James Garner could have been a Hollywood leading man. He had surfaced in a few films and apparently was on every director’s radar at one time or another. Hit or miss, he might have made quite an impact on the film industry. Instead, he will forever be known for the two defining television roles of his career. Maverick completely reinvented the television western. Up until that time the western was a place populated by clear good guys and bad guys. Men like Marshall Dillon and Ben Cartwright were known for their wholesome ways and do unto others attitude, perhaps mixed in with the occasional frontier justice. Enter Bret Maverick, who was a morally ambiguous character who loved to gamble and often run a con, even if it was usually on the bad guys. A western Robin Hood, if you will. It’s no surprise that when Stephen Cannell was looking for a new character he would bring Bret Maverick into the current day. Instead of a horse, Rockford drove an iconic Firebird. Still, even without the western trappings, Rockford is Maverick.
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.
Season 4 opens with a classic right out of the gate. Written and directed by Cannell himself, “Beamer’s Last Case” was ahead of its time. Rockford is the victim of identity theft. A PI wannabe has taken over Rockford’s persona and is taking cases, which he quickly manages to muck up. Rockford makes enough enemies on his own without the added weight of someone else’s. David Chase adds more of his vintage moments with episodes like “Queen of Peru”, another great mixup outing. A family of tourists rip off a grill and are determined to keep it, unaware it contains a fortune in diamonds. Isaac Hayes returns as Finch, Rita Moreno is back as Rita Capkovic, and Angel returns to top form as well. Dennis Dugan is Richie Brokelmman, leading to his own unsuccessful pilot. The whole gang of area PI’s team up in the season ender “The House on Willis Avenue”. Rockford’s famous Jimmy Joe Meeker makes another hilarious appearance as well. Didn’t I tell you this set was loaded? This was another strong collection of episodes worthy of anyone’s collection.
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 in the original broadcast.
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.
There is a 5th season episode which I assume will just be in the next set, so I’m not really sure what the point is. There is also a Sleuth TV promo piece. It’s a top ten countdown of television and film’s greatest detectives. Not surprisingly all of them are connected to Sleuth TV or NBC in some way. Yes, the Universal Holmes films are owned by Universal NBC. Rockford clocks in at #3 behind Columbo and Magnum PI. I want a recount. (Looked to me there was at least one hanging Chad, a murder victim perhaps?)
Look no further for the best crime show on television. Rockford has it all: humor, suspense, action, and enough car chases and crashes to keep every body shop in L.A. in the black. Garner simply pulls it off while making it all look so natural and easy. Who didn’t want to be Rockford as a kid? He was always “the big voice in the Big Valley”.