The Fugitive (1947) Poster


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Ford's guilty pleasure
Laurence Dang11 June 2003
There are essentially two ways in which to view this movie.

The first one is to compare and contrast this film with the novel from which it is loosely inspired, "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene. This would unfortunately lead to disappointment and a poor understanding of John Ford's motives in making this movie. While the characters and situation are indeed taken from the book, The Fugitive is radically different, not just in the manner in which the main characters are treated, but more importantly, in the message it carries. While Greene's masterpiece described how even the most outwardly depraved and despicable of human beings can be redeemed by their last actions of faith and sacrifice, John Ford was more concerned with showing how circumstances may transform a cowardly priest into a martyr for the faith. While these two themes may be related, they reveal a difference in their respective author's world view and understanding of faith and redemption. It may be argued that the code of those days would not have permitted the showing of an alcoholic and adulterous priest on screen, but this would be misunderstanding the fundamental philosophy of John Ford, whose relatively conservative views in matters of morality would have recoiled at such an idea.

This brings us to the second way in which this movie can be enjoyed and appreciated, namely as John Ford's labour of love and guilty pleasure. It has been said that, of all the masterpieces he created with Henry Fonda and others, and there were many, The Fugitive was one of his all-time personal favorites, even though it was never a popular, nor critical success. Ford projected in his version of the story many of his personal trips regarding his faith. Allegories, and barely subtle Christ references abound in this movie, though never in a simple, nor trite manner. Rather, it is a beautifully-made story of a man's journey from fear and doubt to a better understanding of his role, no matter how modest, in the grand affairs of the world.

The photography is truly a work of art, masterfully using light and shadows, brightness and dark, close-ups of faces distorted by anguish and halos of figures resembling statues in church alcoves. Fonda's performance, always perfect, reaches new heights here. His mastery at containing emotions, while letting them seep through the audience, undiluted, gives this particular characterization extraordinary strength and complexity. It would have been tempting to interpret the priest as an almost static character, given the subject matter. Instead, while his priest was neither alcoholic, nor adulterous, he displays an even greater weakness and flaw of character: lack of faith, profound self-doubt and abject cowardice. His fears, doubts and anguish and his gradual descent into debasement, are in many ways more disturbing since they are in direct conflict with the sacrifices and moral strength demanded of a priest during religious persecution.

Dolores del Rio is magnificent in her Mary-Magdalena characterization, as Pedro Amendariz, superb as the perennial Judas torn by love, hate, jealousy, and fear. There is very little dialogue, and unlike many of Ford's movie, very little of the usual comic relief which often balances dramatic moments. Yet, there is never a dull or unnecessary scene.

John Ford has crafted in this movie something better than a faithful rendition of "The Power and The Glory". Indeed, The Fugitive is a beautiful, heartfelt story about humanity's frailty and its struggle to find strength and redemption in times of crisis. In this sense it is after all a wonderful tribute to Graham Greene's novel.
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Heavy Handed Symbolism
bkoganbing16 May 2006
When Herbert J. Yates of Republic Pictures made a deal with John Ford to produce The Quiet Man he first made Ford agree to do one of his cavalry epics with John Wayne because he wanted a surefire moneymaker before taking a chance on The Quiet Man. The cavalry picture was Rio Grande.

He must have been talking to the folks at RKO who lost their collective shirts when the public stayed away in droves from The Fugitive. It got great critical acclaim and no box office at all.

My guess is that The Fugitive was sold all wrong or was made a year or two too early. If it had been sold as an anti-Communist as opposed to a pro-Catholic film it might have done better in those beginning years of The Cold War.

The Fugitive is based on a Graham Greene novel The Power and the Glory and it is about a priest in an unnamed South American country who is a fugitive because of his calling. An anti-clerical government has taken control of the country and they are doing their best to drive the Catholic religion out of the country.

Henry Fonda turns in a good sincere performance as the cleric, but he's about as convincingly Latino as Toshiro Mifune. The other members of the cast are well suited for their roles.

