Jim Rockford (James Garner) is a private eye that doesn’t seem to get a break. Living in his small trailer in Malibu and working with his father Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.), Jim’s small time private eye work also seems to find him big trouble. Be it insurance fraud, missing people, or murder, Jim always seems to find his way into trouble that even his friend Sergeant Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) and Angel (Stuart Margolin) can’t get him out of. If Jim’s on the case, he’ll solve it…or he could go back to jail.
The Rockford Files—Season 1 ran from September 13, 1974 to March 7, 1975. It originally premiered as a TV movie on March 27, 1974 (the episodes were later retitled “Backlash of the Hunter” and generally collected with the season 2 episodes). The series was well received by critics and gained a cult following over the years.
Growing up, The Rockford Files was in heavy reruns. What I remember most from the series was that Rockford had an answer machine that was featured in the opening of ever episode (it was amazing that he could get calls when he wasn’t at home!!!) and the iconic theme music that still is great. Watching The Rockford Files, you can see why the series is endearing…it isn’t the plots as much as James Garner.
The stories are rather typical of ’70s mystery-cop dramas. The series differs in both Garner and Rockford who isn’t quite bumbling, but he also isn’t the most effective detective…he makes a lot of mistakes but still has street smarts. The character’s insertion in the stories becomes much more than a cheap detective story.
Garner (like in most of his roles) oozes the charm and makes the character both smarmy but likeable. Garner almost previewed the Jim Rockford character in his portrayal of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in Marlowe (1969) and he’s finessed it to perfection here. He has a nice supporting cast with Noah Beery Jr. as his father (replacing Robert Donley from the pilot) and the occasional guest stars of Joe Santo as Becker and Stuart Margolin as Angel. The series like many from this period are also a who’s who of character actors and young stars who are often even reused.
The show has that gritty ’70s quality to it. The California presented in the show is kind of sad. It is the California where a man like Rockford could afford to live in a trailer in Malibu…now, he couldn’t even see most of Malibu due to the private property much less live there. It still has a TV show quality, but it is a fun retro style.
The Rockford Files is a classic worth checking out. You get to see some great locations that have changed so much over the years (like L.A. but even places like Las Vegas), and you get a great actor bringing the stories to life. Check out The Rockford Files…you’ll be humming the song all day.
1.0 Backlash of the Hunter (Two Hour Pilot) Airdate: 03/27/74
A drunk (Bill Quinn) is killed under the pier and Jim Rockford (James Garner) is hired by his daughter Sara Butler (Lindsay Wagner) to investigate the suspicious death. Rockford’s investigation leads to Sara’s brother Nick (Bill Mumy) and his ties to a woman named Mildred Elias (Nita Talbot) who promising to pay his medical schooling. Rockford finds Sara can’t afford him but decides to investigate the crime anyway. As Rockford and Sara get closer to the truth, the danger gets greater.
1.1 The Kirkoff Case Airdate: 09/13/74
While tracking Travis Buckman (Roger Davis) for Larry Kirkoff (James Woods), Rockford is drugged by Tawnie Baker (Julie Sommars) and Travis. Rockford is reminded that Kirkoff is accused of killing his parents, and Rockford seeks the true killer.
1.2 The Dark and Bloody Ground Airdate: 09/20/74
Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) hires Jim to defend a woman named Ann Calhoun (Patricia Smith) who is accused of killing her screenwriter husband. When Jim begins to dig, he discovers that the death could be tied to the making of a major film.
1.3 The Countess Airdate: 09/27/74
Hired to protect a countess named Deborah Ryder (Susan Strasberg) from an extortionist named Carl Brego (Richard Gautier), Jim finds himself wanted by the law when the Carl is murdered.
1.4 Exit Prentiss Carr Airdate: 10/04/74
Rockford is hired by Janet Carr (Corinne Camacho) to investigate her husband Prentis and finds him murdered in his hotel room. When the police tell Jim that Prentiss appears to have committed suicide, Jim has to find out who is responsible for Prentiss death and determine if there is a police cover-up.
1.5 Tall Woman in Red Wagon Airdate: 10/11/74
Jim Rockford is grazed by a bullet while investigating an empty grave and falls into a coma. Rockford recalls being hired by Sandra Turkel (Sian Barbara Allen) to find a woman named Charlotte Duskey (Susan Damante) who had disappeared.
