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This two hour show was the pilot for "The Rockford Files". There is a
different Rocky in the show as Robert Donley would make his only
appearance as the character. Noah Beery, Jr. would take over the role
for the rest of the series, which turned out to be a great idea.
Donley's Rocky isn't nearly as much fun as Beery's and he seemed to be
more interested in shaking down his own son for money than anything
Rockford is not a particularly easy-going guy in this episode as he seems very concerned about whether or not his client can pay him. We see Rockford asking for a credit check, something he should have done in the future.
Two other supporting characters do show up: Joe Santos as Dennis Becker, Rockford's weary friend on the police force, and Stuart Margolin as Angel Martin, Rockford's shady, but sometimes helpful (not often enough) friend from prison.
There is an emphasis in this show that Rockford only handles cases that the police are no longer investigating. This would be de-emphasized in later shows, although Rockford never gets along well with the police during the show.
Like many stories in the series, the plot gets wrapped up in a hurry at the end and the first 90 minutes of this episode have a lot of atmosphere and opportunities for Rockford to be Rockford.
"The Rockford Files" was never a big ratings success, but it found its audience during its six-year run, and to this day is liked by many who watched it in first-run episodes and repeats. The pilot TV movie has all of the elements that made the series so well-remembered; James Garner's performance as wrongfully imprisoned ex-con and now private investigator Jim Rockford; the laid-back Southern California settings; his supportive-if-old-cootish dad Rocky (played here by Robert Donley instead of Noah Beery), police contact Becker and parolee friend Angel; and Stephen J. Cannell's writing (David Chase may get a lot of the credit these days because of "The Sopranos," but the fact that Cannell's best known creation is "The A-Team" overlooks his having more in his arsenal than just the four members of a crack commando unit). The mystery - a pre-Jaime Sommers Lindsay Wagner hires our hero to find out who killed her father - and the characterisation exist side by side, and if it isn't exactly hardboiled it does make you want to watch more episodes of the series. Pilots have to introduce the characters, make you want to see more of them, and tell good stories. The cast, director Richard T. Heffron, Cannell and the late Roy Huggins (aka John Thomas James) succeeded on all three counts.
Does it get better than this?
Car chases. The mob. The damsel in distress in nearly every episode. And good ol' Jim Rockford, always in one fix or another, but with a heart of gold, a silver tongue and a printing press in his car so that he can create a fake business card for every occasion.
Much of this series was 70's stereotype, but James Garner absolutely carried it. His magnetism, good guy/tough guy persona and yet his utterly human characteristics (living in a trailer, always being chased by bill collectors or auditors, hurting his hand when delivering a right cross to a bad guy) have never been equaled since.
I used to race home when I was a kid and plant myself in front of the television when it showed on daytime reruns during the early 80's. For a long time, it seemed to disappear from television altogether, then sporadically ran on networks like TNN. I was delighted when TV Land purchased the rights and began showing it daily at 9:00 Pacific. It's been moved to 10:00, but I'll gladly stay up the extra hour to watch it.
What a great show. The television movies were good in their nostalgic way, but nothing matches (nor will ever match) the charm, humor and quality of the original.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This two hour pilot movie for "The Rockford Files" is cut into two
separate episodes for syndication. Right from the start, Garner has the
right tone and put upon attitude as Jim Rockford, even showing a soft
heart when Sara Butler, his beautiful client (Lindsay Wagner) can't
afford to pay him his going rate. The mystery is a good one. It
involves the death of Wagner's father played by "Rockford" veteran Bill
Quinn. His daughter believes it was a homicide. The police have no
leads and close the case. Enter Jim Rockford.
While the mystery and the performances are good, probably the most interesting thing about this episode are the differences between this and the regular series.
Instead of the usual opening shot from any of the other episodes in which the camera pans across the desk past the cards and the picture of "Rocky" (they can't steal the usual shot from another show since there's a different Rocky in this episode!!!) the syndicated version of this steals a shot of Jim's trailer. However, it's a shot from a later episode in which the trailer is parked on Cove Road. In this episode, its address is 2334 ocean blvd (although in a blooper, a sign on the trailer says 2354 Ocean blvd.) and its parked in an entirely different Malibu location than the familiar 33 Cove Road address.
