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Rockford Files - Season Two, The

Universal // Unrated // June 13, 2006
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted July 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Produced by Stephen J. Cannell, The Rockford Files began its life as a 90 minute NBC TV movie in March, 1974, starring popular actor James Garner as Jim Rockford, an ex-convict private detective who had served five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit; new evidence came to light and he was given a full pardon. Going against the grain as TV detectives were portrayed up to that time, Rockford was a relatively carefree sort who would rather spend his time fishing with his retired dad Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.) than go out doggedly searching for big cases to solve. Still, a fella has to pay the bills on a trailer by the ocean and a souped up Trans-Am, so work he did, sometimes being assisted by old friend on the police force L.A.P.D. Sergeant Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) and getting bailed out of jail by his attorney Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett). There always seems to be enough work for Rockford, at times as a result of the colorful acquaintances in his life, none of them more colorful than sleazy, conniving pal Angel (Stuart Margolin), Jim's cell mate from his prison days.

The Rockford Files is a series which ran 6 successful seasons, only ending when Garner left the show due to medical problems, then came back in several TV movies from 1994 to 1996, grabbing blockbuster viewer numbers. It almost certainly has never left the air, keeping old and gaining new fans in syndication year after year. It earned an Emmy award for best drama in 1978. It also won Emmys for both Garner and Margolin as well as garnering nominations for Beery and Santos over its 6 year run.

At the heart of The Rockford Files is James Garner, handsome, charming, masculine, seemingly smirking at the inside joke that is life. He gained his share of fame in Western TV series Maverick, from there staying active in films before trying his hand in a TV series again. That the show was written to tailor the Garner/Maverick persona goes without saying. As with many of the parts Garner has played over the years, the name and settings change far more than the Garner walking among them. Garner plays Rockford with panache; as with other roles he has played this character is certainly likable, but can also grate at the nerves of those having to deal with him- a charming wiseguy always on the edge of ticking you off, and at times past going past it. On the other hand, in past roles Garner's character always seemed a bit ahead of the game in regards to whatever situation came his way (Maverick, Support Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Gunfighter come to mind); whereas in The Rockford Files his character has to think on his feet a little more often than he likes. Garner plays Rockford as the everyman's hero, a guy just trying to make a buck, at times chastised and a little indignant with those around him, putting up with any number of daily hassles as he goes, but in the end willing to stand up and fight for what he thinks is right when he has to.

Jim Rockford is many things, and brings a humanity to the show that most detective series of the time had yet to do; he's sly, quick witted, even tempered, realistic, humorous, cynical, and a little dog-eared from the experiences he's had in life thus far. He is a begrudging white knight- he's in the game for the money, yet is a bit of a sucker for those who truly need his help but don't have that $200 per day plus expenses he charges. He'd like to just turn his back on cases that get a bit too dangerous, but somehow always manages to stay in the game. He has no qualms whatsoever with talking his way out of violence, but when you make him mad enough he'll use that mid-years burly frame of his to knock you on your ass. While he isn't always ethical, he does follow his own moral code and if he sees it as being the right thing to do will do so. Rockford stays true to old friends from the past and present; while he might be a bit exasperated with his dad at times, he's grateful to have him around. Looking at Rockford you always get the feeling he's capable of so much more, but that doesn't matter to him; he has his trailer on the beach, can go fishing with his dad when he pleases, and is much happier in the slow lane just getting by with ample time to enjoy his life. He's aging fairly well in a seamy little trade, picking his battles when given the opportunity to do so. Jim Rockford is an underachiever, and that suits him just fine.

The Rockford Files had rock solid supporting actors in great roles as well; two in particular stand out. Jim's dad, retired truck driver "Rocky" was wonderfully brought to life by character actor Noah Beery Jr. Always fretting for his boy, Rocky is always trying to persuade Jim to get out of the detective business and get a "real job", Rocky was nonetheless always there to help his son out when called upon. The Garner/Beery relationship gave the show a humanness it would never have had otherwise.

