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This movie won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones).

‘The Fugitive’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 06, 1993

The violent death of Dr. Richard Kimble's wife, the mysterious, one-armed assailant who killed her and Kimble's wrongful sentencing to death for the murder -- these elements powered the TV series "The Fugitive." Viewers watched for four seasons, as Kimble -- who escaped when the train taking him to his execution crashed -- searched high and low for the killer, always keeping a step ahead of his relentless pursuer, Lt. Gerard.

In the climactic final episode, aired in August 1967, the odyssey came to a resolution on the roof of a high building, in a three-way confrontation among Kimble (David Janssen), mystery man Fred Johnson and Lt. Gerard. The show enjoyed the highest number of viewers for an episode in television history, a record that lasted until the Who-Shot-J. R.? revelation in "Dallas," 13 years later.

Thirty years after the first episode, a movie version of "The Fugitive," starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, is making a new run for it -- a great one, too. The times may have passed us by (the late Janssen included), but the excitement's the same. Ford's dilemma remains as humanly charged as ever. Convicted erroneously for the brutal murder of his wife, the Chicago surgeon escapes execution (thanks to a prison bus-commuter train collision), and fights to clear his name and avenge his wife, while evading Jones's particularly tenacious manhunt.

Certainly "The Fugitive" is retrofitted for contemporary action-movie standards. Director Andrew Davis (who made two Steven Seagal movies and one Chuck Norris) stages a train wreck to rival Operation Desert Storm.

He also puts Ford through a demanding escape route that requires scrambling through labyrinthine sewer tunnels, jumping from a towering dam, fighting for a gun on Chicago's L train, ducking the feds during a St. Patrick's Day parade and, of course, fighting for his life on rooftops. Ford isn't just intense, intelligent and heroically obsessed. He's pumped with robust physique. A shot of him -- all but nude -- injecting himself to ease the pain of a bullet wound makes an eloquent case for unlimited time with personal trainers.

Meanwhile Jones, as Deputy U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard, enjoys a promotion and first-name change over the series' Lt. Philip Gerard. He's also an over-the-top blast as a hesitation-free perfectionist who suffers fools quippingly and keeps pace with Ford at every turn. As for the mystery man (name withheld for entertainment purposes), he's sporting a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm.

This being a Hollywood film, Ford's quest isn't just personal. He's saving the universe. Not only does that one-armed guy lead to bigger, more nefarious things, Ford's being prevented from saving the sick of this world. Even while escaping the law, he pulls a prison guard out of the early bus wreck ("Puncture in the upper gastric area" he informs the medics -- while in disguise). Later, disguised as a hospital orderly, he corrects a doctor's misdiagnosis of an injured child and sends the kid into the operating room -- just in time. He's not just a fugitive, he's Messiah, M. D.

A juggernaut of exaggeration, momentum and thrills -- without a single lapse of subtlety -- "Fugitive" is pure energy, a perfect orchestration of heroism, villainy, suspense and comic relief. Ford makes the perfect rider for a project like this, with his hangdog-handsome everyman presence. He's one of us -- but one of us at his personal best. It's great fun to ride along with him.

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