Category Archives: Television

Blu-Ray Review: The Rockford Files – The Complete Series (1974-80).

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.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, James Garner, Mill Creek, Television

Screening: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dub Taylor

Noir City: Hollywood – The 20th Annual Los Angeles Festival Of Film Noir is presenting one of my all-time favorite films on the 18th, Jack Webb’s 1954 feature version of Dragnet. I can’t tell you how much I love this movie. The DVD is a rather ugly, full-frame mess, making the chance to see it on the big screen, on film, an even greater treat. And Ann Robinson, who plays a lady officer, will be there for a discussion after the movie.

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30pm
Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028

And if Dragnet wasn’t cool enough, the festival’s also got Armored Car Robbery (1950) in its lineup on the 16th. Another one of those times when I live on the wrong side of the country.

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Filed under 1954, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Screenings, Television, Warner Bros.

DVD/Blu-Ray News #155: The Night Stalker (1972) And The Night Strangler (1973).

Here’s a couple things I’ve been waiting for — the two Carl Kolchak TV movies coming to DVD and Blu-Ray from 4K scans!

The Night Stalker
Directed byJohn Llewellyn Moxey
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Elisha Cook Jr., Larry Linville

Both Kolchak films come for that Golden Age of TV movies, when ABC was offering up masterpieces like these, Spielberg’s Duel (1971) or The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1974). But, really, when you have Darren McGavin spouting words from Richard Matheson, how could they be less than terrific? And look at the rest of these casts?

This Night Stalker (1972) — with newsman Carl Kolchak tracking down a vampire in Las Vegas while writing a story on a series of mysterious killings — scared me as a kid. Bad. But I loved every second of it.

The Night Strangler
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Al Lewis, Richard Anderson

For me, The Night Strangler (1973) — with a doctor killing to create another batch of his immortality elixir — was less scary, but more creepy. I loved it, too.

Next came the series, with the episode “The Zombie” being one of the scariest things I ever experienced growing up. Remember the zombie sleeping in the back of the hearse in the junkyard? And while the quality of the shows was pretty hit or miss, Darren McGavin is so perfect, he carries the show on his back every week without even trying. It was such a drag when it wasn’t renewed.

The old twin-bill DVDs of these things, from Anchor Bay and MGM, were fine. But new 4K transfers, and stand-alone releases, are gonna be terrific. (Would love to have both the original broadcast (74 minutes each) and extended versions.) My porkpie hat, tape recorder and I cannot wait!

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Filed under 1972, 1973, Charles McGraw, Darren McGavin, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elisha Cook, Jr., John Carradine, Richard Matheson, Television

RIP, Jim Nabors.

Jim Thurston Nabors
(June 12, 1930 – November 30, 2017)

Here’s Jim Nabors behind the scenes on The Andy Griffith Show episode “Barney’s First Car” — the one where Barney Fife (Don Knotts) buys a clunker from Myrt “Hubcaps” Lesh (Ellen Corby). Of course, Nabors was Gomer Pyle.

Nabors passed away on the 30th at 87.

That’s Andy in the black sweater vest in front of the Mitchell camera. I had no idea Barney’s car was blue — the episode’s black and white.

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Filed under 1963, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Television

Happy Halloween.

Here’s the great Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, from TV’s Batman, of course, wishing us all a Happy Halloween.

Halloween was a favorite time for me as a kid, since each of the local TV stations would run monster movies all night. All those movies, all that candy!

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Filed under 1966, Television, Yvonne Craig

RIP, Adam West.

William West Anderson (Adam West)
September 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017

To me, Adam West is a big part of summer. Growing up, we typically spent the summer at my grandparents’ place in Texas. It was always a great time, with a particular benefit being that one of their local TV stations (out of either Dallas or Abilene, I guess) ran Batman every afternoon. Our Raleigh stations weren’t hip enough for it. I always looked forward to those few weeks of Batman. The chance to watch the Caped Crusader was a real treat, something special, and it still feels that way today.

Like so many other kids, to me, Batman was high adventure, not high camp. And as I got older and got the joke, I appreciated it all even more. Especially the fine work of Mr. West. The success of the whole enterprise rested on his shoulders. The colors, the camera angles, the sets, the cliffhangers — none of it mattered if he didn’t pull off his part of the whole affair. He was perfect and he’ll be missed.

Batman (Adam West, from the ’66 Batman feature): “Let’s go, but, inconspicuously, through the window… Our job is finished.”

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Filed under 1966, Adam West, Television

DVD News # 129: Decoy (1957-1958).

Film Chest Media Group has announced an upcoming set of all 39 episodes of Decoy (1957-1958). This cop show, starring Beverly Garland as policewoman Casey Jones, was shot on location in New York.

Like a lot of 50s TV, some outstanding character actors turn up each week. Decoy boasts Simon Oakland, Martin Balsam, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Suzanne Pleshette, Vincent Gardenia, Clifton James, Colleen Dewhurst, Ed Asner, Miriam Colon, Al Lewis, Diane Ladd, Larry Hagman and Albert Dekker, along with many others.

I’ve seen a few episodes of Decoy over the years, and they’re really cool — with a bit of a Dragnet vibe. Of course, the 50s New York locations are terrific. Beverly Garland is one of my favorite actresses, so I’m really excited to see how this set looks. The release date is listed as May 30.

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Filed under 1957, 1958, Beverly Garland, Film Chest Media Group, Peter Falk, Television