The best performance in the film is from that chameleon like actor J. Carrol Naish who could play any kind of nationality on the planet. He's the informer who rats out Henry Fonda to the police. Very similar to what Akim Tamiroff did to Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bells Toll and Naish's own performance in another Gary Cooper film, Beau Geste.

This was the first of three films Pedro Armendariz did with John Ford in an effort to broaden his appeal beyond Mexican cinema. Dolores Del Rio as his estranged wife was already familiar to American audiences from the silent screen.

The original novel by Greene had the priest as somewhat less than true to all his vows. He's a drinker and a womanizer. Del Rio's character is also quite tawdry. And this from Greene who was a well known Catholic lay person. But this Hollywood in the firm grip of The Code so a lot of what Greene wrote had to be softened by Ford for the screen. It lessened the impact of the film.

And with the whitewashing of Fonda's character came some rather heavy handed symbolism of Fonda as a Christlike figure.

Still The Fugitive might be worth a look for Ford, Greene, and Fonda fans.
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Better than anything out "Butler's Lives of the Saints"
Mike Sh.25 March 2001
Hmmm, let's see... we've got a movie about a Catholic priest trying to exercise his ministry in a Latin American country whose government has been taken over by an anticlerical revolutionary party,... he administers the sacraments to the devoutly believing people while trying to stay one step ahead of the law, which has hunted down every other priest in the country,... what do you this movie will be like?

In the hands of the crusty but sentimental John Ford, you might expect this movie to be some kind of hagiography, showing the priest as he performs his pastoral labors with fierce courage as well as with patient devotion, and anticipates his fate with Christian resignation. (This would be particularly apt if Pat O'Brien or Spencer Tracy played the priest.) You might also expect the people he serves will be portrayed as simple God-fearing people with stout hearts and no illusions about the true intentions of their political leaders. The government and its agents will be portrayed as cruel and cynical tyrants, ever ready to beat on the simple folk in the name of the greater good.

Fortunately, this is not the movie that Ford made. The actual movie is a good deal more complicated (and much, much better) than that. This is a balanced, intelligent account of a tragic situation born of centuries of misrule and oppression by tyrannical government working, sad to say, hand in glove with the Church that is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Pedro Amendariz in particular gives a great performance as the revolutionary government official, who, whatever his opinions may be, passionately loves his country, and sincerely wants the best for his beleaguered people. Henry Fonda, as the priest, gives at one point a stunning assessment of his motives for what he does which turns any picture of a heroic shepherd on its ear.

This is one of John Ford's lesser known pictures - an unknown masterpiece.
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a bit underrated
liehtzu31 October 2000
"The Fugitive" was considered by Ford to be one of his best; most critics, including many Ford afficionados, disagree. While I wouldn't rank it up there with his best either, I think the film (like Ford's final film "Seven Women") has gotten an undeserved bad rap. Sure, the religious iconography gets way out of hand at times and the pace is a bit wobbly but there's much to offset the film's shortcomings. Most obviously - and no one will deny this - it is a beautiful film to look at. It is one of the great photographic achievements in cinema history. The moody expressionism that finally got somewhat oppressive and dull in Ford's "The Informer" is here counterbalanced by exquisite outdoor scenery of the Mexican countryside where "The Fugitive" was shot. The film also features an odd, mopey performance from Henry Fonda that works quite well within the context of the story. Although in the end it's a bit simplistic it does have an undeniable poetry in it that is in the league of the director's finest work.
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"In the village they have no hope"
ackstasis15 May 2008
Move over, Harrison Ford; your namesake John got here first. While comparisons with Andrew Davis' action-packed 1993 thriller are inevitable in discussing 'The Fugitive (1947),' the two films – aside from the similarity described in their shared title – are completely unrelated, and about as different as two films could possibly be. Unlike many of the Westerns that brought director John Ford his greatest fame, 'The Fugitive' is entirely unconcerned with any form of action or dialogue; Ford's film-making is so concentrated on establishing the correct emotional atmosphere for each scene that it occasionally strays into tedium. However, it was obviously a very personal project for the Ford – who once called it "perfect" – and it's difficult to criticise a film into which the director poured so much passion and resolve. The story was adapted from Graham Greene's 1940 novel, "The Power and the Glory" {a.k.a. "The Labyrinthine Ways"} and concerns the plight of a victimised Christian priest, in an unnamed Latin American country where religion has been outlawed.

