Heavy Handed Symbolism
16 May 2006 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York)
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.