Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Fugitive"

Old Ben (J. Pat O'Malley) and Jenny (Susan Gordon) moments
before they depart this planet for a better one.
“The Fugitive”
Season Three, Episode 90
Original Air Date: March 9, 1962

Cast:
Old Ben: J. Pat O’Malley
Jenny: Susan Gordon
Mrs. Gann: Nancy Kulp
First Man: Westley Lau
Second Man: Paul Tripp
The Doctor: Russ Bender
Howie: Stephen Talbot
The Pitcher: Johnny Eiman

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (original teleplay)
Director: Richard L. Bare
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: Jack Swain
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Direction: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on the Twilight Zone contributor Charles Beaumont provides us with a most charming tale of an old man and some children. An old man who’s an exceptional playmate. Exceptional because, well, how many old men do you know who can change into monsters? Mr. Beaumont’s excellent tasting stew is further seasoned by an element of mystery. It’s called ‘The Fugitive.’ We hope to see you next week.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“It’s been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things. Science fiction: the improbable made possible. Fantasy: the impossible made probable. What would you have if you put these two different things together? Well, you’d have an old man named Ben who knows a lot of tricks most people don’t know, and a little girl named Jenny who loves him, and a journey into the heart of the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

           
           An elderly gentleman who the neighborhood kids refer to as Old Ben spends his days winning their hearts with magic and kindness. Old Ben can transform into any kind of creature imaginable, real or otherwise. He can also move things with his mind and he can heal the sick and the wounded faster than any medicine found on Earth.
Ben is especially close to Jenny, a young girl who wears a knee brace and walks with a limp. Jenny lives with her cold, abusive aunt named Mrs. Gann. Mrs. Gann doesn’t like Old Ben and after he walks Jenny home one afternoon she tells him he is not to see her again. Later, two men in suits introduce themselves to Mrs. Gann and begin asking questions about Old Ben. Jenny sneaks out and races up to Ben’s room to warn him. Minutes later, Mrs. Gann and the two men arrive at Ben’s room only to find Jenny all by herself. Jenny tells the men that she does not know where Old Ben is but Mrs. Gann suspects she is lying.
            Back in her room, Jenny takes a mouse from her pocket and places it on the bed. The mouse transforms into Old Ben. He says that he has to go away so the men do not find him. But first, he says, he will heal her leg. Ben makes good on his promise and afterwards he transforms into a bumblebee and flies out the window. Jenny races after him only to run into the two men in suits in the hallway. They aim a strange weapon at her and she collapses.
            Later, in her bedroom, a doctor tells her aunt that she may in fact be dying. After they leave the room, Old Ben, still in bee form, returns through the window and transforms back into his human self. He produces a strange device and begins to reverse Jenny’s condition. Moments later, the two men arrive in the room. Ben tells Jenny that he is the king of a planet far from Earth and that these men are his subjects.
Not wanting to leave Jenny in the hands of her horrible aunt he suggests that they take her back to their kingdom. The two men remind their king that such an act is forbidden. Old Ben asks to speak to Jenny alone. The two men exit. When they return they are greeted by two young blond girls who appear completely identical to one another. As they cannot distinguish one from the other they are forced to bring them both back to their kingdom.
After everyone leaves Rod Serling appears in the room holding a photograph of a handsome young man who he says is Old Ben in his natural form. He says that one day Jenny will likely become queen of a distant planet in a faraway galaxy somewhere…in the Twilight Zone.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mrs. Gann will be in for a big surprise when she finds this [photo of young man] under Jenny’s pillow because Mrs. Gann has more temper than imagination. She’ll never dream that this is a picture of Old Ben as he really looks and it will never occur to her that eventually her niece will grow up to be an honest-to-goodness queen somewhere in the Twilight Zone.”


Commentary:

