The world's most unlikely detective comes to DVD for the first time ever in all 23 thrilling Season One episodes of The Rockford Files. Emmy winner James Garner stars as the offbeat Jim Rockford, an ex-con-turned-private-investigator who would rather fish than fight, but whose instinct on closed cases is more golden than his classic Pontiac Firebird. From his mobile home in Malibu, this wisecracking private eye takes on the cases of the lost and the dispossessed, chasing down seemingly long-dead clues in the sun-baked streets and seamy alleys of Los Angeles. Including an interview with James Garner himself, this phenomenal DVD set contains 23 TV hours of classic Rockford action and includes such stellar guest stars as Lindsay Wagner, James Woods, Abe Vigoda, Suzanne Somers and Ned Beatty. The Rockford Files are now open and declassified for mystery fans everywhere!
From the premiere of its first hour-long episode on September 13, 1974, The Rockford Files was a critical and commercial success that gained a large and loyal following. Like other private-eye shows of the 1970s (such as Columbo and David Janssen's Harry O), the series offered smart mystery plots in the hardboiled-sleuth traditions of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Rex Stout, given a sunlit spin in contemporary California. But ex-convict turned private investigator Jim Rockford (who served time for a crime he didn't commit) was anything but a conventional gumshoe; for one thing, he rarely carried a gun, and resorted to violence only when he'd exhausted his options. As played to perfection by James Garner (in what would become his signature role, surpassing his previous success as Maverick), Rockford preferred wisecracks over violence, and his going rate ("$200 a day, plus expenses") was typically applied to cold cases, missing persons, and family disputes, frequently leading to entanglements with organized crime and L.A.P.D. Sergeant Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), whose friendship with Rockford lent the series one of its pivotal character relationships. As Rockford pursued the truth from his rusty trailer-home on the Pacific Coast Highway, his inherent warmth and compassionate sleuthing were further enhanced by engaging interplay with his retired ex-trucker father "Rocky" (Noah Beery, Jr.), his lawyer and on-and-off girlfriend Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), and his weasely former cell-mate "Angel" Martin (Stuart Margolin), a trio of supporting players as memorably appealing as any in '70s television. As a loose-knit ensemble, they followed Garner's capable lead with intelligent dialogue (the best of it written by series cocreator Stephen J. Cannell and frequent contributor Juanita Bartlett) and occasionally burst of stunt-laden action, typically involving Rockford's expert driving of a versatile Pontiac Firebird. (As Garner fondly recalls in the disc 1 bonus interview, "That car could do anything.")
With a catchy Mike Post theme song, The Rockford Files began each week with a new message on Rockford's telephone answering machine, usually a humorous indication that Rockford's life was always in some kind of financial disarray. Garner played this angle to the hilt, portraying Rockford as a nice guy who knew all the scams and wasn't above using them if it aided his case. His portrayal, and the show's excellent writing, attracted a wide variety of new and established guest stars, and these 23 episodes (24 if you count the two-part "This Case Is Closed," originally broadcast as one 90-minute episode) feature appearances by Joseph Cotten, James Woods, Sharon Gless, Lindsay Wagner, James Cromwell, Suzanne Somers, Ned Beatty, and others, along with lesser-known but familiar TV regulars like Sian Barbara Allen and Mills Watson, all adding flavor to a series that was routinely hailed by mystery writers as one of the best private-eye shows in TV history. Speaking of mysteries, one can only wonder why Universal failed to include the series' 90-minute pilot (originally aired in March 1974), and while this reviewer experienced no playback problems with these three double-sided DVDs (four episodes per side), many consumers have reported DVD freeze-ups likely resulting from lower-quality players less capable of handling high-compression DVDs. These caveats aside, season 1 of The Rockford Files is a bona fide treat, setting the tone for even better episodes that followed in subsequent seasons. --Jeff Shannon