We should get this out of the way right up front — it’s absolutely impossible for me to be objective about The Rockford Files. My mom and I used to watch it on a little TV in the kitchen, and those remain some of my favorite times we spent together. And when you have an emotional attachment like that to something, does it really matter if it’s any good?
Well, luckily, The Rockford Files is very good indeed. It’s pretty easy to say it’s one of the greatest television shows ever. At its best, a TV series reflects the personality of its star — or what we perceive is that personality. Think of The Andy Griffith Show or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. You feel you really get to know those people. I think the same goes for James Garner and The Rockford Files. Jim Rockford fits Garner like a glove.
Another thing Andy, Mary and Rockford have in common is that the star serves as a hub, with some wonderful characters spinning around that hub from episode to episode. Sometimes those characters are regulars, sometimes they’re only in a single episode. With Rockford/Garner, a lot of the joy comes from his reactions to folks like Angel (Stuart Margolin), Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) and Gandy Fitch (Isaac Hayes). Oftentimes, the plot or case seems to serve mainly as a way to connect Rockford to those characters.
Of course, a character-driven show like this puts a lot of pressure on the writers, casting people, directors and actors. And with The Rockford Files, in all these departments, what you get here is about as good as it gets.
It’s all pretty simple. Jim Rockford is an ex-con (wrongfully convicted and pardoned) private detective living in a trailer on the beach in Malibu. He’s close to his dad, Rocky, a retired truck driver. And he’s got a couple friends who often get involved with his cases: Becker (Joe Santos), a sergeant in the LAPD, and Angel, a con man Rockford met in prison. In the earlier seasons, there’s Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), an attorney Jim’s sweet on.
And, of course, there’s the Firebird. And Rocky’s truck. Garner was a car guy, and he made sure the vehicles were cast as well as the actors. The trailer (up top) is also perfectly propped out to reflect Rockford’s status and personality (he keeps his pistol in a cookie jar). The Firebird and trailer suffer all sorts of abuse of the course of the series.
Mill Creek has released The Rockford Files, all six seasons, in a Blu-Ray set that I’ve been returning to time and time again. It gives me an all new reason (not that I need one) to revisit these 122 episodes yet again.
The Rockford Files has the typical 70s cop show look, maybe a bit seedier than usual. LA locations seem to have been chosen for how glitzy or grungy they are, fitting the big wigs and lowlives Garner locks horns with from week to week.
Doesn’t exactly sound like the best use of the Blu-Ray format, does it? Well, not so fast. The DVD sets from Universal were terrific, but this high-def upswing really serves the series well. It’s a blast to find new details in episodes I’ve seen countless times. (Rockford’s beat up 1959 Nashua trailer is especially fun to study.) The color’s nice — and thankfully still looks like 1970s film stock. The sound’s a major improvement, with plenty of added depth in the music.
As with a lot of these TV sets, one episode might look better or worse than another, but overall Rockford in high definition is a revelation. And the package takes up a fraction of the shelf space the DVDs did (which around my place is a blessing). Highly recommended.