There is of course, also a different Rocky. Robert Donley looks like a crusty desert rat and the part is written more for a grifter like Angel than the Rocky we all came to know and love. His pick up truck is blue as opposed to Noah Berry Jr's familiar red one.
Speaking of Angel, Stuart Margolin makes his first appearance here as Jim's ex-con buddy and newspaper/information contact. Margolin is great. For what I think is the only time other than the wedding episode, he wears a suit and a tie.
We also get to see Rockford's yellow pages ad, which is also used in the opening titles of this show. The ad features a drawing of Rockford and confirms his address as 2334 Ocean Blvd. Oddly enough, it does not contain any phone number to call. No wonder Jim didn't get any business!
Jim Garner's brother Jack also makes his first appearance in the series, as a guy who walks in on Rockford as he questions familiar Rockford bad guy William Smith in a restroom. Smith by the way is just an excellent menace and a worthy foe to Jim Rockford.
In another interesting moment, the Firebird is completely and utterly destroyed at one point, only to make a fresh appearance in the next episode.
(Spoliers!) Some other reviews have described this pilot episode as
lasting 2-hours, but that is the syndicated version which was split
into two hour-long episodes. In fact, the pilot lasts 73 minutes
including closing credits.
The performances are all solid, but as someone else said, there are a few gaping plot-holes (exactly how Mrs. Elias found Nick Butler is unexplained, as is her motivation for sending him to medical school. And how did she and Jerry Grimes ever make a connection? they don't appear to have too much in common. And where exactly did Jim and Sara find that cement truck, anyway?). I would tend to chalk these unsolved-mysteries up to poor editing, as Rockford Files remains one of the best-*written* series ever. But nonetheless, they do detract from the effectiveness of the episode.
Noah Beery later made the "Rocky Rockford" role his own, but there's no need to disparage Robert Donley's performance here.
It's easy to see how Lindsay Wagner became one of the TV's biggest stars of that era -- really, she was just stunning. On the Season-One DVD, there is a bonus interview with Garner in which he expresses regret that Wagner's character wasn't included in more episodes. It seems clear that she was intended to be a recurring character, but it just never happened.
The action scenes are standard-mid-70s. When Rockford shoots a small-craft plane out of the air with a snub-nosed revolver... well, obviously that's not terribly realistic. The fight in the men's room is clever. (How strange, in 2011, to hear the good guy use the word "queer" in a disparaging way. That -- to say the very least -- would never happen today!)
The humor, the vaguely anti-establishment worldview, the LA scenery (plus some Vegas, too) -- it's all there.
For the most part, I enjoyed this pilot episode for the Rockford Files
very much, as there were many guest stars including Lindsay Wagner,
William Smith, Bill Mumy, Nita Talbot, Stuart Margolin, and Joshua
Bryant. Future staple Joe Santos had a small role as Dennis Becker. The
opening sequence is slightly different than the regular series, and
Rockford's dad Rocky is played by another actor, and rather mediocre if
you ask me, as his dad in the pilot looks like a bum; thankfully, this
was his only episode. Anyway, watch for many seedy shots of the strip
in Los Angeles and a rather funny scene in the men's room between Jim
and Smith. Speaking of Smith, he plays a great villain and is ruthless,
especially the way he murders the old man under the boardwalk.
A few scenes weren't believable, like how the airplane kept missing Jim's Firebird when firing the machine gun, and how easily the criminals get captured. Also, look for the obligatory make out scene between Rockford and Lindsay Wagner.