Perhaps the film's greatest weakness, from my reasoning at least, is that it is so concerned with painting each character as an icon or ideal (few characters are afforded names, and are instead credited with indefinite articles; "a fugitive," "a lieutenant of police," "an Indian woman") that it's hard to sympathise with them. Fortunately, while consistently attempting to maintain each character as a "timeless" figure in the film's ageless story, Dudley Nichols's screenplay avoids the usual stereotypes to which most amateur filmmakers would inevitably resort. The Fugitive (Henry Fonda) is not a courageous, humble pillar of human decency, but a misguided clergy driven by an unconscious self-pride; his adversary, the Lieutenant of Police (Pedro Armendáriz), loves his country and its people deeply, but, guided by a fierce blind patriotism and an illogical hatred of religion, he is often misled towards acts of sheer barbarity. The Police Informer (J. Carrol Naish) is a Judas-like character, betraying The Fugitive to the authorities, and becoming inescapably repentant at the thought of his inhumanity.

Despite not being particularly religious myself, I was sufficiently moved by Christianity's noble plight for survival, though I wasn't overly fond of the film's ultimate assertion that the lieutenant's hatred of religion stems directly from his secretly believing in God but being unwilling to admit it. Nevertheless, if you're going to watch 'The Fugitive,' it will most certainly be for the photography, which is, captured by Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, indescribably breathtaking. The opening sequence, in which The Fugitive returns to his former church, the light streaking through the windows as though God himself is reaching into the forsaken depths of the building, is spellbinding in its beauty. While Armendáriz is charismatic, and even slightly sympathetic, in his role of the antagonist, Henry Fonda largely looks awkward in the lead role (though you could argue that this uneasiness is integral to his character), and most of the other players – perhaps due to a language barrier – are similarly stilted. A visual masterpiece this film may be, and certainly an overall interesting watch, but 'The Fugitive' remains inferior Ford.
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an unknown masterpiece
ferangel10 January 2000
john ford have said that "The Fugitive " was his only perfect film . The film was not a commercial success and the critics write bad thing about it . Never mind . This movie is a song of beauty , a study about the catholic faith that can survive against the worst conditions ( an atheist government). See you "the fugitive ", a truly great movie .

fernando alonso barahona author of "Cecil B. de Mille ", "LAs obras maestras del cine ", "Antropología del cine " ....
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Please, an American release in any format!
danielj_old9999 September 2005
I saw this film theatrically in an archival print in California....what a treat! The image of Dolores Del Rio framed in the church door has never left me...this film was shot by Gabriel Figueroa, Bunuel's cinematographer on many films and one of the great is, along with Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand and Terence Malick's Days of Heaven, the most exquisitely shot movie I have ever seen in what I would call the "intimate" style, for lack of a better opposed to such a film as "Lawrence of Arabia", which otherwise would have to be considered in that list. An great example of stylistic departure as a supremely successful one shot gesture; Hitchcock achieved something of the same success several times,with "The Wrong Man" and "The Trouble With Harry", although in the latter case Hitch had done comedy before...."The Wrong Man" and "The Fugitive" stand out for me as the greatest stylistic anomalies achieved by major auteurs.
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Uncannily Dark Tale of Danger and Intrigue of Living in a Country ruled by Atheistic,Elitist, Cold, Heartless,Paternalistic,Totalitarian Slave Master Government! (Hopeful End)
John T. Ryan19 October 2007
RKO RADIO Pictures presents An ARGOSY PICTURES/PRODUCTA MEX DESCONCIDA Production, THE FUGITIVE, Directed by John Ford, Written by Dudley Nichols, Based on the Novel "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene. Produced by John Ford, Merrion C. Cooper & Emilio Fernandez. Starring Henry Fonda, Dolores Del Rio and Pedro Armendariz. With: J. Carroll Nash, Leo Carillo, Ward Bond, Robert Armstrong, John Qualen, Fortunio Bonanova, Chris-Pin Martin, Miguel Indclan, Fernando Fernandez, Rodolfo Acosta, Mel Ferrer, Jack Pennick, Jose Torvay.

