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The Rockford Files

David Janssen's Eyes: Kafka TV

David Janssen as The Fugitive

Well before Harrison Ford was jumping into waterfalls and trying to stay one step ahead of Tommy Lee Jones terrifying case of lockjaw there was The Fugitive as a television series. What a strangely downbeat and moody bit of television this inexplicably popular series was. It ran for 120 episodes from 1963-67, was created by Roy Huggins (The Rockford Files), starred Richard Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the falsely accused title figure, and the last episode remains one of the highest rated in TV history.

David Janssen Barry Morse  The Fugitive

Having recently hitchhiked through the full first season (Paramount DVD, 4 discs, $38.99), my dim memories of the series needed a serious recharging. The TV show was neither a cut-and-run suspense machine as I thought, and Janssen’s central figure was far more complex and decidedly less heroic than I recalled. What actually attracted me to this show as a Beaver Cleaveresque pre-teen? It depicts a monumentally grim world, with the truly laconic Janssen sleepwalking from one location to the next, all the while pursued by his equally tortured nemesis, the visually drained and dogged Barry Morse’s Lieutenant Phillip Gerard. The show allows for no reoccurring characters outside of the intertwined duo (a twosome that were decidedly weird for primetime—-both twitchingly neurotic, hollow and haunted), as Kimble stays on the road and on the run, backing himself into the deep shadows of America’s backwaters, stumbling into the briefest friendships and quickly doomed romances.



WANTED: PRIVATE EYE, MIDDLE-AGED, TOUGH, SENSITIVE, RESOURCEFUL, AND ONE OF GOD'S LONELY MEN

 Sifting through the DVD season-by-season collection of The Rockford Files (the show ran from 1974-80), undoubtedly one of the finest television procedurals ever (right alongside Columbo, and like that show, a procedural that devoted as much time to atmosphere, setting, and character as it did to the how and why of the case-of-the-week), it struck me how wistful and essentially broken James Garner’s Jim Rockford actually was.