1. The viewers don't root for you;Based on those standards, Lieutenant Philip Gerard makes the perfect villain.
2. The show's characters actively try to stop you from succeeding; and
3. You’re attacked in real life for what you do on the screen.
Gerard (brilliantly played by Barry Morse) is, as you all probably know, the police detective who serves as the nemesis of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. You can’t really mention one without the other; they’re almost a team. In fact, we’re introduced to the two men at virtually the same time, sharing opposite ends of a pair of handcuffs while riding a train bound for the death house in Indiana. Kimble has been convicted (wrongly, we are assured) of murdering his wife; Gerard is the detective who investigated the case and is escorting Kimble to prison. When the train derails, Kimble escapes, leaving Gerard holding the bag, or the broken handcuffs, as it were. From that moment to the end of the series, Gerard has but one mission, which is his obsession: to recapture Kimble and bring him in so his death sentence can be carried out.
Series creator Roy Huggins always said that Gerard was based on the character of Inspector Javert, the relentless antagonist in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It was an obvious idea, really; every chase story requires a pursuer as well as a pursued, and in the intimate world of television, where familiarity means everything, it made far more sense for Kimble to have a semi-regular pursuer than to be on the run from an impersonal authority figure each week. It served to focus the threat in the person of a single man whose individuality provided the face for the long arm of the law.
In fact, Gerard only appears in 37 of the show’s 120 episodes, but it is the threat of Gerard (he's seen in the opening credits of every episode) that makes him so threatening. Even in those episodes where he doesn't appear, his presence hangs over Kimble like the Sword of Damocles; he's the bogeyman hiding under the bed, the monster in the closet, the mysterious something hiding in the shadows of those dark, rain-slick streets.
|The three principals: (l to r) The One-Armed Man,|
Dr Richard Kimble, Lt. Philip Gerard
Beginning with the very first episode broadcast, "Fear in a Desert City," Gerard finds out just how difficult recapturing Kimble is going to be. Appearing at the end of the episode and (as usual) just missing Kimble, he tries to convince Monica Welles (the luminous Vera Miles), a woman whom Kimble had befriended, to tell him where the fugitive had gone. "He's innocent!" Wells tells him. "The law says guilty," Gerard says. Welles' retort: "The law isn't perfect." Welles replies.*
*A sentiment similar to that of Earl Holliman's marshal in "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys," who remarks, "most of the people who make the laws aren't exactly perfect. So I figure that the laws can't be too perfect, and maybe every once in a while they deserve to get broken." That kind of attitude drives Gerard crazy.
Ah, yes - as Charles Dickens wrote, "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass." At this point, Gerard - as relentless as Schwarzenegger's Terminator - must have been receiving some kind of "Unable to Compute" error message. Time and time again over the four seasons of the series, he would be stymied by people whom he felt had been taken in by Kimble. Women attracted to him as if he were a lost kitten needing rescue, or drawn to his smoldering, subdued charisma; men returning favor for favor after witnessing Kimble's loyalty or benefiting from his help; children who saw in him a fellow lost soul, a grown-up who understood them in ways others didn't. (Kimble was, after all, a pediatrician.) It didn't help that Gerard often came off as prickly, self-righteous, or arrogant (which he often was) - in a competition for the hearts and minds of the public, there was never any doubt about who would come off second-best.
On occasion, as in episodes like "Corner of Hell" and "The Evil Men Do," Kimble's allies might even try to do Gerard harm in order to facilitate Kimble's escape, at which the good doctor himself would have to step in on Gerard's behalf. There are even separate episodes where Kimble befriends Gerard's wife and son. Do you think Gerard undergoes any kind of conversion, begins to have even the slightest doubts or second thoughts about continuing his chase of a supposedly guilty murderer who intervenes to save his pursuer's life? Even just to give him, say, a 30 minute head start? Of course not! "I suppose Gerard would say that personal relationships, as between himself and Kimble, are not affected by the accidental happenings which befall him," Morse said. "He would simply say, 'Whether or not this man saved my life doesn't affect my duty to deliver him to the legal system which employs me and which has convicted him. Whether he has been wrongly convicted or not is not my business." Maddening, yes, but in its own way quite admirable.*
*You wonder if Kimble subconsciously needs Gerard to believe in and accept his innocence in order to feel fully vindicated? If Gerard were not around - would it be quite as satisfying?
|The passage of time: Gerard now wears glasses.|
Nonetheless, even these glimpses of humanity don't disguise the fact that Gerard can be, and often is, something of a jerk. In one of the greatest Fugitive episodes, the two-part "Landscape with Running Figure," his obsession with Kimble causes his wife (played by Barbara Rush) to leave him*; she poignantly remarks at one point, “Life without Kimble…what a pretty dream that used to be.” In "Nemesis," it's Gerard's son (Kurt Russell), hiding in a car which Kimble steals, who helps the fugitive make his escape. (Need I mention that Philip Gerard Jr. was along because he and his dad were supposed to be on a fishing trip?) In a memorable exchange, young Gerard refuses to tell his dad which way Kimble went. "He says he didn't do it!" Junior says, to which the lieutenant replies, "Of course he says that!" But then his son asks, point blank, "And if he's right? If he's right?" Gerard, after a long pause, can only say, "Well, it means that I'm wrong...doesn't it, Phil?"
*So obsessed with your job that you drive away Barbara Rush? How dumb is that?
In the end, Gerard has one job, to bring Kimble back to face his punishment. It's what makes Gerard's turn in the final episode that much more remarkable. If you've not seen it, I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that it can only be the knowledge of Kimble that Gerard had gained over the four years of the chase that allowed him to finally make the leap. And no matter how much he might try to explain it away by logic, it also means he had to admit to himself that he was wrong.
Actors often talk about how they enjoy playing villains; they're more interesting, there's more to the role. David Janssen was brilliant as Kimble, but without Barry Morse as Gerard, The Fugitive wouldn't be nearly as compelling as it is. It proves that every hero needs a villain, and Philip Gerard, "the most hated man in America," one of television's most complex and unlikely villains, was more than up to the job.
The Classic TV Villain Blogathon is hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Please check out the rest of the wonderful villains by clicking here.