Appellate Judge James A. Stewart couldn't resist having wine and cheese with "The Big Cheese."
Our reviews of The Rockford Files: Season One (published January 11th, 2006), The Rockford Files: Season Two (published October 11th, 2006), The Rockford Files: Season Three (published February 6th, 2008), and The Rockford Files: Movie Collection, Volume 1 (published November 4th, 2009) are also available.
"He's really different."
-- Althea Morgan and Angel Martin discussing private eye Jim Rockford.
Today, few can afford to place a mobile home in the vicinity of Jim Rockford's beat-up trailer, but the mix of comedy and drama that made The Rockford Files a Friday night fixture in the Seventies endures. Heck, I even spend a lot of Friday nights today with a similar blend, courtesy of Monk and Psych.
James Garner, who played a reluctant (but not too reluctant) hero in the Old West in Maverick, plays Jim Rockford, a reluctant (but not too reluctant) hero in contemporary California. Rockford's a pardoned ex-con who works as a private eye out of a dingy trailer at 29 Cove Road in Malibu. His friend Evelyn "Angel" Martin (Stuart Margolin, Bret Maverick), an ex-con newspaper librarian who's always looking for a scam, and his father Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery Jr., Circus Boy) are always wandering in to raid the refrigerator. Down at the police station, he's always cajoling buddy Dennis Becker (Joe Santos, The Sopranos) for information while dodging tough Lt. Chapman (James Luisi, Santa Barbara). By Season Six, ladyfriend Beth Davenport is nowhere to be found, but the women in Rockford's life this season include Lauren Bacall, Kathryn Herrold, Rita Moreno, and Mariette Hartley, who co-starred with Garner in a series of famous commercials for Polaroid.
The Rockford Files: Season Six—The Final Season wasn't the last of Rockford; a series of TV movies found the character living in a larger, nicer trailer years later. In a way, you might expect that, since the show disappeared in midseason, leaving the hard-luck private eye out there chasing bad guys forever.
Facts of the Case
The Rockford Files: Season Six—The Final Season includes 12 episodes on three discs:
"Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs—Part 1": Rockford's invited to a masquerade party to keep an eye on a socialite (Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not) who may be a murder target. Good thing, too, since Friar Tuck has a knife.
"Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs—Part 2": Rockford's investigation puts him in the sights of a big-time mobster—until the mobster is poisoned.
"Only Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die—Part 1": A rock star who's involved in a $15 million palimony case asks Rockford to find a missing bandmate on the recommendation of security guy Eddie, who was a prison buddy of Rockford.
"Love is the Word": Rockford struggles with his feelings for blind shrink Megan Dougherty (Kathryn Harrold, Desperate Housewives) as he helps her clear her fiancee of a murder rap. Barbara Mandrell appears in concert.
"Nice Guys Finish Dead": Rockford's up against the annoying Lance White (Tom Selleck, Magnum, P.I.) for an investigators' association award. When bumbling Freddie Beamer finds a dead senator in the lavatory, the two rivals team up to clear Freddie's name. Larry Manetti (Magnum, P.I.) also appears.
"The Hawaiian Headache": In Hawaii, Rockford's colonel from his Army days, now a spy, drafts him to deliver a suitcase full of case, but the simple intelligence mission goes haywire when a rookie agent disappears. Naturally, Angel and Becker turn up.
"The Big Cheese": "There's something coming in the mail for you. Something big," a reporter tells Rockford on the phone, just before getting stabbed. Now a crooked union boss wants that package—and so does Chapman. Too bad the post office lost it.
"Just a Coupla Guys": In Newark, two mob wannabees want a part in the drama playing out in an ex-mobster's life. Rockford doesn't, but he's stuck; his rental car was stolen, leaving him with no money, no luggage, and no options. David Chase (The Sopranos) wrote this one.
"Deadlock in Parma": When his fishing buddy claims stomach pains, Rockford takes his proxy in a deadlocked council vote. Turns out it's on casino gambling, and the lobbying could get deadly.
"The Big Cheese," which has goons in Jim Rockford's trailer demanding he cook them breakfast, Rockford and Chapman alternately doing comic battle with the post office bureaucracy, bad guys running down Rockford's postman, Angel robbing the dead loner's office and apartment, and a wild Rockford gambit that sees him chasing through a train station, might be the perfect Rockford Files episode, hewing to TV conventions with its action at each commercial break but somehow going very askew. Just wait till you see what's in that package! Also typical of Rockford, the silliness is interrupted a couple of times by seriousness as Rockford mourns his friend. If you're a fan, it's an episode you should still remember, as are "Paradise Cove" and "Nice Guys Finish Dead," two other hilarious outings. There's also an oddball mob story, "Just a Coupla Guys," by The Sopranos creator David Chase.
"It just keeps getting better and better," Rockford often said as situations just got worse and worse. His way of dealing with absurd and dangerous situations with a smile and a wisecrack helped many a viewer relax after a bad week. While none of us have had goons in our kitchens placing breakfast orders (I hope), we've all had to deal with snotty maitre d's, post office bureaucracy, bills, or undependable friends; Rockford often spends more time battling these troubles than he does with his cases. No wonder he lives in a beat-up trailer!
Today, Rockford would likely be considered a comedy, but when it first aired, it won Emmys as a drama. Naturally there were a few more serious episodes in the mix to show to the Emmy voters. "Love is the Word" steered furthest from the laughs-and-car-chases formula, emphasizing Rockford's reaction to an ex-girlfriend who's moving on without him. "No Fault Affair" tread similar ground, but concentrated on Rita Moreno's performance as a prostitute trying to reform; her acting makes it a standout of the season.
Universal didn't do anything with this package to make it special for fans. You'll get no commentaries or special features. Perhaps they steered clear of it because of James Garner's famous penchant for fighting with studios, but it's still missed. They didn't even remaster the aged film; you'll see lots of spots, lines, and other marks on it, not to mention the occasional flaring. The sound's not bad, though.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The weak spots in this set of 12 episodes are those two-parters. While they deliver strong performances, especially by Lauren Bacall, and some memorable gags and dialogue, these stories just didn't need two episodes to tell.
The last season of The Rockford Files didn't jump the shark, but it didn't do anything unusual to provide closure for viewers. It kept on the show's consistent course. The last episode, "Deadlock in Parma," revolved around a private-eye show chestnut, the small town with a secret.
Regrettably, Universal didn't add anything special for Rockford's final bow, either. The package for Magnum, P.I.'s last run included episode commentaries that added to the experience, and you could see that the creative team was working overtime that season as well.
Still, enlivened by guest turns from Lauren Bacall, Mariette Hartley, Rita Moreno, and Tom Selleck and some funny yarns, it's a good sample of The Rockford Files. Fans, look over those episode recaps. If you see a few favorites that you want to add to your DVD collection, go for it. Newcomers who like USA's retro fare might want to give The Rockford Files a look.
Jim Rockford is cleared of all charges, despite Lt. Chapman's testimony. His status as a classic TV character is well-deserved. However, Universal gets a reprimand for not taking more care with this set.
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