- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
ad but true: lots of ‘70s hour-long police / crime dramas just do not hold up when watched today…or, at least, not enough to make it worth owning a full season set. Like, for example, when the Ben Stiller – Owen Wilson feature film based on “Starsky and Hutch” came out, Sony got a gleam in their eye and released the first three seasons original show on DVD to capitalize on it…but, y’know, it’s really not as great as you remember. Fortunately, that’s not the case with “The Rockford Files”; it’s still a classic…and the thanks land squarely on the shoulders of James Garner. Although the show has an outstanding ensemble cast – with Noah Beery, Jr., as Jim’s dad Rocky, Joe Santos as Detective Dennis Becker, and Stuart Margolin as Angel Martin – the show exists as a showcase for Garner’s ability to flip-flop from comedy to drama at the drop of a hat.
“The Rockford Files” was the creation of writer Roy Huggins and producer Stephen J. Cannell, Huggins having already worked with Garner before on “Maverick.” The character of Jim Rockford evolved from an unproduced script for the not-very-successful (only one season) ABC series, “Toma”; after some rewrites, the script became the pilot episode for “The Rockford Files,” but not before both ABC and the show’s eventual network, NBC, groused that the script was too funny for a drama series. Thankfully, Garner balked at the network’s request to remove the lines, resulting in the series that we know today, complete with its dangerously catchy theme song by Mike Post. (Speaking of the opening credits, Rockford’s answering machine was the equivalent of the Simpsons’ couch; every episode had someone leaving a different message, usually threatening physical violence against or complaining about Rockford.) Jim Rockford wasn’t exactly an anti-hero, but he certainly wasn’t like any other character carrying a series on television at the time; he was a private investigator who’d spent some time in prison and didn’t go out of his way to be terribly likable; he was forever sarcastic, even when his life was in danger. (When asked at gunpoint by a skeptical criminal if he was planning to stick to his story, Rockford admits, “If I could think of something better, I’d probably use it.”) There might be a few too many car chases padding some of the episodes, since that was a big selling point in the ‘70s, but it’s the dialogue and delivery that make this show so watchable even now.
All 23 episodes of the first season of “The Rockford Files” are here, which include guest appearances from Abe Vigoda, Suzanne Somers, Ned Beatty, and a really young James Woods., but what Universal wants you to be really, really excited about is the fact that they got James Garner to sit down and record an exclusive interview for the set about the origins of Jim Rockford and his experiences on the show. Don’t fall for it; Garner’s folksy delivery makes for enjoyable viewing, but it’s less than ten minutes long and, nice though it is, you’ll never watch it again. Universal’s Classic TV line is renown for being altogether devoid of special features, so, sure, something’s better than nothing…but nine minutes is still pretty damned close to nothing.
That bitching aside, however, this is a must-have for fans of classic television. Jim Rockford is one of the definitive TV detectives, and James Garner plays him to absolute perfection. Fingers crossed that no-one ever tries to do an updated version of the show; Garner’s shoes are way too big for anyone to step into.