment he may be forced to flee for his life like an escaped animal or perform desperate acts in order to survive. Yet his humanity is never far from the surface, revealed by a caring look and the briefest of smiles, and his frequent emotional connection with the people he meets keeps the show from becoming too disheartening.

As Lt. Gerard, Barry Morse is an excellent, interesting actor whose angular physique and intense demeanor make Gerard seem almost like a relentless bird of prey, obsessed with seeing Kimble meet his appointment with the executioner. The character appears only sporadically to avoid overuse, and the episodes in which he is featured usually bristle with suspense.

Although the series would later switch to color, season two is still beautifully shot in atmospheric, noirish black-and-white, which adds greatly to the overall mood and distinctive visual style, while the episodes are helmed by veteran TV directors such as Alexander Singer, Don Medford, and Abner Biberman. The writing is generally top-notch.

William "Cannon" Conrad's deep-throated narration grimly recounts Kimble's story during the dramatic opening titles--the still-photo montage of him coming face-to-face with the fleeing one-armed man who just murdered his wife, and his subsequent escape from a train derailment while on his way to be executed, are still haunting. Conrad's voice also bookends each episode with grave observations about Kimble's continued plight as we watch him furtively make his way to the next town.

The episodes are replete with interesting guest players, from past and future "big name" stars to those familiar character actors who could always be relied on to give solid performances. Among those appearing in this set are Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, James Doohan, Pat Hingle, Tom Skerritt, Celeste Holm, Bruce Dern, Shirley Knight, Ed Asner, Telly Savalas, Norman Fell, Dabney Coleman, Jack Klugman, Ruth White, Harry Dean Stanton, Louise Sorel, Barry Atwater, Lou Antonio, Ed Begley, Murray Hamilton, Virginia Christine, Richard Anderson, June Harding, Roy Jensen, Dabbs Greer, Whit Bissell, Virginia Gregg, John Anderson, Jean Hale, Harry Townes, Geraldine Brooks, R.G. Armstrong, Vaughn Taylor, Mort Mills, Peter Haskell, Jan Shutan, Richard Devon, Sharon Farrell, Ben Piazza, Steve Forrest, Laurence Naismith, and John Erickson. Paul Birch, a familiar face in several schlock sci-fi/horror flicks from the 50s, appears a few times as Lt. Gerard's boss, Captain Carpenter.

The DVD is 4.3 full-screen with Dolby Digital mono sound, and the episodes are transferred from the original negatives so they look as good here as they did when first broadcast. A major gripe with earlier sets was the replacement by CBS-Paramount of much of Pete Rugolo's dynamic original music in order to avoid potential legal problems. Here, however, Rugolo's classic score is intact, along with the occasional recognizable musical cues from shows such as "The Twilight Zone." Episodes are listed with summaries and original airdates inside the keepcase. There are no bonus features, but the shows themselves amount to a total running time of almost 13 hours.

I'm glad "The Fugitive" is being released on DVD because it was a great series that deserves to be made available to both old fans and new audiences. I had a great time reliving the richly entertaining episodes contained in THE FUGITIVE: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO, and anyone who enjoys quality classic television should make it a point to track this show down.
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