Cayuga Production # 4816
"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?”
…asks Rod Serling in his opening narration for “The Fugitive,” one of the brightest spots in the increasingly uneven landscape of The Twilight Zone’s third season. Written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Richard L. Bare, this heartwarming offering turns 50 tonight.
Ben is a friendly old codger who spends his days playing with neighborhood kids and keeping a watchful eye on Jenny, a disabled orphan who lives with her mean aunt Mrs. Gann (she’d fit right in with the evil aunts in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach). Ben and Jenny, as performed by J. Pat O’Malley and Susan Gordon, share an innocent but powerful bond. Ben is the parental figure Jenny lacks, but it’s more than that: she passionately adores this charming old man who is clearly more than he appears.
Ben can transmogrify into different forms, as we see in the episode’s prologue sequence (a masterfully staged scene that, in a brief couple of minutes, establishes the tone of the story to follow). He becomes a fearsome space monster to entertain the neighborhood kids; later, to evade the mysterious men looking for him, he’ll change into a mouse, then a housefly. Finally, he’ll become… well, I’d hate to spoil the delightful surprise that the episode’s climax brings.
Ben’s alien monster disguise, with skin that looks to be composed of rock fragments, is an impressive design. It manages to still look like Ben (well, an Asian caricature of Ben) despite the utterly inhuman appearance (thanks in large part to an upper lip piece that resembles his big mustache). Bang Bang Pow!, if you’re listening, this would make an awesome action figure (or bobblehead, or both). C’mon, if you’re going to make action figures of the Frisby alien and the Cyclops alien (both vastly inferior to this), you’ve gotta tackle Old Ben’s monster disguise. Pretty please?
I've gotta mention the cool device that both Ben and his pursuers wield. Whatever it is, it seems capable of both harming and healing. The design is whimsically retro-futuristic, which fits into the proceedings perfectly.
In animated form, “The Fugitive” would be right home among the classic animated films of Walt Disney, with its troubled female protagonist, magical sidekick, wicked aunt, propulsive story and happy ending. It’s a warm, sweet tale with just enough intrigue and peril to keep things balanced. It’s a complete success, not quite in my top 20… but damned close. My 11 year-old Kendyl has never watched The Twilight Zone, since she eschews black and white films and TV shows (I’m telling ya, this generation is doomed), but I’m gonna show this one to her whether she likes it or not. I have a feeling she’s gonna love it.
Next week, “Little Girl Lost” asks the age-old question: If a little kid can fall into another dimension just by rolling under her bed, is it okay for me to shove my wife under there too?