The Fugitive (1947 film)

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The Fugitive
The Fugitive FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Merian C. Cooper
Emilio Fernández
John Ford
Written by Dudley Nichols
Based on The Power and the Glory
1940 novel
by Graham Greene
Starring Henry Fonda
Dolores del Río
Pedro Armendáriz
Music by Richard Hageman
Cinematography Gabriel Figueroa
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
November 3, 1947 (1947-11-03)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.5 million [1]

The Fugitive is a 1947 American drama film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, based on the 1940 novel The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. The film was shot on location in Mexico.



A nameless and conflicted Catholic priest is a fugitive in an unnamed Latin American state where religion is outlawed. Another fugitive, a murderous bandit dubbed "El Gringo", comes to town. He and a beautiful Indian woman conspire to help the priest escape. Taken to safety, the priest is then convinced by a police informant to return to the town on the pretense that "El Gringo" is dying and wishes to receive the last rites. The priest is captured and sentenced to death, but forgives the informant for betraying him. The priest's execution by firing squad brings an outpouring of public grief and shows the authorities that it is impossible to stamp out religion as long as it exists in people's hearts and minds.



The Fugitive was filmed on location in Taxco de Alarcón, Cholula, Cuernavaca, and the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City. It was the first collaboration between RKO and Ford-Cooper's company Argosy Pictures, the deal was for Argosy to produce three pictures that RKO should distribute and they would share the costs, and benefits fifty-fifty, but retaining creative control.

With the exception of two assistant directors and an editor, the entire crew was Mexican, about it Ford said it ran ""neck and neck with the Hollywood." [2]

John Ford was helped by Mexican director Emilio Fernández who served as an associate producer of the film. He introduced Ford to Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (all people Fernández previously worked with). About Figueroa's work Ford said: "It had a lot of damn good photography - with those black and white shadows, [...] We had a good cameraman, Gabriel Figueroa, and we'd wait for the light - instead of the way it is nowadays, where regardless of the light, you shoot." [3]


Tag Gallagher has written an extended discussion of the film in his book, John Ford: The Man and His Films (1986). He summarizes The Fugitive and its place in Ford's career as follows: "once in Mexico, Ford jettisoned most of the script and, giving leave to his fancy, made a highly abstract art film. The Fugitive lost considerable money, caused a rift between [writer Dudley] Nichols and Ford, and has posed problems even for Ford’s most devoted followers. Only the director himself consistently defended it. 'I just enjoy looking at it.' 'To me, it was perfect.' And in terms of composition, lighting and editing, The Fugitive may be among the most enjoyable pictures." [4]

Bret Wood has written, "Ford is best remembered today for his boisterous adventure films, such as The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956) or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949); and for his crusty, unpretentious demeanor, often denying the existence of thematic subtext in his work and refusing to discuss his artistic intentions as a director. But The Fugitive belongs to an earlier, lesser known faction of his work, self-consciously 'arty' films that demonstrated his interests in German expressionism, English literature and religious ideology. Films such as The Informer (1935), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) or The Long Voyage Home (1940), remind us that beneath Ford's growling machismo were a sophisticated mind and a brilliant visual sense, even though Ford was later to deny both gifts ('I make Westerns' is how he typically summarized his career). The Fugitive is perhaps Ford's last great 'art film', a high-minded show of faith, a lovingly crafted paean to his own Catholicism." [5]


The film gained the prize of the International Catholic Organization for Cinema (OCIC) at the Venice Film Festival in 1948. According to this jury, this was a film "most capable of contributing to the revival of moral and spiritual values of humanity". OCIC critic Johanes added to this that The Fugitive "excelled in plastic perfection. On the other hand, its very excess of pictorial splendour was a fault of the John Ford-Figueroa production; The drama of the priest as related by Graham Greene lost in profundity what it gained in external splendour". [6] "We all know the definition of this award "for the production that has made the greatest contribution to the moral and spiritual betterment of humanity". it differs from the other awards, when are normally given for artistic merit. Art for Art's sake is not the object, but rather art for the sake of man, the whole of man, heart and soul. Pious dullness is not the aim (...). [6]

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  1. Blondell, McCrea Team; Twins' Subject Chosen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Mar 1946: A3.
  2. "The Fugitive (1947) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2017-04-24.
  3. "The Fugitive (1947) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2017-04-24.
  4. Gallagher, Tag (1986). John Ford: The Man and His Films. University of California Press. p. 234. ISBN   9780520063341. Gallagher has made an electronic version of his book freely available for download; see "Tag Gallagher". Archived from the original on 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2013-04-22. Page numbers don't correspond exactly to the printed version.
  5. Wood, Bret. "The Fugitive". Turner Classic Movies.
  6. 1 2 Johanes, "The Venice Film Festival", p.33, in International Film Review, Brussels, 1949.