This is far and away the best detective series ever on television; in fact the only TV series that I like even better is Garner's earlier show, "Maverick." The writing and acting are in a class by themselves, and the viewer gets an anti-establishmentarian feast of people in authority acting like asses in every show, exactly like real life. Every episode of this series is its own little masterpiece. And if you see some real similarities between this show and "The Sopranos," it's because "Sopranos" creator David Chase wrote many of the later "Rockford Files" episodes. This is one of the rare network series that never insulted a viewer's intelligence, and features some of the best writing you'll ever see anywhere. Period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have always been a huge Rockford fan, starting back in the day when
the show was on the air. In those days, VCRs and TiVo didn't exist, so
if you missed an episode when it was aired or re-ran, you were out of
luck. So I missed this pilot until recently. It was a whole lot of fun,
but had some plot holes you could drive a Firebird through, as well as
some goofs! For example, Sara Butler's brother (played by Billy Mumy)
provided a valuable clue to a conspiracy that ended with Sara's father
getting murdered. It was never revealed just why a rich widow was
putting the brother through medical school, but that fact had Rockford
chasing down a bunch of bad guys.
I'm glad Noah Beery Jr. took over as Rocky...the guy who played him just wasn't as good, and it was jarring to see that old coot getting called "Rocky".
Another thing that I noticed was Jim's Firebird kept changing back and forth between a 1974 and 1975 model. According to IMDb, the air date of this episode was March of '74, so I am wondering how they got their hands on a big-window Firebird that didn't come out until the fall of '74. Was there some later editing going on? Another stretch was having the bad guys running away into the desert and getting into an airplane. They then made strafing runs on Rockford and Lindsay Wagner. Wouldn't it have been simpler just to stop their car and open up with their machine gun? Maybe it was just to give Jim a chance to disable a moving airplane with a snub-nose revolver. He somehow hit something that caused oil to gush out of bullet holes in the aircraft, which led to an emergency landing and the subsequent explosion that destroyed the airplane (or one similar to it). I guess all that was just for show.
Nevertheless, a fun episode and a definite must-see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*some spoilers* This was an underrated pilot movie for the Rockford
Files. James Garner did a great job in defining his character in this
first episode. This episode also had a good supporting cast including
The plot is simple and easy to follow: Sara's(Wagner)father is killed and she believes it to be murder. The police wont help her, so she goes to Rockford. There is always tension between these two, but Rockford is able to track down the killers. There is a nice action sequence toward the end in the desert as Rockford is able to shoot down the bad guys' plane. They somehow get a cement truck and Rockford captures the two crooks and orders them into the cement mixer. Sara then drives the truck back into town with the bad guys spinning inside the mixer. This was good as a stand alone movie but even better as a pilot. Highly recommended.
The Pilot for the Emmy award winning Series "The Rockford Files". No Answering Machines and a more subdued "Rocky" (Replaced in later episodes by the Iconic Noah Beery). This episode is a standout even in in an era that had what some may consider a surfeit of "Cop Shows". The late Roy Huggins wrote his original episode under a Pseudonym for some reason although it's plot is pretty respectable. The main weakness here is that this episode gets kind of lost in a sub-plot about Billy Mumy (The kid from "Lost in Space) that would have been the key to the entire caper- But only serves to muddy up the Episode. You can bet that REAL cops would have been VERY interested in a Kid's involvement in a conspiracy to steal $10 Million Bucks and the Murder of his Dad. Not to give anything away- But Rockford shoots down a light plane going about 120 mph (on a strafing run no less!) with a snub nose Revolver- a shot not even the world's finest marksman could make- and steals a cement mixer from someplace to use as temporary "Holding Cell". Fortunately this series in it's subsequent episodes took a turn from the cartoonish and you can see the Genesis of the fine Dialogue of later episodes- Including a Hulking Psycho (The era's Ubiquitous TV "Bad Guy" William Smith) with the Banal name of "Jerry"- A running joke throughout the Episode and the Pusillanimous Rockford threatening Mayhem on the Diminutive Mumy in Billy's only scene. I must say that in the days of Columbo, Mannix and Hawaii-Five-O I hardly noticed the debut of "Rockford"- But this series is the one that stood the test of time. A "Must See"- But only for the Rockford Fan.
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