Then, of course, there is Angel. Played by Garner's old friend Stuart Margolin, Angel is a conniving, scheming, seedy, get-rich quick scam artist who always seems to be getting himself as well as Rockford into all manner of trouble. While he is an enormous pain in the neck, Jim will always be his friend as a result of the time they spent together behind bars and he's a likable guy, almost in spite of himself. Margolin plays this part to an incredible tee, looking and enacting the role well enough to have garnered two Emmys in doing so.

To be honest, I didn't much care for this show at all when it was in its prime time television run. Garner was the lead for a Maverick-type series called "Nichols" that ran just prior to this series, and in those days I enjoyed it alot more. The Rockford Files premiered in 1974 and ran as a series until 1980; I was in my late teens at the time and saw the show as lacking in action. As I've gotten older, I can see where Rockford was coming from in far more ways that I could in my youth. The guy has spent 5 years in prison for something he didn't do, he's a man who has had enough hard knocks to look rough around the edges, he's a savvy, intelligent old con who has the grace and looks to stay out of harms way in most cases. He's not crazy enough to die for that daily $200, and his idea of being armed and dangerous equates to having his gun stashed in a coffee can. While he's a bit weary of life, he isn't bitter about where he's been nor where he is in it. What makes this show work is the fact that it was written in a manner that suited Garner, and his style; jaunty, shifty, always a con or a scam going on, either via Rockford himself, his clients or one of his ex-con pals. Each episode opens with tongue firmly in cheek as the viewer gets a chance to hear what goofy new message will be on Jim's answering machine while he is out- chances are good he's going to wince when he plays them back. Even the title theme for the show evokes memories of Maverick and something a bit on the grand Wild West scale, with a melodic synthesizer that sounds a bit like a harmonica entwined with a booming horn midsection. Both lighthearted and grand, it seems the perfect music for the content within. This is a series rich in the study of personalities that ran in a period where mindless violence was the order of the day; the characters are human, and the show has a cerebral feel to it that I've only come to appreciate with maturity.

Here is a brief synopsis of Season Two episodes-

The Aaron Ironwood School of Success- Jim welcomes home his childhood foster brother, who has struck it rich as the result of a pyramid scheme. On the run from the mob and the feds, the falling millionaire asks Rockford to temporarily take control of his company.
The Farnsworth Strategm- Detective Becker is in a sticky situation when he realizes that he has involuntarily invested money with a fraudulent hotel corporation. Jim involves Angel in some trickery of their own. Linda Evans guest stars in this one.
Gearjammers Part 1- After witnessing a mob payoff that is part of a big-rig hijacking scheme, Rocky becomes the target of assassins. Working to protect his dad, Jim learns that Rocky has a bit of a secret life he had never imagined.
Gearjammers Part 2- Conclusion; the mob continues to hunt for Rocky while Jim teams with the police to solve the trucking case, with some fun big-rig chases along the way.
The Deep Blue Sleep- The situation isn't pretty when a model disappears after a frantic phone call to her attorney. Rockford is hired to enter the world of high fashion and find her, but is soon on a homicide case after her body is discovered.
The Great Blue Lake Land and Development Company-While stranded in a desert town, Rockford has $10,000- money for a client's bail- stolen. He turns to Rocky and fast Harry, an ex-con friend, to help him find both the money and the thief.
The Real Easy Red Dog- Nothing is as it seems when Rockford is duped by a beautiful private eye who uses him as a decoy to deceive the police. What starts off as a suicide investigation leads to stolen jewels, missing babies and murder.
Resurrection in Black and White- Following her gut feelings, a magazine writer hires Rockford to help her prove the innocence of a man who's been convicted of homicide.
Chicken Little's a Little Chicken- The situation is anything but heavenly when Rockford's old cell mate Angel leads him to an underworld of gangsters and gambling.
2 into 5.56 Won't Go- While investigating the death of his former Army commander, Rockford uncovers military corruption and arms smuggling.
Pastoria Prime Pick- Rockford takes a quick disliking to the small town he's visiting when a bogus repair bill is followed by phony criminal charges.
The Reincarnation of Angie- Believing that her stockbroker brother has been abducted by the mob, a bookkeeper hires Rockford.
The Girl in the Bay City Boy's Club- Posing as a newspaperman, Jim goes undercover in a charity gambling operation that his client believes is rigged. Angel shows up in this episode.
The Hammer of C Block- Gandy Finch (the first of three appearances by this character, played by Issac Hayes) Rockford's former cell mate, is released from prison after serving twenty years for the murder of his wife. Still claiming his innocence, Rockford struggles to clear his name.
The No-Cut Contract- Jim finds himself in a fixed game when a small-time pro quarterback implicates him in a blackmail ploy.Angel appears here.
A Portrait of Elizabeth- Beth's latest beau hires Rockford to investigate the disappearance of cashier's checks.
Joey Blue Eyes- An ex-con looks to Rockford to help him remain on the straight and narrow when the mob shows an interest in his legitimate restaurant business.
In Hazard- When she finds herself in jail, Beth realizes that her clients have ties to the underworld. with her life in danger, she turns to Rockford for help.
The Italian Bird Fiasco- Posing as an art dealer, Rockford discovers a rare sculpture of a bird for a client. When he is attacked leaving the auction he realizes that more is going on behind the scenes.
Where's Houston?- Jim searches for the missing granddaughter of a family friend.
Foul on the First Play- After learning that the parole officer who hired him is actually a private detective Rockford works to even the score in the case about a basketball franchise and the would be owner who refuses to play by the rules.
A Bad Deal in the Valley- Nothing is as it seems when Rockford's old flame, a real estate tycoon, hires him to deliver a package that turns out to be $100,000 in counterfeit money. She claims to have known nothing of this and then is mysteriously kidnapped. Appearance by Angel.

