Appellate Judge Tom Becker learned long ago that a smart-mouthed retort is an effective weapon in a gun battle.
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: Season Six (published January 21st, 2009) are also available.
"I didn't kill ____!"
-- Fill in the blank, get the theme of every movie on The Rockford Files: Movie Collection, Volume 1
Full disclosure: Until I sat down to review this set, I'd never seen an episode of The Rockford Files. I knew of it, of course—iconic '70's detective show, with iconic '70's icon, James Garner—and I was acquainted with the iconic theme song.
The Rockford Files: Movie Collection, Volume 1, however, is not the place to turn for a '70s fix. This is a quartet of TV movies made in the '90s, more than a decade after the original series left the air.
I Still Love LA: Rockford is trying to sell the trailer he lives in at the beach, but unfortunately, the potential buyers show up on the day of the 1992 Rodney King riots. He actually encounters everything terrible that LA can throw at him, including fires, an earthquake, looters—and the case of a former movie star shot in her own drive-way.
A Blessing in Disguise: When Rockford's friend and sidekick Angel (Stuart Margolin, Death Wish) becomes a successful televangelist, he calls for the boycott of a "blasphemous" film, and Rockford finds himself protecting the film's star (Renee O'Connor) from a group of crazed Christian extremists. But when a producer turns up dead, Rockford fears that his client might be next.
If the Frame Fits…: Someone has murdered one of Rockford's rivals and set Jim up to take the fall. Rockford finds himself outrunning the police, the FBI—and the people who set him up. Dyan Cannon guest stars as a friend of Rockford's late father.
Godfather Knows Best: Rockford's underachieving godson—whose father is the PI's police buddy, Lt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos, The Sopranos)—is accused of murdering a wealthy model. The guy's such a spoiled and surly punk, even Rockford's not sure if he did it.
Although I'd never seen the original program, these movies made it fairly easy to catch up on what I'd missed. The characters all get a few bits to introduce themselves and show off their various quirks. Since I Still Love LA was the first Rockford Files movie, there's a fair amount of exposition for those who might have forgotten what had been going on in 1980.
In these films, the "mystery" aspect takes a back seat to character, story, and quirky set pieces. Maybe this is how the show was, but at times, it seems that each 90 or so minute "movie" is kinda padded; I could see these easily being cut down to 40-some minutes to fit a traditional 60-minute time slot.
I Still Love LA focuses more on catching up with Rockford and seeing how he's weathered the years (not well, I'm guessing, though not terribly). The movie takes a lot of shots at LA in the early '90s, with the Rodney King riot stuff in questionable taste and really not necessary to the story. The point is to show what an unpleasant place LA was to live (and to add some business with Angel), but it just seems a little heavy handed and off-putting to use such a current (at the time) event in a light-hearted show like this. We also see how aging has affected Rockford, which makes for some pretty funny scenes.
A Blessing in Disguise is another Angel-heavy episode, and Stuart Margolin—who won a pair of Emmys for this role in the '70s—is very entertaining. The episode itself, which includes a guest appearance by confrontational talk show host Morton Downey Jr., is a little soft. Scenes of crazed, backwoodsy religious zealots protesting a movie really date this, as does Downey's cameo, and it's a long set up before we get to the "mystery" part, which is pretty easy to figure out.
Angel doesn't much figure into If the Frame Fits… and Godfather Knows Best. These are just-OK episodes that probably would have worked better in the shorter format. Frame features an awfully convoluted resolution and Godfather a ridiculously simple one. Rockford doesn't do a lot of sleuthing here; solutions pretty much offer themselves to him, and he makes a lot of good guesses. Cannon and Gretchen Corbett—who appeared for a few seasons on the series—offer up good support in Frame, and both episodes feature some fun set pieces (including a few side trips to a Buddhist monastary in Godfather), but these two are as forgettable as they are enjoyable.
The draw here, of course, is Garner, who might be the most likeable male TV star in the history of the medium. Even though he's well into his sixties in these movies, and looks every day of it, he's still got "it"—the presence, the charisma, and the endless charm. He's also aging both realistically and gracefully. There's no pretense that Rockford is still a young(ish) guy; he's more father/uncle figure. Although an ex-wife turns up in one episode and an ex-lover in another, there are no romantic entanglements; frankly, he just seems a bit too tired for all that. His interactions with Margolin's Angel are always fun, though in the "Angel light" episodes, Rockford's favorite hustler sometimes seems more like a prop.
The four films are spread out over two discs and sport acceptable full-frame transfers. There are no extras on this set. Audio and video are decent, probably no different than when these were broadcast.
I kinda wish I'd caught a few episodes of The Rockford Files before plunging into this set. The films are entertaining enough, if overly padded, but I think I would have gotten more out of this if I'd already been a Rockford fan. On the other hand, if you're a fan of The Rockford Files, you will likely enjoy these a lot.
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