The Fugitive: A Classic Kimble-Gerard Episode

Corner of HellThe similarities between The Fugitive’s detective Lieutenant Philip Gerard and Inspector Javert from Les Misérables were there from the beginning. Mel Proctor, author of The Official Fan’s Guide to The Fugitive, wrote that series creator Roy Huggins intentionally borrowed from Victor Hugo’s novel: “Huggins described Kimble’s pursuer as a man from the state attorney’s office and said the chase would embody the characteristics of Javert’s pursuit of Jean Valjean.”

Some of the series’ best episodes are those that pair Richard Kimble (David Janssen) with his dogged pursuer (Barry Morse). Sometimes, their interaction is centered around another member of the Gerard family. In the excellent season 3 two-part episode “Landscape with Running Figures,” Kimble comes to the aid of Mrs. Gerard (Barbara Rush), who has become temporarily blind following a bus accident. And in “Nemesis,” Kimble steals a sheriff’s car in which Philip Gerard, Jr. (a young Kurt Russell) is hiding in the backseat. These episodes and others cause Gerard to reflect–if only for a moment–that Kimble may indeed be innocent of murdering his wife. But in the end, that’s a moot point, for Gerard is only concerned with capturing the man that escaped while in his custody.

The best episode that focuses solely on the Kimble-Gerard relationship is “Corner of Hell” from season 2, which William Conrad describes in his opening narrative as a “grim encounter with truth and irony.” The episode starts with Gerard in hot pursuit of Kimble (who’s driving a truck, perhaps his most frequent occupation during the series’ run). When Kimble comes upon a police barricade, he smashes through it, drives down the road, and runs off into the woods. He doesn’t see a rickety wooden sign stating: “Keep out! This means you.”

The sheriff refuses to pursue Kimble any further, explaining to Gerard that the woods are full of moonshiners, whom the local law officials choose to ignore. When Gerard insists on a manhunt, even if he goes on it alone, the sheriff replies: “Them people hate a stranger. They hate a lawman. They hate a man in a store-bought suit. You’re all three.”

Meanwhile, Kimble encounters a family of moonshiners led by the tobacco-chewing Tully (R.G. Armstrong). When Cody (Bruce Dern), the clan’s resident trouble-maker, gets injured in a fight with Kimble, the former physician tends to Cody’s wound. That earns him a little respect, which only grows when Tully learns that Kimble is running from the law (it helps too that Tully’s daughter has taken a shine to the good doctor).When Gerard appears at the moonshiners’ camp, Tully assures Kimble: “You’ll be safe. You can watch how we get shed of somebody we don’t really want around here.”

The moonshiners scuff up Gerard and vandalize his car, but the real trouble starts when the detective is falsely accused of assaulting Tully’s daughter (the real culprit is Cody, of course). The moonshiners are prepared to lynch Gerard, when–in a touch of brilliant irony–Kimble has to intervene to save his pursuer.

GERARD (who’s tied to a chair and sounding desperate): Our system of justice may not be perfect, but it does give every man a fair chance to defend himself.

TULLY: How ’bout that, Doc? You get a fair chance in court?

KIMBLE: Yes.

TULLY: You mean he’s speakin’ the truth. You’re a killer?”

KIMBLE: No, I couldn’t prove my innocence–but they let me try.

The outcome of “Corner of Hell” is obvious, not only from a practical series standpoint, but also because the viewer knows Kimble to be a noble man. Still, the episode turns the tables for once and lets Gerard experience the horror of telling the truth when no one will listen.

In the episode’s closing scene, Gerard proves that–despite this experience–nothing has changed. His final words to Kimble are: “The truth is you’re still guilty before the law.”

And Kimble understands what that means, that Gerard will continue his relentless pursuit–just like Javert. “He’ll keep trying,” Kimble confides to Tully. “As long as there’s a chance, he’ll keep trying.”

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • Wayne P.

    Yes, nicely drawn comparison between the two works…Le’ Mis’ and The Fugitive. And its also good to note the TV series creator built that into the screenwriting. at least on this particular episode. I wouldnt be surprised if that theme was reprised later on…how about the last show when Kimble is on top of the tower and then the man with one arm…well, we can draw the conclusion that even though inspector Javert was on that bridge by himself when the time came to take a flying leap, there was perhaps a creative force aware of its impact on the finale of The Fugitive, which was looking down the years from above as well. Food for this hungry thinker too!;)