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Chuck McCann dominates the proceedings in this Rockford Files episode
playing a has been comedian trying to make it as a solo act. Funny
thing is that his former partner Robert Quarry is trying the exact same
thing and not having all that much success either. These two maybe
should have stayed together, but Quarry can't stand McCann and as we
learn in the episode he's got good reason.
From McCann's point of view the show is essentially about his vanity. Quarry steals his funny box which is his catalog of jokes and material which every comedian has. Some of the funniest people around are not ready wits like Groucho Marx so they keep their material stored and safe presumably from all except Milton Berle. And Chuck McCann in this story who's as big a thief as Berle and not so lovable.
James Garner is hired to pay a ransom and get the funny box back. But Quarry turns up dead and it seems that McCann and now Garner have stumbled on a Mafia family secret.
Among other people that McCann rubs the wrong way is Noah Beery, Jr. who starts out a fan and then sees there's a lot less to McCann than meets the eye. But in the end Garner has a perfect way of dealing with him that you have to see to appreciate.
The beginning of this episode is pretty standard and has the usual fine writing, but then later, I was thrown for a loop when another unrelated topic took this episode in a more serious direction, and I'll address that shortly. The gist revolves around a comic named Kenny Bell, played solidly by Chuck McCann, and his former partner, another comic named Leo Russo(Robert Quarry), and their dealings with the mob, although Kenny wasn't involved with them, but Leo was. Tom Atkins was in fine form as Diehl, although Dennis had a scene or 2, but wasn't really needed, and let me mention that Rocky had more scenes than usual; look for a nice scene on the beach with Rockford, Rocky, and Kenny, as father and son return from a bad day trying to catch fish. Kenny hires Rockford(he calls him "Rocks")to drop off a briefcase full of cash, but Jim finds Russo dead in his car as Jim's making the switch, and the police arrest him, and Jim is seriously mad at Kenny. The next plot has the story take a stunning and powerful twist, as it's discovered that local hood Paul Silvan(Jason Evers)and Russo were gay lovers, and the scene between Paul and his powerful mob boss father(Gilbert Green)isn't exactly touching, as he berates his son and mocks him; he was forced to listen to a tape that Kenny sent to him, and he's in serious denial about his son, even though Paul admits that he's been gay a long time, but his father wouldn't talk to him about it years ago. Not too long after this conversation, Paul and a driver are chasing Rockford and Kenny in the Firebird, but they elude the hoods, and the driver has to call Paul's father with bad news about losing their targets, and this is where an effective scene was too rushed; basically, the father says something to the effect to have the driver kill his son, even though the driver seemed confused. The next moment has the man walking back to the car and we hear a gunshot, which was in broad daylight and not exactly in a desolate area; the scene was, in my opinion, too rushed and would've been better served if it took place at night, which would have been more realistic. The latter half of this episode really made it special, especially the performance of Green, and I would recommend strongly to a fan of the show.
I notice this is on the ME-TV schedule tonight and I discovered by reading these reviews that I saw this many years ago. Perhaps in its original airing. I remember the scene between the father and son. After listening to his father's denunciation of his lifestyle the son replied with a tired haughty tone, 'Don't you think that all has a rather piquant quality?' The father replied dismissively, 'No, I don't use those kinds of words.' As for Chuck McCann, I remember him on a talk show doing a hilarious imitation of Robert Cummings being much older than he appeared. He mimed Cummings putting on a youthful mask and having a small tape recorder in his mouth instead of using his actual voice. The tape recorder rewinding sounded very real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rockford gets involved in a dispute between two feuding ex-show
business partners, Kenny Bell (Chuck McCann) and Joe Russo(Robert
Quarry), which gets him involved in murder involving stolen jokes, the
mob and a secret homosexual affair.
Based on a story by LA Times and "MASH" writer Burt Prelutsky, James Crocker turns in a nice script with some great moments, including one that involves none of the regulars. It's when Paul Silvan (Jason Evers) faces his dad, the crime boss (Gilbert Green) who confronts him about his homosexuality. The scene is very well written and performed, and for the time was probably pushing the envelope.
Tom Atkins is back for this episode as Lt. Diehl (he probably just came back when he found out he was going to be able to arrest Jim for murder!) and Gretchen Corbett makes an ever so brief (but welcome) appearance getting Jim out of jail again.
The only real problem with this episode is the casting of Chuck McCann. He's not funny in his funny scenes (even when he gets "killer" material) and when he's just acting, he's a little too irritating and unscrupulous a character to be likable. Stuart Margolin was the master of being irritating yet likable. Watching Chuck McCann try it, you can see how difficult that is to do. If anything he's too good at being a weasel, so the effect is we like him less and less whenever he appears in the show.
There's one other weird thing about this episode. Jodean Russo, who plays Kenny Bell's long suffering wife Max warns him when he hesitates about going down to the station to clear Rockford with Lt. Diehl by saying: "If you don't go with Jim right now, I might not be here when you get back."
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