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  • Michael Rickard II

"The Day the Running Stopped: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of 'The Fugitive's&#

August 29, 1967 was a highly anticipated date for television viewers as it promised the end to Dr. Richard Kimble’s four-year flight from the law, and his quest to clear his name of a wrongful conviction for murder. After four years and 119 episodes, The Fugitive was going to close out with a conclusive ending. Fans had invested their Tuesday evenings in watching Dr. Kimble track down Fred Johnson (aka “The One-Armed Man”), and now, there would be a day of reckoning. However, would Kimble finally find justice or see it slip through his fingers? Fans watching part two of “The Judgment” would be kept on the edge of their seat until the show’s closing moments.

“The Judgment Part One” had set up things well. Richard Kimble’s quarry, Fred Johnson, had been arrested in Los Angeles after tearing up a bar. Kimble believed Johnson was the man who had murdered his wife as he’d seen him fleeing from his neighborhood on the night Dr. Kimble found his murdered wife. A later episode saw Kimble confront “The One-Armed Man,” saving his life and Johnson admitting he’d murdered Helen Kimble. However, Fred Johnson proved as elusive to Kimble as Kimble did to police detective Lt. Phillip Gerard. Once Kimble realized Johnson was locked up, he raced to Los Angeles, unaware Lt. Gerard was waiting to trap him. And finally, Gerard did trap him, apprehending Kimble.

“The Judgment Part Two” saw Kimble convince Gerard to give him 24 hours to catch “The One-Armed Man.” Not wanting to let Kimble escape again, Gerard agreed, but accompanied Kimble as he searched his hometown of Stafford, Indiana. Meanwhile, Fred Johnson confronted Lloyd Chandler, the man who’d bailed him out of jail under the name of Kimble’s brother-in-law, Leonard Taft. Johnson blackmailed Chandler for $50,000, threatening to expose the war hero and civic leader for a secret from his past. After four years of uncertainty, viewers finally learned what had happened the night Helen Kimble was murdered.

The anticipation for the concluding episode was a phenomenon. Reportedly, businesses closed early and sports schedules were changed so people could watch the episode. In a time long before VCR’s, fans had to be home to watch the episode. There was no idea of when they might see it again. As Mel Proctor writes in The Official Fans’ Guide to The Fugitive:

Stores and restaurants shut down for an hour to allow customers to watch the final episode. In New Zealand, the International Rugby Championship was delayed. The starting times of several major league baseball games were changed to accommodate fans. And during the Minnesota Twins-Baltimore Orioles’ game at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, the scoreboard flashed the message: THE ONE ARMED-MAN DID IT (31).

Silent witness to a murder. Lloyd Chandler let Dr. Kimble take the fall for Helen Kimble's murder.

Yes, “The Judgement” was a television phenomenon.

Speculation as to the killer’s identity was rampant with odds makers taking bets on who murdered Helen Kimble. Was it “The One-Armed Man” as Dr. Kimble believed or someone else? Other suspects ranged from Kimble’s brother-in-law to wild speculation that Lt. Gerard had done it. Actor Barry Morse recalls being approached with a bribe to reveal the killer’s identity, but he turned down the offer. American viewers would have to wait until August 29 to discover the solution to a four-year-old mystery.

Ultimately, viewers learned “The One-Armed Man” was not alone when he murdered Helen Kimble. Family friend Lloyd Chandler had gone to the Kimble residence to console Helen after she and her husband argued about adopting a child. When Helen went to investigate a noise, she found Johnson burglarizing her home. Unfortunately for her, Johnson attacked and murdered her while Chandler watched it happen, stricken with fear. A Silver Star recipient, Chandler would not admit he froze when he could have acted, letting Dr. Kimble take the fall for his wife’s murder. With “The One-Armed Man” threatening to blackmail him, Chandler was ready to murder Johnson and keep his shameful secret.

The much anticipated finale to The Fugitve.

Eventually, Kimble and Gerard piece together what happened after an investigation leads them to Chandler. Chandler’s wife tells them what happened and what her husband plans to do. Kimble and Gerard race to a closed amusement park where Chandler shoots at “The One-Armed Man.” Kimble and Gerard show up but Gerard is shot in the crossfire and tells Kimble to go after Johnson. After four years, the two end their chase, battling atop a tower. Kimble and Johnson slug it out with Kimble getting the upper hand. Johnson admits he murdered Helen Kimble, then grabs a handgun, telling Kimble he’s going to kill him. A shot rings out and Johnson falls off the tower, plummeting to his death. Gerard has saved Kimble from certain death from Johnson, but Kimble still faces a date with the death house.

Here, The Fugitive could have gone into even darker territory than it did with its premise of an innocent man wrongfully convicted for murder. Kimble was no better off than he was before as Johnson was dead. Kimble’s only hope rested with Lloyd Chandler, a witness who thus far, had failed to testify. The Fugitive was designed to end with Kimble clearing his name, but what if the show had taken a dark turn? Such a swerve would likely have disgusted viewers, much as the show’s premise had alienated TV executives until one ABC executive gave the show a chance. Kimble had to be vindicated, particularly when people’s faith in the American criminal justice system was much stronger than it is today. Just as “The One-Armed Man” had to be the killer, Kimble had to be exonerated.

And exonerated he was. As fans know, Chandler finally agreed to testify to what actually happened. The episode closed with Kimble and new love interest Jean Carlisle (Diane Baker) leaving the courtroom. Kimble sees Girard on his way out and the two lock eyes before shaking hands. Kimble continues walking and sees a police car. In any other episode, he would likely have looked for the closest escape route, but as narrator William Conrad assures the viewers, that is no longer the case as this is “August 29, the day the running stopped.”

Dr. Richard Kimble is finally a free man.

Thus ended what was arguably was the greatest American television series ever. Although The Fugitive’s fourth season featured some uneven episodes, they were still well-written and suffered only because the first three seasons had set the bar so high. Although The Fugitive only lasted four seasons (actor David Janssen refused to film a fifth season because the role was too demanding since he was the show’s only star), it’s difficult to imagine it lasting much longer without destroying the viewers’ suspension of disbelief. The show moved into more of an action format with season four and rumors exist that Dr. Kimble would have discovered he had a son had the show continued into season five. In hindsight, it was good the show ended on a high note. The Fugitive proved to be a successful TV series, ending at the right time, and stepping into legend.

Work Cited

Proctor, Mel. The Official Fan's Guide to the Fugitive. Longmeadow Pr; 1st Longmeadow Press ed edition, 1994.

Works Referenced

“The Judgment: Part One.” The Fugitive: The Complete Series. written by George Eckstein and Michael Zagor, directed by Don Medford, Paramount, 2015.

“The Judgment: Part Two.” The Fugitive: The Complete Series. written by George Eckstein and Michael Zagor, directed by Don Medford, Paramount, 2015.

Robertson, Ed. The Fugitive Recaptured: The 30th Anniversary Companion to a Television Classic. Pomegranate Press, Ltd.; Tradepaper ed. Edition, 1993.

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