            “The Fugitive” is one of the very few dull spots in Charles Beaumont’s canon of Twilight Zone episodes. It is also one of the few times the typically macabre writer would pen a genuinely light-hearted script for this or any other program. It is a twentieth century fairy tale complete with an evil guardian, a victimized princess, a charming prince (a king, actually) who comes to her rescue, and lots of warm, fuzzy magic a la Walt Disney. The episode has a lot of heart and good intentions but the plot is ultimately too flimsy and too bizarre for any kind of emotional connection to be formed with the two main characters. The end result of this creative effort may have been particularly disappointing to Beaumont as this story may have had painful origins.
            The most notable thing about “The Fugitive” is its fairly honest portrayal of child abuse, something rarely seen on television at the time. Always a program to push political and social boundaries, The Twilight Zone would examine this sensitive subject several times during its five season run. Richard Matheson, who first broke into publishing in 1950 with the sale of his famous story “Born of Man Woman,” about parents who keep a deformed child locked in their basement, would adapt his story “Mute,” about a telepathic child who is subjected to harsh treatment by several adult characters, for an hour-long episode in the fourth season of the show. Earl Hamner examined the repercussions of parental neglect in the final episode of the series, “The Bewitchin’ Pool."
            Beaumont likely possessed great sympathy for victimized children due to his own painful childhood experiences. He admitted as an adult that his mother was mentally unsound and at times emotionally and psychologically abusive. He confided in friend William F. Nolan that she would dress him in girls’ clothing and even once killed a pet in front of him as punishment. His story “Miss Gentilbelle,” about a boy who lives in fear of his unstable mother, is heavily based upon his troubled upbringing. Although the story was not published until 1957 when it appeared both in Beaumont's first collection of short fiction, The Hunger and Other Stories, and in Beaumont's literary agent Don Congdon's horror anthology, Stories for the Dead of Night, it dates back to several years before and was actually one of Beaumont’s first attempts at fiction writing. It was the first story he showed his friend and literary mentor Ray Bradbury. When Bradbury wrote of this first of many literary workshop sessions between the two of them in later years, he claimed that Beaumont’s talent was clear from the very beginning.
            Like his young protagonist, Beaumont also suffered a handicap as a child. Around the age of twelve he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, a condition which left him largely immobilized for over a year. It was during this time, however, that he discovered a love of books. Isolated from other children and unable to engage in any physical activity, he dove into the worlds of Poe and L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs. As a result of both his illness and his mother’s instability Beaumont was sent to live with his aunts in Washington state for several years. It was here that his love of horror and the macabre blossomed as his aunts would often talk of their deceased husbands, describing their deaths vividly. One of his aunts even indulged young Beaumont’s grisly interests by playing pranks on the other women in the house. On one occasion she attached a bloody knife handle (via ketchup) to her chest and pretended to be dead while Beaumont screamed to the others for help.
            Beaumont’s output on The Twilight Zone, like much of his fiction, leans towards the macabre, often with an emphasis on dreams and the subconscious. He wrote only a few sentimental scripts for the show—“Static” “Miniature” “Passage on the Lady Anne”—and even these feature varying degrees of unsettling imagery. “The Fugitive” may be his only genuinely feel-good episode and it is perhaps for this reason that it falls short. It doesn’t contain any of the familiar traits found in most of his work and instead feels more like a poor imitation of a Rod Serling teleplay.
           
American-born actor and silent-film star
Pat O'Malley (1890 - 1966) in season two's
"Back There."
James Patrick O’Malley (1904 – 1985) was an English actor and singer who appeared in four episodes of the show: “The Chaser,” “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross,” “Mr. Garrity and the Grave” and “The Fugitive.” He is often confused with American actor Pat O’Malley (1890 – 1966) who had a fairly successful career during the silent film era. His later career consisted mostly of bit roles including three appearances on The Twilight Zone: “Walking Distance,” “Back There” and “Static.” 
                     
English actor J. Pat O'Malley (1904 - 1985)
in season five's "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"
(in the middle)
          The English O’Malley began his long and varied entertainment career as a successful singer in Britain as part of the Jack Hylton Orchestra and also as a solo artist. In the 1930’s he moved to the states to further his music career but failed to gain the level of success he had known in Britain. Instead he turned his attention to acting. In 1952 he appeared in the Broadway production of Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder which was made into a successful film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954. O’Malley had a long and rewarding relationship with Walt Disney Studios and found his greatest success as a voice actor in a handful of animated Disney classics, including The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Alice in Wonderland (1951, as The Walrus / The Carpenter/ Tweedledee / Tweedledum / Mother Oyster), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Robin Hood (1973). He also lent his voice to several characters in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction of Disney's theme parks. In 1958 he appeared in Rod Serling’s Playhouse 90 episode “Bomber’s Moon” alongside fellow Twilight Zone alumni Martin Balsam, Robert Cummings, and Cliff Robertson. He also appeared in episodes of Suspense, Lights Out, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Thriller. O’Malley delivers a good performance here. Most of his scenes feature just himself and Susan Gordon. Playing off the energy of a child actor is difficult but he responds to it well and the relationship between Old Ben and Jenny is believable enough.
            Nancy Kulp is probably the most recognizable face in this episode. Kulp was a character actress whose career dates back to the dawn of television. She made the rounds in the medium throughout the 1950’s and 60’s appearing on many live anthology dramas and in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1962 she was cast as bird-loving Miss Jane Hathaway in The Beverly Hillbillies. She stayed with the show for nine seasons until it was canceled in 1971. She also enjoyed a relatively successful film career including Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961) and The Aristocats (1971). Her performance here is a bit too much for the tone of the episode. While her character is repugnant she mainly comes across as totally absurd.
            Susan Gordon’s career lasted only six or seven years until she abandoned acting as an adult. However, she managed to appear in a lot of places during her brief time as a child actress, including episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Several days into the filming of “The Fugitive” Gordon became ill and was sent home by an MGM doctor. Production ceased for four days while she recuperated. When she returned to the set she was still tired and disoriented. She managed to make it to the end of the production but as soon as she filmed her last scene on the baseball field she collapsed, likely due to the intense heat, and was carried off the set on a stretcher.
            “The Fugitive” was directed by Twilight Zone regular Richard L. Bare who directed seven episodes of the show including the previous episode “To Serve Man.” His direction in this episode is competent but forgettable, a far cry from the avant-garde styles of his earlier episodes like “Third from the Sun” or “The Purple Testament.” Bare is best known as the writer and director of the Joe McDoakes short films starring George O’Hanlon during the 1940’s and 1950’s and as the long-time director of Green Acres, in which he directed 166 episodes. He also directed numerous episodes of Petticoat Junction, Maverick, and Cheyenne.
            This may not be Beaumont’s worst effort on the show—that honor probably goes to season four’s “Valley of the Shadow”—but it is a rare sore spot for a wildly talented writer who produced some of the best episodes of the series. Sugary-sweet sentimentality was not a trope which Beaumont often applied to his fiction and his stories which do bare this quality are not usually considered among his best, with a few exceptions like the fan-favorite stories “Fair Lady” and “The Vanishing American,” both of which are excellent. The warm-hearted element of “The Fugitive” falls flat largely due to bland direction and poorly cast supporting characters. It is a watchable episode for genuine fans of the show but not one that should represent its overall quality or the quality of Beaumont or Bare’s contributions to it. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.
           