It's always a great experience to "find" a hereto for unknown film, that is a title that we know very little about, if even of it's existence. Somehow or other we had never come across it, then suddenly, SHAZAM!, it's there! Such a film is this John Ford production of THE FUGITIVE.

It happened about a year or two ago. There was a full blown outbreak of Insomnia in our household. This had to be on the overnight time between Fri-Sat or Sat-Sun. During those two late night periods, our ABC TV Affiliate shows old movies under the banner of Late Night Movie and Insomniac Theatre. The vast majority of films have been in their library since about ca. 1958.

The bulk are from 1930's to the early 1950's RKO RADIO Pictures output. They had been released to the Television market as a huge package deal. And they were assembled under the umbrella title of "Movietime USA". (A lot of stations must still be exhibiting these films, which usually have "Movietime USA Presents" title cards replacing the RKO Radio Pictures traditional opening with the Trade Mark broadcasting Radio Tower.)

Well, this movie came on and made us glad that we couldn't sleep. From its very beginning, the beautiful B&W Cinematography of some of the most beautiful locations, just grabs you in keeps you interest, piquing it all the while that its story is unfolded. And the scenario is not an original, made for screen play, being an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, "The Power and the Glory".

In the novel, the locale is described as a mythical Latin American country. But, Mr. Greene, without being explicit, leaves no doubt that the real location is in Mexico. And the screen version follows the lead, and makes it everything that is Mexican, but without a name.

The tense, ever tense story starts out with a unit of Mounted Police, entering a village of mostly peasants, in search of an outlawed Catholic Priest, believed to be in the area. This is set in a time when the Church was designated as an illegal, outlawed organization and was persecuted mercilessly. The commanding Police Lieutennant(Pedro Armendariz), seems particularly driven, even to the point of being fanatically determined to capture and see each and every Priest in his State* executed by the firing squad.

The story, as one may expect, portrays the degradation and hardships that the unnamed Padre (Mr. Fonda) endures in order to evade capture, imprisonment and a certain terminal rendezvous with the firing squad. And everywhere, complications enter the picture; a treacherous stool pigeon (J. Carroll Nash), a desperate, but beautiful Indian Lady (Dolores Del Rio), a Yankee Desperado/un Ladrone Yanquis(Ward Bond) all get wrapped up in complicating the safety of the Priest.

But, danger is part of the job, reasons the Priest, who returns to the scene of his "Crimes", in order to serve his congregation. The story begs the question to the Priest and, indeed to all of us; would we do the "right thing", if we were put into such a position.

Truly, THE FUGITIVE presents us with a John Ford Film of the greatest magnitude. It has none of the humor of the human race as portrayed in THE QUIET MAN, RIO GRANDE, THE LAST HURRAH or even THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. But it does give us a full view of Humanity from a most serious perspective, much in the manner of his 1935 Oscar winning THE INFORMER.

It indeed is a one of a kind movie. We can not think of any movie to which this could be categorized or classified. The power of the scenes, the rapidity of scene shifting and the power of the acting all keep our interest beginning to end. As a matter of fact, the great scenes are so animated and unsubtly done, with such greater than life, even operatic style as to render it a candidate for a silent version. Just watch it and see super-animated scene after scene.

And much like Mr. Charles Chaplin, Pappy Ford renders his tale even more universal by designated titles, rather than names. Other than James Calvert, aka 'el Gringo'(Ward Bond) and Father Sierra (Jose Ferrer), there are no names. And this, Schultz, qualifies this as being described as being "Chaplinesque."

The film ends up by, at first, seemingly in tragedy; but there is a sudden about face with a hopeful (if not exactly totally happy) ending.

