Instead, you get a movie that's enjoyable enough, but leaves you feeling like it could have been much, much more.
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James Scott Rockford (variously referred to as "Jimmy" or "Jimbo" or "Jim") might have been the anti-Mannix. Joe Mannix, hero of his eponymous 1960s series, charged a hundred dollars a day plus expenses; though he often waived fees for those who really needed his help (once, for a very dangerous case, two old ladies settled their account with ten). Rockford charged 200 dollars a day and let it be known up front (though he often got roped into cases anyway, against his will). Despite his lower rates, Mannix lived in a fine two-story place and had a secretary. Rockford lives in a trailer and has an answering machine--and a low credit rating, and often people from the bank breathing down the back of his neck. Mannix always dressed well with ties and sports coats. Rockford dressed casually and with his shirttail out (he's often seen tucking it in). Mannix had a rocky relationship with his father (the little-seen Victor Jory) while Rockford had a close relationship with his father, Rocky, who appears in nearly all the episodes. Mannix had many friends on the police force and, from time to time, actually mobilized the police and rode shotgun with them. Rockford had one friend on the force (Becker) who treated him rudely at times; and Rockford was more likely to find himself under arrest than riding with the cops. Also, "Mannix" was a slick production that even had a special checkerboard sign-off to commercials. "The Rockford Files" often looks slapdash and even amateurish, especially on some commercial cuts that look like they were made arbitrarily rather than accurately timed.And some "Rockford" episodes have eerie echoes of Mannix episodes (I've seen all the episodes of both shows many times and I hear the echoes).But Rockford had one main difference: in many episodes, it was genuinely funny. "Mannix" never was funny. Rockford had been in prison (framed) and he had a sometimes-sidekick called "Angel" who was forever getting him into trouble. "Angel" (Evelyn) Martin (Stuart Margolin) raised "The Rockford Files" to the level of a classic, the way Larry, Darryl and Darryl did for "Newhart." A gifted comic, Margolin is nearly always hilarious, and the writers gave him beautifully-written lines."Mannix" and "The Rockford Files" aired at very different times. In the 1960s of "Mannix" funny shows lasted half an hour, while dramas (cop/detective/cowboy/doctor/lawyer) shows were an hour--and they were serious dramas!By the 1970s, lines were blurred. Comedies dealt with issues (and were therefore sometimes not funny at all) while hour-long shows began showing their silly side. "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" starred Darrin McGavin as a reporter stalking (and staking, when necessary) creatures that go bump in the night. "Charlie's Angels" featured three (often changing) gorgeous women detectives. "The Rockford Files" blended humor with drama, helped along mightily by James (Scott) Garner's laid-back, smiling style ("Mannix" rarely smiled; he had a large repertory of sneers). Garner's Rockford could be a descendant of his characters from "Maverick" and "Support Your Local Sheriff." Garner was always best as a smiling, low-key con artist who could work either side of the law equally well, and that's what he gives us in "Rockford." Like some other well-known actors (Roger Moore, for instance), Garner's acting range is limited; but like Moore he manages to play his range like a virtuoso.As mentioned above, "The Rockford FIles" is not the slickest show out there, and its ragged edges are sometimes annoying. Its incessant car chases show lots of variation, but they have too many tire squeals on dirt roads and plowed fields. And, most annoyingly, some actors (Joe E. Tata, Ken Swofford, Joan van Ark, John Wyner, MIchael Lerner,&c) reappear too often in different roles. And it's even worse for lesser-known actors Garner apparently likes (including his real-life brother, who appears in nearly 30 episodes).As with most shows, a few episodes are real dogs. And because it's hardly the slickest production out there and has a 1970s look to it, visually "The Rockford Files" doesn't hold up well and is hard to look at. But the scripts are often marvelous, with quite unexpected turns of phrase devised to get honest laughs. But (and here's a flaw in "Mannix" as well) too often Rockford doesn't depend on detection per se, but gets bounced along between the police and the all-too-present mob, and then pulls a solution out of his hat at the end.Finally, there's the thing for which Rockford was most famous: he rarely saw a payday. His clients often stiffed him, or cheated him out of finder's fees; and in many episodes he's working to get himself out of trouble and fighting for his life. Newcomers to the series will enjoy the multifarious ways Rockford gets hoodwinked out of his fees.Overall, despite its flaws, "The Rockford Files" stands head and shoulders above most other detective shows, mainly due to Garner's winning performance as Rockford. It's worth a watch.
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Just plain good TV... Rockford kept us entertained each week with his off kilter investigations and recurring characters... Loved watching this show as a 20 something in the 70's, my dad loved it too... Best shows were with Tom Selleck, Isaac Hayes and Lou Gosset, Jr., you just had to laugh....Always liked the interaction with Angel, and his dad, Rocky... Didn't care for the episodes with Rita Moreno and Beth Davenport too much, but they were still good...Bo Hopkins shows up in a couple episodes and he was real good too, played a disbarred lawyer with a heart of gold...
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Everything about the Rockford Files is done fairly well, especially James Garner's performance and laid back charisma he presents in Jim Rockford, a somewhat struggling private investigator living in a trailer in Paradise Cove. He also happens to be an ex con, but was released from prison on a pardon. The writing is also terrific, and many of the episodes revolve around murders, robberies, kidnappings, etc. Many colorful characters include Sgt. Becker, Angel, and Rocky Rockford(Jim's dad), and they all make this show click, and there's hardly any boring moments, except for maybe a few too many car chases. Even the theme song was a minor radio hit in 1975. What impresses me, other than the writing, is many great outdoor shots in different parts of California, and yet I heard the show became too expensive to keep producing because of the cost of filming in these locations all over the state. I know that Garner had major knee problems too.As I said earlier, the glue to this show is Garner's portrayal of Rockford, especially because he doesn't overact or make him larger than life, rather underplays the character to make him more human, unlike other characters in similar shows.
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Probably the 2nd best detective show of the 70s - I'd put it just marginally behind Starsky and Hutch. He was like a down-market Philip Marlowe; a crabby cynic with a heart of gold.Perhaps not surprising, when he was surrounded by the likes of Angel, Rocky and Dennis who were either stiffing him out of his hard-earned cash, telling him what a mess he'd made of his life or just telling him to get lost. It certainly broke the mould of detectives-with-all-the answers shows; and Gretchen Corbett, who played Beth Davenport, his long-suffering friend and attorney, was one of my dream women back then (Funny, but I don't remember seeing her in anything else).I think it maybe went on a season or two too long, but nothing's perfect.