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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “The Rockford Files” went off the air in 1980, it wasn’t because it wasn’t popular, nor was it because James Garner was tired of playing the part of L.A.-based private investigator Jim Rockford. Well, not really, anyway. It was because continuing to play Rockford might well have killed him; he’d developed an ulcer, and his back and his knees were suffering in no small part because of a desire to perform his own stunts. As a result, Garner opted out of a sixth season, and the show disappeared from the NBC line-up without the sort of grand finale that it had more than earned.
Fourteen years later, however, Jim Rockford returned to the airwaves, though not to NBC. The first in a series of reunion movies, “I Still Love L.A.,” made its debut on CBS (which would also prove to be the home of the subsequent seven movies), and it’s finally being released on DVD – along with “A Blessing in Disguise,” “If the Shoe Fits…,” and “Godfather Knows Best” – as part of what Universal has cleverly dubbed the “Movie Collection.”
“I Still Love L.A.” kicks off just as the Los Angeles riots are taking place. For Rockford, who’s trying to sell his trailer and get out of town, it’s about the worst possible time that they could’ve happened, but it should come as no surprise to fans of the show that Angel (Stuart Margolin) immediately takes the opportunity to make a few bucks off the resulting chaos in the city. Of course, the riots have got Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) hopping over at the police department, but where’s Rocky? Fortunately, he’s safe and sound, but the same couldn’t be said for the actor who played Rockford’s dad in the series: Noah Beery, Jr., passed away just prior to the film’s premiere. (It was subsequently dedicated to him.)
For better or worse, Beery’s death – or, rather, Rocky’s – was turned into a major plot point in “If the Shoe Fits,” where we’re introduced to Jess Wilding (Dyan Cannon), who had a friendship with the old feller in his later years. Was it more than that? Jim’s not entirely sure that he needs, let alone wants, to know. This is arguably the strongest of the movies, partially because of the Rocky-centric storyline, but mostly because it features the return of Beth Davenport – now Van Zandt – to the “Rockford Files” universe; “A Blessing in Disguise” is pretty good, too, thanks mostly to the subplot which finds Angel taking up a new profession as a televangelist. Conversely, “Godfather Knows Best” is probably the weakest of the bunch. It focuses on Dennis Becker’s heretofore-unseen son, Scotty, who’s living on the street after a failed attempt to break out on his own a few years earlier, but it ends up too mired in schmaltz.
If these “Rockford Files” movies aren’t necessarily up to the standards of the original series – and let’s face it: they often aren’t – it’s so good to see Garner, Margolin, and Santos back in their familiar roles that it hardly matters.
Special Features: None. Which is only to be expected.