Monday, May 02, 2011

Fate Moved Its Huge Hand

FEAR IN A DESERT TOWN, a Pocket Cardinal paperback original from 1964, is the only novel based on the hit TV series THE FUGITIVE.

Created by Roy Huggins, the ABC series starred David Janssen (RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE) as Richard Kimble, an Indiana pediatrician convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his wife Helen. However, as the audience knew from the opening titles, Kimble was innocent. Freed when a train wreck unshackled him from Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), the detective transporting him to "the Death House," Kimble spent 120 episodes bouncing around the United States, taking odd jobs, helping people in trouble, and searching for the one-armed man he saw running from his house the night of Helen's murder.

The opening episode, written by Stanford Whitmore and airing September 17, 1963, was titled "Fear in a Desert City." Despite the paperback's claim on the cover of being an "original novel," Roger Fuller's book is based on the Whitmore teleplay, including character names and plot. Why Whitmore isn't credited, I don't know, since I'm sure any FUGITIVE fan would recognize the book's TV origin right away.

As "Desert City" is a good episode, DESERT TOWN is a good book. Part of THE FUGITIVE's appeal was its existentialism, and the underplaying Janssen was excellent at projecting, as well as any television actor could, Kimble's internal anguish. Of course, in a novel, Fuller is able to expand on that, letting us know Kimble's thoughts and the paranoia that would invade any normal man after eight months of looking over his shoulder.

Short on bread, Kimble, posing as "James Lincoln," gets off a bus in Bisson, Arizona, where he takes a quick job as a bartender for nice owner Cleve Brown, who's having problems with the local unions (this subplot goes unresolved). Needing to stay under everyone's radar, especially the cops', Kimble nonetheless becomes reluctantly involved with fragile piano player Monica Welles, who's also a fugitive of sorts, on the run from her rich, abusive husband Mark, who has tracked Monica all the way to Arizona and sees Kimble as a romantic rival.

Roger Fuller was actually Don Tracy, whose 1934 novel CRISS-CROSS was the basis for a Burt Lancaster movie. You can find out more about Tracy from Bill Crider here. Fuller/Tracy also wrote BURKE'S LAW and THE DEFENDERS tie-in novels that I'll soon be getting to.


Anonymous said...

I just read this novelization and found it startlingly at odds with the Kimble I know and love from the TV show. The whole thing was just odd, especially considering that it came out at the end of the TV show's first season, when the character and backstory had been well established--this novelization offers a very different Kimble.

Marty McKee said...

In what way was Kimble so different? I'm not sure I agree. I certainly saw and heard Janssen in my head while reading it.