Visually, shot for shot, this one of John Ford’s most beautiful films. The cinematography of Gabriel Figueroa is consistently amazing.
The film itself is both suspenseful and deeply moving, a rare feat indeed for a work which is so overtly religious. All of Ford’s films are religious, though rarely overtly so, because he was essentially a religious artist — service, sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption were his perennial themes. But he was wise enough to disguise these themes through indirection. Overtly religious themes make people nervous.
There’s something defiant in The Fugitive — an insistence on calling a spade a spade, spiritually speaking. You get a sense that Ford identified intimately with the film’s protagonist, a priest in a nameless country where religion has been outlawed, a man hunted, persecuted and eventually executed for his beliefs.
The film was a total flop commercially, and doesn’t hold a high place in the critical canon of Ford’s work. It was perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy — Ford saying, “If I tell you what my films are really about, you’ll hate them.” Point taken. If you want to love Ford’s work while ignoring its religious content, you don’t really love Ford’s work at its thematic core.
Sadly, Ford tried to hedge his bets with The Fugitive, supplying it with a truly terrible score, which tries to inflate its simple, fable-like narrative with trite, overblown cues that in fact undermine its radical simplicity. The score tries to sell us a conventional suspense melodrama which bears no resemblance to the film Ford made, a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece all the same, and a very courageous one.