One notable thing about The Rockford Files was its ability to gel as a series early on; it seems as if James Garner walked on the set already Jim Rockford from the first episode on. Well before the end of season one you had a considerable feel for the lead role as well as most of the supporting cast. Once it was underway it never gave the viewer the impression that much needed to be done in the way of retooling; while a few new characters were introduced here and there to add spice to the sauce, it was already tasty. Having said that, season two is notable for upping the frequency of which we see Angel, an excellent foil for both plots and comic relief. Rocky, Beth and Dennis all get their share of showcasing here with their roles somewhat expanded compared to season one; Rocky in particular gets alot of screen time, which in my opinion is a good thing to see- Beery should definitely have won an Emmy for his work as Rockford's dad somewhere along the run of the series. Its a good season for guest stars; besides seeing Issac Hayes' first of three appearances as Gandy Finch, season two offers Stefanie Powers, Linda Evans, Robert Webber, Louis Gossett Jr., Rob Reiner, Frank Campanella, John Saxon, and Dick Butkus showing up. One thing baby boomers will appreciate when watching these episodes is the frequency with which they will see several lesser known character actors show up in small roles here- actors who seemed to always have steady work in Hollywood guest starring on one TV show after another, but never achieving stardom.

The DVD-

The Rockford Files Season Two is presented across 6 single sided discs on a tri-fold plastic/cardboard sleeve, housed in a slick cardboard case.

Video-

Aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 fullscreen. For the most part the prints look to be fairly clean- there is a bit of dirt and print damage here and there, but nothing to worry about on the whole. Colors are very well represented overall, with blacks looking good and skin tones natural as well, especially once you get past the first episode of the season.

Audio-

The audio track for this set is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Clear and easy to understand, fine for its purpose.

Extras-

Stephen J. Cannell Reflects On The Second Season- Clocking in at about 10 minutes, the title for this extra is misleading, as it really has nothing to do with the second season but everything to do with the creation of the show as a 90 minute movie, then a series. Cannell discusses the creation of the show- how Garner was brought in after Cannell wrote the pilot script, its rejection by ABC and was subsequently picked up by Paramount and NBC.

Original Series Pilot- A nice extra to find for any series as popular as The Rockford Files, here you get the original pilot for the show, clocking in at about 70 minutes.

Final Thoughts-

A valid argument can be made for calling The Rockford Files the best ever detective series, and as legacies go James Garner is as remembered for playing Jim Rockford as for portraying Bret Maverick. I enjoyed watching Season One when it was released on DVD and am pleased to say that Season Two ups the ante, further fleshing out the relationships between Rockford and the show's supporting characters; the writing for the season is consistently good and with 6 full discs of material here- over 18 hours worth- there is plenty keep the viewer entertained. Highly recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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