If “The Fugitive” isn’t the best movie based on a television series, it sure is close.
Not only does director Andrew Davis’ 1993 version of the drama — which AMC shows Tuesday and Wednesday, July 14 and 15 — hold true to the basics of the original show, it expands on them sensationally, adding significant depth to wrongly accused Dr. Richard Kimble’s (Harrison Ford) perilous pursuit of the one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas) who killed his wife (Sela Ward).
David Janssen’s demeanor was halting and brooding as TV’s Kimble in the 1960s, and possibly in tribute to that, so is Ford’s variation on the character … but the longtime movie superstar has those qualities anyway, and they serve him well as Kimble remains determined to clear himself while desperately trying to evade the federal marshals led by Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, who rightfully won an Oscar for his quirky combination of dry humor and law-and-order sturdiness).
Chicago makes a fabulous principal setting for the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game, with a sequence set in and around the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (complete with green-tinted river) particularly effective. That certainly isn’t the only impactful action scene offered by “The Fugitive,” though, indicated early on as the prison transport bus carrying Kimble crashes and tumbles onto a train track. And, of course, a train is coming.
Two of the unsung heroes (actually, heroines) of “The Fugitive” are veteran casting directors Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond. Whatever its size, every role is cast perfectly, with several performers leaving especially big impressions after really only a moment or two — including Julianne Moore, Nick Searcy and an early-in-her-career Jane Lynch. Jeroen Krabbe and Joe Pantoliano also are on the flawless team of actors here.
Roy Huggins, who created “The Fugitive” for United Artists Television (giving that studio one of the biggest hits it ever had) and ABC, was credited as the executive producer of the movie. It surely helps that the film had that very authentic lineage, and it didn’t hurt that its makers probably wanted to do the original concept full justice, with Huggins still actively connected.
The explanation for the murder that sets “The Fugitive” in motion gets a bit complex in the movie’s home stretch, though it sets the stage for one last great battle before the story reaches the same basic resolution it did on TV. That’s a truly minor quibble about a movie that proves to be one terrific ride — as well as a reasonably rare example of a premise that made a highly successful transition from the small screen to the bigger one.