THE FUGITIVE, 25th Anniversary Screening
7 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2018
53 Wall Street Auditorium
Introduction and Film Notes by Brian Meacham

Directed by Andrew Davis (1993) 130 mins
Screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy
Released by Warner Bros.
Starring Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Jeroen Krabb
é, and Sela Ward

The one-armed man. The train crash. The search of every “henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse.” THE FUGITIVE is remembered twenty-five years after its release for its iconic leading roles for Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, and for these memorable, oft-parodied moments. While some critics, like Stanley Kauffmann in The Nation, found reason to complain about the film—Kauffmann’s particular bone to pick was with what he called “the corruption of realism,” and the way that modern audiences will accept even the most unbelievable of narratives if they’re coated in a veneer of the realistic—but most reviewers echoed Roger Ebert, who wrote that the film is “one of the best entertainments of the year, a tense, taut and expert thriller that becomes something more than that,” a film with enough “bold visual strokes so that the movie rises above its actionfilm origins and becomes operatic.” The cat-and-mouse game between Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford), convicted of the murder of his wife, and Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard (Jones), out to bring him to justice, plays like an inverse of the buddy-cop film, where the two men barely speak to one another and only meet on two occasions. Each man pursues his quarry with his own style: Kimble the silent loner doing his best through improvisation, Gerard the sardonic, wise-cracking commander using every bit of technology and manpower at his disposal.

The story of Kimble and Gerard began in 1963, in the long-running ABC television series of the same name, an existential, modern-day Les Misérables which presented the story of Dr. Kimble attempting to clear his name over the course of 120 hour-long episodes. Producer Walter Kopelson had long been interested in adapting the show, starring David Janssen as Kimble and Barry Morse as Detective Gerard, and got his opportunity when he purchased the rights in the late 1980s. After Ford initially passed on the script, it was offered to Alec Baldwin and director Walter Hill, but, according to Baldwin, when Hill started talking about the Dostoevskian elements of the story, the executives lost interest; other sources claim the casting fell through over salary. Kopelson had seen director Andrew Davis’s 1992 film UNDER SIEGE, and was impressed by the action sequences and with Tommy Lee Jones’s scene-stealing performance as the terrorist foe of Steven Seagal’s SEAL-turned-cook. Davis had begun his career as an assistant on Haskell Wexler’s MEDIUM COOL (screening in “Treasures” this fall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events of 1968), and made his feature debut with the music drama STONY ISLAND (1978), written by Yale alumna Tamar Simon Hoffs ART ’57.

After a new script had been written, Ford and Jones signed on to work with Davis, and as all three of them claimed to have no familiarity with the original series, they worked from a clean slate to compress the plot of the series into a two-hour film. While Davis is known for featuring his home town of Chicago heavily in his films, using realistic and often unexpected locations, the most memorable scene in the film wasn’t shot in Chicago. After location scouts scoured seven states, the filmmakers located a private railway in North Carolina where they could stage the train crash that sets the story in motion. Thirteen 35mm cameras were placed on dollies and in steel boxes used for combat photography to capture the scene. Two retired train engines were pushed up to a speed of more than 40 miles per hour, and the scene was shot. The entire sequence took one minute to film, with an opportunity for only a single take. The shot was a success, and the locomotives and bus have been left where the scene was shot, and have since become a tourist attraction in Sylva, North Carolina.

THE FUGITIVE set a record at the time for an August opening weekend, $23.8 million, and received positive reviews from both audiences and critics. The film was the third highest-grossing film of the year, after JURASSIC PARK and MRS, DOUBTFIRE. THE FUGITIVE garnered seven Academy Award nominations, and while SCHINDLER’S LIST nearly ran the table, Tommy Lee Jones beat out Ralph Fiennes, Pete Postlethwaite, Leonardo DiCaprio, and John Malkovich for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

DID YOU KNOW: Just after the train has come to a halt, Dr. Kimble (Ford) looks up through the burning debris. A point-of-view shot captures the head of a crew member wearing a baseball cap looking into the camera at the right side of the frame. This error went unnoticed during editing and the film's subsequent releases in cinemas and on VHS, but was later spotted and removed from DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming versions. Look for it on this 35mm print as it was (unintentionally) originally seen by audiences!

Presented in the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

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Monday, April 10, 2023 - 1:56pm