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Monday, May 19, 2014

Stuck in the 60s: The Fugitive and Me

David Janssen as the fugitive, or "fyooge," as we called him
 I have become a fan of black and white TV shows from my youth, thanks to "Me-TV". This old-time network first took me to "Twilight Zone," then to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and finally to "The Fugitive," my love from high school years.

I cannot begin to convey the depth of my love for this show, or shall I say for David Janssen, the actor who played Dr. Richard Kimble, the "fyooge" as he was known to many. 

The plot is simple: Richard Kimble, a man  unjustly convicted of murdering his wife, is on the run from the law. With moody jazz to set the tone, Kimble meets all kinds of people as he runs. He gets many chances to be a hero - and to be in peril. The show ran from 1963 - 1967, and as I watched, I grew from thirteen to fourteen to fifteen to sixteen to seventeen - prime years for school-girl crushes on celebrities.

At the time, David Janssen had some competition for my young heart: the Beatles and the Beach Boys. I loved them too.

When I look back, I see no similarity between David Janssen, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys. David Janssen was the same age as my parents, and he reminded me of my dad: the strong silent type, with an occasional twinkle in his eye. Pop used to imitate the fyooge: he'd push up his jacket collar, hunch his shoulders, and stuff his hands into his pockets. Then he'd walk away quickly and look with fear back over his shoulder - as Richard Kimble did so often on the show.

Looking backward, with fear

It's funny to watch "Fugitive" episodes as a woman. Now I recognize that David Janssen had a very limited repertoire of facial expressions - the blinking eyes, the twitch in one cheek, the tight smile. His dialogue is usually one or two-word phrases. Often, when he spouts complete sentences, I can't understand him - he's a mumbler. I understand that his mumbling helped to convey the nervousness of his hunted character, but it's hard for an old lady to follow.

I watch episodes (they run from 11:00 pm to midnight on Sundays in my town, yawn), and I re-enter a long-ago time. It's all very antique. And I've been wondering...what makes "The Fugitive," as well as "The Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock," seem so old-fashioned?

I think I've finally figured it out. It's not the pace. Yes, the pace is slower than the pace of today's shows. But that's not it. I think what really places these shows in a lost era is their portrayals of bad guys. The bad guys are really bad. They have one dimension. We do not feel sorry for them. They are usually odd-looking and we aren't encouraged to like them or feel attracted to them. Their facial expressions and dialogue are often clown-like.

In today's TV and movies, we are encouraged to see that good guys have flaws and that bad guys have virtues. Characters aren't so one-dimensional. In fact, the anti-hero often carries the show (example: Walter White in "Breaking Bad").

It says a lot about our culture, I think, that we sympathize with bad guys. In the time of "The Fugitive," shows were black and were popular ideas about good and evil, right and wrong. Today, shows are in color, and good and evil are portrayed in many shades.

I quit watching "Twilight Zone" because it just didn't have the old thrill for me. The episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock" always left me feeling bummed out. But I'm still enjoying watching "The Fugitive," if only for the fact that I love seeing a manly man with hair poking out of the top of his shirt.

David Janssen came from a time when men were men and had HAIR poking out of the top of their shirts.

1 comment:

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