Grade: D

Grateful acknowledgement is made to:

The Twilight Zone Companion, Second Edition by Marc Scott Zicree (Silman-James Press, 1992)

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR Publishing, 2008)

“California Sorcerers: A Group Portrait” by Christopher Conlon, California Sorcery, edited by William F. Nolan and William Schafer (Cemetery Dance, 1999)

Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories, edited by Roger Anker (Dark Harvest, 1988)

Notes:
--Charles Beaumont wrote or co-wrote 22 episodes of the show placing him second only to Serling (who wrote 92 episodes) in terms of contribution. Among his many classics are “Perchance to Dream” from season one, “The Howling Man” and “Shadow Play” from season two, “Person or Persons Unknown” from season three, and “In His Image” and “Miniature” from season four.
--Richard L. Bare also directed “Third from the Sun” and “The Purple Testament” from season one, “Nick of Time” and “The Prime Mover” from season two, “To Serve Man” from season three, and “What’s in the Box?” from season five.
-- J. Pat O’Malley appeared in three other episodes of the show: “The Chaser” from season one and “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross” and “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” from season five.
--Russ Bender also appeared in season one’s “The Hitch-Hiker” and season four’s “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”
--Stephen Talbot also appeared in the season two episode "Static."
--This is one of only three episodes to feature an onscreen appearance by Serling somewhere other than during his opening narration. Season one’s “A World of His Own” and season two’s “The Obsolete Man” (both of which were season finales) also include him in the final scenes.
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stan Freberg.



--Brian

4 comments:

  1. I liked The Fugitive very much when I was a child, however as an adult, and now an adult getting on a bit in years, revisiting it now reminds me, uncomfortably, how much times have changed, as it's nearly impossible to watch this episode today, in the 21st century without pondering not only the issue of child abuse, presented almost whimsically in the episode, but what some might see as pedo undercurrents in the Old Ben-Jenny relationship. I'm not saying they're there, just sayin'. By today's standards the ending is downright bizarre. So enchanting a half-century ago, so difficult to watch today, The Fugitive, while not terrible, goes to show how different a place the world is, how less innocent were are now.

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  2. I agree, John. It is difficult to watch this episode today without certain modern suspicions concerning the relationship between the two main characters creeping into my mind. I don't think there is anything malevolent there either, just the product of a much simpler time. And the depiction of child abuse is a bit glossed over in the episode but for its time it was a step in the right direction. Beaumont was also cramming a lot of plot into a 23 minute episode so he probably couldn't dwell on it very long. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. The Disney movie where Nancy Kulp lent her voice was "The Aristocats", not "The Aristocrats". I remember seeing it at a theater when I was very young and then much later on The Disney Channel.
    Stephen Talbot, Howie in this episode, also appeared in at least 1 other TZ episode, "Static". He's probably best-known as a child actor for having appeared on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER as Beaver's shifty friend, Gilbert. I found it funny that it was Gilbert who in a Season 6 episode, "Beaver on TV", mentioned TZ as Beaver was in a weird situation where he didn't know that his appearance on tv was being taped for a later airdate.

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  4. I corrected the spelling error but thanks for bringing it to my attention, Jon (I own the film and still spelled it wrong). And you are correct, Stephen Talbot did appear in "Static" during the second season. He appears to have abandoned acting shortly after "The Fugitive" first aired for a successful career in broadcast journalism. Thanks for reading!

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