Random Musings: 50 years ago today, the Fugitive stopped running

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The Judgment

“Tuesday, Aug. 29. The day the running stopped.”

Those words, intoned by narrator William Conrad, marked the end of The Fugitive (1963-1967). The series centered on Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), who was falsely convicted for the murder of his wife. He sought the real killer, a one-armed man named Fred Johnson (Bill Raisch), while himself being pursued by the implacable Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse).

The Fugitive was the first American TV series to have a definite conclusion, in which Dr. Kimble was finally exonerated. In the two-part story, “The Judgment”, Kimble learns that Johnson was arrested in Los Angeles and hurries there. However, Lt. Gerard, anticipating this move, is already at the Los Angeles Police Department.

As it happens, stenographer Jean Carlisle (Diane Baker), a former resident of Kimble’s hometown of Stafford, Indiana, works at the police station, recognized Gerard and called Kimble’s sister, Donna Taft (Jacqueline Scott) to find out if she had any way to warn Kimble to stay away. She didn’t, but told Carlisle the name of the trucking company where Kimble was working. With that information, Carlisle learns where Kimble was dropped off in Los Angeles and intercepts him at a produce market. It happens to be crawling with police, so she helps him get away safely.

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle.

She’s able to confirm that Johnson is in custody; the picture Kimble saw in the newspaper isn’t a trick. He tells her to contact Gerard and tell him he’s coming in voluntarily. Before she gets the chance, she overhears a bail bondsman (Michael Constantine) put up $3,000 for Johnson’s bail.

Johnson and the bail bondsman are being followed by the police, with Kimble and Carlisle keeping a further distance. The bail bondsman tells Johnson the man who put up the money will pay an extra $1,000 if Johnson skips town.

That night, Carlisle pretends to be going to a freelance assignment in the same building as the bail bondsman’s office and lets Kimble in a side door, so he can talk to the man. They discover, however, that he’s been beaten to death.

Carlisle finds a scrap of paper with information in shorthand: the figure $3,000 and the name of Kimble’s brother-in-law, Leonard Taft (Richard Anderson).

Gerard and the lead L.A. detective (Joseph Campanella) learn from the cops watching the bail bondsman’s office that Jean Carlisle had been in the area and one mentions that she comes from a small town in Indiana. So, he decides to interview her, especially since Kimble and a young woman were spotted at the produce market.

She claims no one showed up for the job she went to and left a few moments later. She also said she knew of Dr. Kimble, but wouldn’t recognize him. Gerard thanks her and leaves.

Kimble realizes he has to return to Stafford and makes arrangements with Carlisle to use her car for at least part of the trip, after she decoys the police away.

But Gerard never left. He’s waiting when Kimble steps up to the cab he’d called.

Geard captures Kimble

Gerard captures Kimble.

Part one ends with Bill Johnson heading east in a boxcar, while, on another train, Kimble and Gerard sit handcuffed together, as they had been in the first episode.

In part two, Kimble urges Gerard to give him 24 hours, even promising to come in to the police station at the end of a leash, if that’s what Gerard wants. Gerard agrees, but makes it clear there will be no extension of that deadline.

Rather than take the train all the way to Stafford, they get off in South Bend and drive in. Their first stop is the Taft residence, where Len Taft denies having put up any money for Johnson’s bail. Gerard believes him, because Taft A) would not want Johnson to skip town and B) wouldn’t use his real name, even if he did do “anything so misguided” as to post the bail.

Taft then reveals that Donna Taft had received a call from someone who’d said he’d seen Len Taft in the Kimble house the night of the murder and wanted to meet him somewhere. He also said that his wife decided to teach the “crank caller” a lesson by saying that Taft would be there.

He doesn’t recall where the meeting was supposed to be, since they assumed it was a crank call. When she gets home, Donna Taft says the man wanted to meet in some old stables.

Kimble and Gerard go there, but no one’s around. Gerard’s ready to write it off as a crank until Kimble finds a bullet on the ground— the kind used for target shooting. It’s not much of a lead, but it indicates someone had been there.

Later, Jean Carlisle shows up at the Taft household, to tell Donna Taft that her brother might be coming back to Stafford. She says they were supposed to meet so he could get her car, but he never showed. A moment later, Kimble comes out of the kitchen and he and Carlisle embrace. Gerard then introduces her to Kimble, since she “wouldn’t know Dr. Kimble if she saw him.”

The deadline has arrived and Kimble and Gerard prepare to leave for the police station. Fortunately for Kimble, his sister found a bullet hidden in her son’s room— the same kind Kimble and Gerard found. She said neighborhood boys are being taught target practice at the police gun range by a neighbor, Lloyd Chandler (J.D. Cannon).

She also realizes that she’d told Chandler about the prank caller.

Turns out Chandler had been in the Kimble house the night of Helen Kimble’s murder; she’d called him after Kimble had stormed out following a fight about adoption. When they heard a noise and Helen Kimble confronted Johnson, Chandler froze. He just watched as Johnson killed her. Now, years later, He’d put up the bail, using Leonard Taft’s name, to draw Johnson back to Stafford and kill him.

He’d failed to do this at the stables, and Johnson demanded $50,000. Chandler agreed to meet him at an abandoned amusement park the next day.

Johnson confronts Chandler

Johnson confronts Chandler.

Using information from Mrs. Chandler, Kimble and Gerard rush to the amusement park, where Chandler and Johnson are already exchanging shots. Gerard orders Chandler to put down his rifle, but is shot in the leg by Johnson. He gives Kimble his gun and tells him to go after Johnson.

Kimble confronts Johnson high atop a water tower and beats a confession out of him. But then Johnson gets hold of the gun and prepares to shoot him. Gerard shoots him with Chandler’s rifle.

Kimble and Johnson face off

Kimble and Johnson face off.

As Kimble rejoins them, Chandler finds the courage to confess that he’d witnessed Helen Kimble’s murder and that he’ll testify to that effect.

In the epilogue, Kimble, now exonerated, prepares to resume his life. He shakes Gerard’s offered hand and walks off arm-in-arm with Jean Carlisle.

The Fugitive was one of the best shows on TV. Dr. Kimble deserved a proper resolution and to see his good named cleared. “The Judgment” is a mostly good story. The biggest weakness is the revelation that someone was in the house the night of the murder, but stayed silent for years. Still, an overall good ending to a great show.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

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