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USA 1947
Directed by
John Ford
104 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Fugitive, The (1947)

On one level this adaptation of Graham Greene’s famous novel "The Power and The Glory" aka "The Labyrinthine Ways", produced for RKO by Ford and Merian C. Cooper and re-worked by screenwriter Dudley Nichols into a martryological paean to religious piety is a travesty. It takes considerable liberties with Greene's text and is sluggish in pace, lugubriously overlong and portenteously repetitive. On another level it is an intriguingly baroque indulgence in Christian symbology, a florid extension of the religious sentimentalism of Ford's much praised 1935 film, The Informer

Whilst Ford no doubt was responsible for this outcome, much credit belongs to the skills of prolific Mexican cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, who would photograph Bunuel’s Nazarin in 1958, which is similarly distinguished by its expressionistically symbolist lighting and melodramatic compositions.

Greene’s "whisky priest", played with near somnolence by Henry Fonda, has been transformed into a stoical albeit rather wishy-washy figure on the run from a ruthless police lieutenant (Pedro Armendariz) who is leading an anti-clerical pogrom (the novel was based on Greene’s travels in Mexico in 1938 when such events were going on). Along the way he is helped by an American bank robber (Ward Bond) and a beautiful peasant woman (Dolores del Rio) who, in the film's most glaring sanitization of Greene's jaundiced tale is a fallen woman but no longer the mother of the priest's child (paternity is transferred to the police lieutenant). Eventually he is betrayed by a vagrant peasant (J. Carroll Naish) and executed but thus finding redemption in martyrdom and so inspiring the faithful.

The strength of the film is not its dramatic realism but its anachronistic, almost silent era, abstracted stylization, amped up by a similarly manipulative score by Richard Hageman. Understandably it bombed at the box office but one can still see its ideological traces in Ford's next film, Fort Apache, in which Fonda plays a self-righteous martinet transformed into a military martyr for the inspiration of the faithful.




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