The Rockford Files: Season Two
Usually, the television private investigator is a man cut from bold cloth. He is dauntless, brave and always demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice for others. Nothing could be farther from the description of Jim Rockford (James Gardner). Rockford would much rather drift through life doing the minimum necessary to keep the constant threatening calls form collection agencies at bay. His one admirable quality is he does have a heart of gold and can well empathize with his fellow underdogs. Unlike his television competition Thomas Magnum, Rockford does not live in a (albeit borrowed) mansion. His residence is a broken down trailer near the shore. Instead of a fast, sleek car he drives around town in a clunker gold Pontiac Firebird. As an ex-convict, naturally imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, he straddles both sides of the law during his investigations. For a modest fee of $200 per day he will take on a case that the police have determined to be closed. Unfortunately for the lamented Jim Rockford most of his clients are unable to pay up leaving him with more pro bono work that is financially wise.
Most of Rockford’s friends are as broken down as his car. Fellow ex con Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin) is a would-be con man but completely lacks the social graces and charm to be successful at his chosen profession. Angel is always looking for the fast and easy score; neither usually applies to his shady endeavors. While Rockford uses Angel as an informer, relying on his underground contact, mostly Angel is the source of many of the dangerous situations Rockford finds himself in. Rockford’s father, Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.) is a retired interstate trucker who is always providing his son with generally useless advice. Rocky would much rather see his son doing something honest like driving a big rig by the son is as stubborn as the father and keeps to playing PI in Los Angeles. There are a couple of legitimate associates in Rockford’s life. One is police Sergeant Dennis Becker (Joe Santos). Much to Becker’s chagrin he frequently gives in to Rockford’s requests for information always sure this will be the last time. The other person in Rockford’s life is former girlfriend Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett). She is a lawyer, something quite often required for Rockford when he finds himself once again behind bars.
Usually Rockford is drawn unwilling into a dangerous case. While his little quarter page ad in a local newspaper generates some clients Rockford falls into danger by just trying to help out a friend. In the season opener Rockford meets up with a childhood friend Aaron Ironwood (James Hampton). They two where close as boys but their lives have taken completely different courses. Ironwood is currently a motivational speaker with the catch phrase ‘dare to win’. Ironwood approach Rockford with a dubious business arrangement. The mob wants to purchase the Ironwood Empire for over $20 million. He wants Rockford to take the properties ad act as and intermediary for the sale. Rockford has Beth look over the contracts and she can find nothing overtly wrong with them. While this may appear to be a simple and admittedly unusual transaction Rockford soon discovers that the mob has other plans and his old friend is under a federal investigation. In the episode ‘The Hammer of C Block’, Jim is reunited with fellow alumni of prison, Gandolph Fitch (Isaac Hayes). He was imprisoned for 20 years on the charge of murdering his girlfriend. Now that he is out he wants ‘Rockfish’ to repay a prison debt and find the real killer. Rockford does specialize in closed cases but a two decade gap is almost too much for him. This episode is not only fun but it sets up Hayes as a recurring character for the series. Rockford never looks for trouble but it always has a way of finding him anyway. As a self professed professional coward he tries his best to avoid a fight but seems to get beaten up on a regular basis.
The series is sort of the anti noir detective show. Rockford is a real, flawed human being that the audience can readily identify with. The show has dry, very subtle sense of humor that made it a hit for the duration of its nine year run. It broke the mold for television PI shows and with all the technical advances around today it has never been duplicate and certainly never exceeded.
This is one of the best remembered roles for veteran actor James Gardner. Garner has made a nice career for himself play the laid back, slightly shady character. He draws on such classics as his portrayal of the Scrounger in the Great Escape and his previous television role of the consummate gambler in Maverick. In Rockford he gives the audience a man that just wants to pay some bills and enjoy his freedom. He tries his best to sublimate his need to help others but try as he may he can’t help but to be the nice guy others can depend on. Noah Beery Jr. is one of the great character actors of his day. A veteran of countless westerns he brings a little humorous heart to the series. He gives us a Rocky that is a loving and supportive father but one that is more than willing to call out his son. One has to wonder why Rockford would continue to associate with someone like Angel. Stuart Margolin makes the relationship work by playing the put upon lowlife, sort of like Peter Lorre’s Ugarte in Casablanca. Margolin presents Angel as a man so pitiful that even someone as down as Rockford has to have some sympathy for him.
Universal brings this second season set to DVD with the thanks of grateful fans everywhere. The 22 episodes are on three double sided discs. Personally I found the discs playable. The video is about par for a series of this age. There are a few compression artifacts and the color was a little less than bright but the shows come across better than the syndication versions. The audio is on Dolby mono and while not spectacular it does server the series well. For the extras there is a copy of the series plot ‘Backlash of the Hunter’ and an introduction by James Garner. This is a classic television series and is required viewing by families around the country.