Rockford, James Rockford. OK. So that doesn’t sound as suave as you know who. Still, for me growing up, there was perhaps no one cooler. We all wanted to be Rockford. Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, the same team that brought us Maverick, Rockford really was just a modern day Bret Maverick. I’m not sure if that was the intent or if James Garner simply slid into the persona as easily as a plaid jacket. Whatever the plan, The Rockford Files is truly classic television at its best.
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 five 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.
David Chase joined the writer staff for Rockford in season 3. He would end up being a driving force in the evolution of the character and show. Of course, everybody knows Chase now as the creator of The Sopranos. His first episode “The Oracle Wore A Cashmere Suit” is classic Rockford. Jimmy gets accused of murder by a psychic running a scam. Then leave it to Chase to provide one of the best Angel episodes in “Rattlers Class of ‘63’” Angel’s fallen in love, but his fiancée’s family has got other reasons for the union. Not surprisingly another vintage episode also belongs to Chase. In “Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, but Waterbury Will Bury You”, Simon Oakland, Kolchak’s own Tony V., appears as Vern St. Cloud, a returning rival PI who must work with Rockford or they’re all in big trouble. Quincy’s Val Bisoglio also stars. “The Trees The Bees and T.T. Flowers” wasn’t written by Chase, but rather Gordon Dawson. This is still a great 2-parter. Rocky figures prominently here as his eccentric friend has run afoul of land developers and needs Jimmy’s help. The late Noah Beerly was a wonderful actor and a beloved character to Rockford fans and any episode that features him is bound to be a good one. There are, of course, tons more classic Rockford moments to be found here.
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. The 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 twangy 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.
The only extra is a 4th season episode which I assume will just be in the next set so I’m not really sure what the point is. I hope this is not a sign there will be no 4th season set.
When season sets of television shows first started to appear nearly a decade ago, The Rockford Files was about the first series I wished for. Syndicated versions were always cut and/or time compressed, and I was beginning to think I’d never enjoy these moments again in my life. Now, they’re finally here, and I can’t tell you how very cool that is. There’s no reason to not buy this set, just put it on that expense account. Would I do that? “I decline to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me.”