It was an excitable time for this young 13 year old boy. No matter where you were in the house, the sound came to you. No matter what you were doing, it drew you to the living room television. No matter how bad things were going, that sound brought a smile to your face. Mike Post’s opening theme for The Rockford Files has to be one of the best in television history, and it lingers in my mind as a precious anthem of days gone by.
He was every young boy’s hero. How could you resist James Rockford? He had the toughness of Dirty Harry. Yet, beneath it all, he was terribly flawed and even a little naive. Why is it that after the hundreds of TV detectives that have crossed our paths a small handful endear themselves to the pop culture? The answer is simple. Every once in a while an actor combines with strong writers and creates a character with incredible heart and soul. We can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Peter Falk accomplished it with Columbo. In recent years Tony Shalhoub has graced us with Monk. You can’t complete such a list without James Garner and his alter ego, Rockford.
James Rockford lived in a trailer on the beach. His lovable dad was a truck driver who never did understand how his “sonny” could be mixed up in the dirty world of private investigations. While Rockford always projected a tough guy exterior, it was his soft spot for a sad story that often got him deep in trouble. He could understand the world of injustice. He had spent 5 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Even after a full pardon the cops considered him a lowlife ex-con. His one buddy, Lt. Becker, usually laid low among his fellow officers often afraid to admit to being Rockford’s friend. Rockford was also king of the con. When normal tactics didn’t work he could bring together a group of scam artists and con men to handle the largest of productions. He traveled with his own business card printing press. Afraid of guns, Rockford usually kept his in the cookie jar.
And of course, who can forget the 1974 gold Firebird? The Rockford Files might not have invented the car chase, but they brought virtuosity to the genre. The chase was an important piece to each week’s puzzle. Forget NASCAR; I broke my teeth watching Rockford either chasing or as often running from the bad guys. Tires screeching. Traffic dodging. Bullets flying. I’d like to see Tony Stewart drive like that!
Each episode of The Rockford Files is presented in a standard full frame format.While one must consider the 30 year age of the original print, I was very impressed with the transfer given to us here. The color is as good as it ever was. Grain is there, sure, but minimal There are occasional specks and artifacts from the original print. All in all this is a solid restoration job. Blacks and detail are impressive. The show was often shot dark. Even daylight shots often left dark shadows on Garner’s face. This style is preserved wonderfully here. The contrast levels survive, perhaps even stronger than the original broadcast looked.
Each episode is provided with a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Again, the audio was given some noticeable care. The trademark twang music comes through with just enough punch. Dialogue is always easy to understand. While there are really no dynamic lows to ride your sub, there is enough bottom to make the point. I found none of the high-end distortion common in older TV transfers. More than what I heard, it was what I did not hear that impressed me most. Too many 70’s shows contain an annoying if subtle hiss from the original recordings. I couldn’t find any of it on The Rockford Files.
Sadly, only a short 8 minute conversation with James Garner is given.This is a strong 8 minutes, but it serves as a teaser. You are left wanting much more. Garner shows his age now, but his charm shows through. He talks about his perspective of who Rockford was and why it was so successful. He tells us that the networks wanted all the humor removed and he threatened to walk if they did. Fortunately for all of us, they caved.
Universal insists on putting their shows on double sided discs. If I didn’t want this show so badly, I would have considered not giving them my money. I don’t expect these fragile discs to hold up, and that’s a crime worthy of a Rockford investigation.
Finally, it’s what’s not there that really annoyed me. Universal did not see fit to provide the original Pilot TV film: “Backlash Of The Hunter”. Let’s talk about truth in advertising here. This IS NOT the COMPLETE first season.
When I was a boy I wanted to be a private investigator. Later I did do some of that work, but I soon discovered that it wasn’t a PI I wanted to become, it was James Rockford. Few shows and even fewer characters have had the influence that Rockford did. It was a long wait for this show. Now it comes bittersweet. I had hoped that the wait would provide more participation by Garner and some of his castmates. I was hoping for commentaries and behind the scenes. Instead I got double sided discs and 8 minutes of extras. I got no pilot, but a superb job of restoring the original episodes. What more could I expect for a measly “200 dollars a day plus expenses”?