EVERY dedicated watcher of 1960s television knows the story. Our hero is Dr. Richard Kimble, a privileged and prominent man who suddenly finds himself in a very tight spot. His wife has been murdered, and he's been convicted of the crime.
But he manages to escape just before the prison door clangs shut, and the only way he can stay off death row is to track down the real killer by himself - while also evading the tenacious cop who has vowed to track him down.
"The Fugitive" made its debut on ABC in 1963. It enjoyed a four-year run, culminating in a final episode that drew more viewers than any series episode ever had.
More than 25 years later, Hollywood has finally taken on Dr. Kimble and company in its own '90s fashion.
The movie version of "The Fugitive" is tough, noisy, and violent - barely staying within the confines of a PG-13 rating for its medical material as well as its bursts of gunplay and fighting.
But while it won't win Oscars for subtlety, it might win them in other categories. It's as powerful as it is bruising, with more surprises than "Jurassic Park" and more sheer energy than any action movie this season.
There's also an interesting theme - which is suggested rather than probed, but gives "The Fugitive" an edge over the fluff that Hollywood normally concentrates on during the warm-weather months. Kimble is a physician, and it turns out that his wife's murder resulted from big-money skullduggery in the medical and pharmaceutical worlds; this idea is developed by the movie's images and dialogue, which contrast humane doctors (like Kimble) with others who care about profits more than patients.
I'm not suggesting that this subplot makes "The Fugitive" into an intellectual event, but the screenplay's interest in a real problem like money-driven medical care is commendably thoughtful alongside the backward-looking fantasies of a "Jurassic Park."
`THE Fugitive" was directed by Andrew Davis, whose career has been anything but distinguished, consisting mostly of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal exploitation pictures. While he deserves credit for pulling the elements of "The Fugitive" into a tidy package, it's impossible to watch the movie without recognizing the capable contributions of others.
Chief among them are stars Harrison Ford as Kimble, and Tommy Lee Jones as the deputy marshal on his trail. Advance word had it that Jones gives the performance of his career and steals the picture from under Ford's nose.
I'm not convinced that Jones outdoes his weirdly excellent work in "J.F.K." or his vivid portrayal in "The Executioner's Song," but he is certainly in top form here - and so is Ford, who really does give the performance of his career, particularly in the early scenes.
Behind the camera, top credit goes to Michael Chapman, whose rich cinematography recalls the extraordinary work he did on Martin Scorsese's classics "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," among other pictures. His nighttime views of Chicago are especially vivid, surrounding the film's shoot-'em-up aspects with an atmosphere of dark mysterious beauty.
No fewer than six editors stitched his shots together, giving the most hard-hitting scenes a furious rhythm that contributes greatly to their impact.
Like so many of today's movies, "The Fugitive" goes on too long; it's well over two hours and could easily be trimmed by 30 or 40 minutes. It's also more violent than it had to be. But it delivers the goods that summertime audiences demand, and I expect it will be one of the year's major hits.
* "The Fugitive" has a PG-13 rating. It contains a good deal of violence as well as medical scenes and some vulgar language.