13 Running Facts About The Fugitive

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Don't you hate it when you tell a U.S. Marshal that you didn't kill your wife and all he says is, "I don't care"? It's enough to make you want to jump off a dam. That amazing moment is one of many indelible images from The Fugitive, the 1993 blockbuster that earned Tommy Lee Jones his only Oscar (so far) and served as about the tenth reminder that Harrison Ford was among the world's biggest movie stars. As befits a movie with an unnecessarily complicated plot, the behind-the-scenes story of The Fugitive is just as twisty. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, let's take the plunge.


It was a five-year process during which nine writers wrote "at least 25 different screenplays," according to producer Arnold Kopelson. (This might be one of those stories that gets bigger each time it's told. The week the film was released, Kopelson said it was eight writers and 14 drafts. But still.) No surprise—the movie was to be based on a TV series that had run for 120 episodes and had a master plot running through it, in which wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble searches for the one-armed man who killed his wife. There are countless variations of how that could be condensed into a single two-hour story. In one of the drafts, the big twist was that Tommy Lee Jones's Agent Samuel Gerard had hired the one-armed man to kill Kimble's wife as revenge for a botched surgery.


Kopelson, a fan of the TV series, had been trying off and on to get the film made since the 1970s. It was finally about to happen in the early '90s, with Alec Baldwin in the lead role and Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) as director, but Warner Bros. didn't think Baldwin had enough star power. "With an expensive movie, the consideration is, what star can 'open' it," Kopelson said, "and the studio wasn't certain at that time that Alec could do it." (By the way, this was the second time Baldwin had lost a role to Harrison Ford, who also replaced him as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October sequel Patriot Games.)


Except for producer Kopelson, anyway. Harrison Ford said he'd never seen it. Andrew Davis, the director, said, "You know, it was the '60s, and I was into other things besides watching television." Tommy Lee Jones made similar comments. Maybe that's a lesson for successfully turning a TV series into a movie: Don't be too attached to the source material.


No miniatures. Twenty-seven cameras (according to Davis). One take. (Ford jumping free from it was a superimposed image, of course.) It was filmed in Sylva and Dillsboro, North Carolina, where the wreckage is now a tourist attraction.


Dozens of TV shows have been turned into movies, but The Fugitive is the only one so far to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. (No, Marty doesn't count. That was based on a TV movie. And not Traffic, either, which was an adaptation of a miniseries. Look, we said The Fugitive was the only one. Don't question us.)


Rather than try to stage a fake one, Davis used Chicago's actual St. Patrick's Day parade as the setting for part of Kimble and Gerard's cat-and-mouse game. Without rehearsal, Ford and Jones just went out into the crowd and did their thing, with camera operators running around trying to keep up. Ford observed that since his character was keeping a low profile, it meant he himself didn't stand out much and lasted several minutes in the crowd before being recognized.


They were able to shoot some of the hospital scenes in a real hospital in Sylva, North Carolina, while others were filmed in a nearby elementary school whose hallways were dressed to look like a hospital. Apparently old schools and old hospitals look a lot alike.


The film began shooting before the script was complete, with writer Jeb Stuart on the set to come up with new material as needed. That left the door open for the actors to suggest their own ideas, which Jones was happy to do. "Think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut with some of those little sprinkles on top" was his contribution, as was the (above) exchange involving the word "hinky."


To lend more realism to the scene where Dr. Kimble is first questioned by police, Davis had Ford and the other actors do it with only half a script—the cops' half. Ford, not knowing in advance what the questions would be, had to ad lib responses in character. Naturally, this came across as being defensive and flustered, which was exactly what the situation called for. Acting!


Kopelson spent all those years trying to get the project going—and then once it got going, it had to be done fast. Shooting began in February 1993, six months before the scheduled release date. (Warner Bros. really wanted the film by the end of the summer.) The shoot itself was sufficient; it was the pre- and post-production schedules that were shortened. Consequently, instead of having one or two editors and a few assistants, Kopelson had "like, seven editors and 21 assistants working almost around the clock ... It was a rather harrowing experience."


Six men ended up being officially credited as the film's editors: Dennis Virkler, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Don Brochu, Richard Nord, and Dov Hoenig. When it received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, that was the most names that category had ever included. (It’s almost unheard of for any film to have more than three editors, let alone a film that isn’t a disaster.)


Dr. Nichols, the colleague who helps Kimble, was originally played by Richard Jordan. Sadly, Jordan fell ill during the shoot, and had to drop out. (He died a few weeks after the film was released.) When he was replaced by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé, a few scenes had to be redone, including one near the beginning, when Kimble still has his beard. Ford had to regrow it, which is why it looks slightly different in Krabbé's first scene from the way it looks elsewhere.


The maze of tunnels leading to the dam were fake, and built in a Chicago warehouse. The last section of the tunnel—the part that opens over the dam, where Kimble and Gerard have their dramatic confrontation—was actually transported from Chicago to the Cheoah Dam in North Carolina, where it was rigged to look like it belonged there. For the big jump, there were no stuntmen involved. Ford himself (secured by a wire) did the shot where Kimble looks over the edge and considers jumping, and dummies were used for the plunge itself. Six Harrison Ford lookalike dummies were commissioned, each costing somewhere between $7000 and $12,000. They did not survive intact, much to the dismay of their manufacturer, who'd been hoping to re-rent them.

Additional sources:
Director's DVD commentary

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)