The Fugitive (1947)

The Fugitive (1947)

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"You might want to put that cross away. They don't take kindly to that sort of thing round here."
“You might want to put that cross away. They don’t take kindly to that sort of thing round here.”

Twitter Plot Summary: Henry Fonda goes on the run in Mexico after religion is banned in the region.

Before you ask, no this has nothing to do with the Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones film except for the name and the basic idea for the plot. Here, perennially blue eyed Henry Fonda (although here he’s entirely in black and white) is a priest on the run in Mexico after religion is banned in his parish. Of course, as the opening narration points out, it may have been shot in Mexico but it could have been set anywhere. In this case the Mexican setting adds some regional colour to events, even if that is perhaps your stereotypical view of the region – but then this is the 1940s. In terms of the story itself, Fonda barely feels like a fugitive in the modern sense as he’s more often than not in full view of those he is supposed to be evading. It’s less dramatic thriller than overwrought melodrama, and it’s never clear if this is a good or a bad thing.

Tonally it’s a piece that is very similar to the melodramatic overtones that made It’s A Wonderful Life so enjoyable, however here it is laced with revolution and the tyrannical rule of a chap who looks a lot like the Mexican equivalent of Harvey Korman. This man is an unnamed police lieutenant, moustachioed and prone to outbursts of angry acting. He also proves to be an able horseman, prancing around the place like he’s involved in a dressage competition. His reasons for being such a Grade A pantomime villain are obscured, indeed it is never made entirely clear why he does what he does. Maybe he simply ran out of moustache wax?

Nice cinematography does not automatically save a film from mundanity.
Nice cinematography does not automatically save a film from mundanity.

The strength of Henry Fonda’s performance is never in question, portraying huge angst and personal turmoil in the briefest of looks. He’s supported by some decent cinematography. It might lack in dynamic camera action, but it more than makes up for it in shot composition and the use of dark and light. Sadly Fonda’s priest doesn’t play as large a part in the story as you might hope, so while he is a strong performer its not possible to praise the film on that performance alone because at times he’s almost reduced to being a secondary character.

The problems lie in how little really seems to happen. Fonda’s priest may be on the run, but there’s no real threat, a lack of any sense of danger. He seems to spend more of his time trying to get away from the Mexican dogsbody, El Gringo, who latches onto him, rather than getting away from the authorities.

If only they had decided to make it this as a thriller than as a melodrama, it may have been a far better movie. Instead, whilst the performances are engaging the narrative is anything but. It may be based on Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, but you can’t help but feel that the version of The Fugitive about Dr Richard Kimble is a far superior production in every respect, even if they do only share the title.

Score: 2/5

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