This is a great example of Film being made with love, care, purpose and a Spiritual Wish for a brighter future for all.

NOTE * The term of State is used here as in our United States of America; for in our own Western Hemisphere, we have 2 other countries' that use this "State" as we do. In South America we have The United States of Brazil and just below our Southern Border, we have The United States of Mexico. Honestly!
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Wow...this film is a lot worse than I'd remembered it.
MartinHafer18 January 2015
I would consider this among the poorest of John Ford's films. This is odd, as before I saw it again recently, I remembered it as being a pretty decent film.

The movie is an obvious message about the dangers of communism. While this word is not used and the film is wrapped more in the guise of a Central American revolution, it's obvious that the film was intended by the studio to be an indictment against the godless communists. Because of this, it was very timely for the 1940s but today it comes off more as dated and as propaganda.

Apart from the poor story (it's just way too obvious) the film is a melange of mediocrity. While there are some accomplished Mexican actors in the movie, there also are some Americans who put on thick fake accents and some who just sound like Americans--making the viewing experience strange to say the least. It's also a rather slow and heavy-handed picture--one that is easy to skip. The only real plus is the great camera-work and inventive camera angels and lighting--that DID make the picture at least look really nice.
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down in Mexico
MisterWhiplash24 August 2008
It's been written somewhere that the cruelest thing you can say to an artist is that his work is flawless. John Ford thought of the Fugitive as, despite not being a box-office success, a perfect film and one of his very favorites. It's perhaps more than prudent then to point out some of the criticisms one would have of the film (which, perhaps, is moot since he's been dead for decades). As a fan of the Ford work I've seen there are some times when he's touched perfection (Grapes of Wrath and the Searchers are it for me), and sometimes not so much, which goes without saying he directed many films. With the Fugitive it's recognizable to me why it's split its audience: some hail it as being totally underrated and a brilliant depiction of religious allegory and suffering, and some say that it's a total crock for being far too heavy-handed and acted over-the-top.

Both sides have their right points; it is an underrated picture, if only for its technical feats of cinematography (Gabriel Figueroa is just right for this kind of material for Ford) and Ford's usual talents as a basic storyteller with a tendency for pure cinema expression (i.e. lack of dialog is a plus with the emotion expressed through the camera and actors. But it is also not well-acted in a couple of instances, notably the beautiful but overbearing Delores Del-Rio as the woman living in the town who's baby is baptized by the Priest played by Henry Fonda. For Fonda, it should be said, he at least gives all he can for a performance that possibly other actors could have played with more magnificence. In fact it's for him that some of the picture is most watchable, as he flexes his emotional chops for a scene where it's required for complexity like when he misses the boat and is asked to bless someone dying only to realize there is no wine and must go to ask from a vulgarian for wine (which, as it turns out, is drunken with brandy and all by him).

While it might not be the Fonda we all know and love from Grapes of Wrath or My Darling Clementine he does what he can with the part, and it's a tribute to him and Ford that they make it engrossing on a very simple level that carries some complex connotations. When focusing on the actual chase and flight from the Mexican police it works very well (particularly with a hammy but effective informer played by J. Carrol Nash). It's just when Ford over-indulges in the spiritual aspect of the picture, which is only made clearer towards the end, that it loses its footing. Indeed the start of the picture kind of threw me off for a little bit as Fonda comes in with the Christ-like symbolism highlighted on the wall, and the townspeople come in with tears in their eyes and a somber song to sing and Fonda blesses and baptizes others. I wondered: is this a little TOO much in the way of what Ford does best, which is telling the story? He can be brilliant in throwing in his deep-rooted Catholic ideas as pure visions on the screen, and once or twice in the Fugitive he does... and then other times it falls flat or goes too high where it starts to become a full-blown religious picture as opposed to a societal thriller.

Should Ford fans see it? Of course; even a lessor Ford picture will have something interesting. Will everyone like it? Surely not. Yet it is usually fine, traditional work and shouldn't be completely dismissed.
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