1.6 This Case Is Closed Airdate: 10/18/74
While Rockford finds himself investigating a man named Mark (Geoffrey Land) for Warner Jameson (Joseph Cotten) who doesn’t trust him with his daughter Susan (Sharon Gless), Jim discovers he is drawn into a case bigger than himself when a trip to Newark, New Jersey reveals Mark is more than anyone is saying. When he finds himself a target of hit men, Jim must uncover the truth before it kills him.
1.7 The Big Ripoff Airdate: 10/25/74
Jim is hired to find out if Ginny Nelson (Suzanne Somers) killed her husband Steve (Fred Beir) by his lover Nancy (Nedra Deen). When Rockford suspects Steve is alive, Nancy stiffs him and heads north to a small California town. Facing problems with the police and a possible cover-up, Jim finds himself teamed with a local model named Marilyn Polonski (Jill Clayburgh) to find Nelson and get the insurance money back.
1.8 Find Me If You Can Airdate: 11/01/74
A woman named Barbara Kelbaker (Joan Van Ark) comes to Jim Rockford with an absurd request…find her. As Rockford looks into Barbara’s past, he discovers ties to a mobster named Ralph Correll (Paul Michael Glaser) who wants to find Barbara too.
1.9 In Pursuit of Carol Thorne Airdate: 11/08/74
Rockford is hired to track down a woman named Carol Thorne (Lynette Mettey) by the parents of her boyfriend Cliff (Jim Antonio), but Jim finds he’s in a double-cross. Now he’s teamed up with Carol to find the money from a robbery, but Miles Keeley (Robert Symonds) who hired Jim isn’t giving up that easy.
1.10 The Dexter Crisis Airdate: 11/15/74
Jim Rockford has been hired to find a woman named Susan (Lee Purcell) who is the mistress of a man named Charles Dexter (Tim O’Connor). Teaming with Susan’s roommate Louise (Linda Kelsey), Rockford finds that the case may be more complex than he believed when he learns another investigator is on their tail.
1.11 Caledonia—It’s Worth a Fortune! Airdate: 12/06/74
A prisoner’s wife named Jolene (Shelley Fabares) learns from her husband that he hid a fortune in Caledonia, California. Hiring Jim Rockford, Jolene seeks to find the fortune, but Jim and Jolene face opposition from the local sheriff (Ramon Bieri) and her husband’s associates who also want the money.
1.12 Profit and Loss—Part 1: Profit Airdate: 12/20/74
Approached by a man (John Carter) who is promptly kidnapped, Jim reports it to the police. When his wife (Priscilla Pointer) tells Jim that he made a mistake, Jim finds himself under arrest with Alec and Helen Morris denying the events ever happened. With the threat of going to jail for filing a false report, Jim must figure out why he is being played…Jim discovers there could be something wrong with Fiscal Dynamics and its president Leon Fielder (Ned Beatty).
1.13 Profit and Loss—Part 2: Loss Airdate: 12/27/74
Jim’s investigation into Fiscal Dynamics isn’t going well but finding the answers to what the company is up to could keep him out of jail…but it also could keep him alive!
1.14 Aura Lee, Farewell Airdate: 01/03/75
Senator Evan Murdock (Robert Webber) picks up a hitchhiker named Aura Lee (Melissa Greene) before having an accident on the highway. When Aura Lee is found dead from an overdose, her boss Sara Butler rehires Jim to find out who killed her.
1.15 Sleight of Hand Airdate: 01/17/75
After a weekend trip, Jim and his girlfriend Karen (Pat Delaney) return home…only to have Karen disappear. When Karen’s neighbor is also found dead, Jim becomes the prime suspect and Jim must find out what happened to Karen.
1.16 Counter Gambit Airdate: 01/24/75
Moss Williams (Eddie Fontaine) contacts Jim as he gets out of jail and forces Jim to search for his missing girlfriend Valerie (Mary Frann). When Jim is contacted by an insurance agent Edgar Burch (M. Emmet Walsh) and learns Moss and his girlfriend are accused of stealing a necklace, Jim has to play a double agent to find the necklace.
1.17 Claire Airdate: 01/31/75
Jim is contacted by his old girlfriend Claire Prescott (Linda Evans) for help in dealing with a loan shark. Unable to go to the cops, Jim must track down someone named Charlie Manning for Claire…which sparks the interest of Dennis’ boss Captain Highland (Jackie Cooper). When Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.) gets grabbed by the loan shark’s men, Jim might have to sacrifice Claire.
1.18 Say Goodbye to Jennifer Airdate: 02/07/75
Jim is hired by his friend Mitch (Hector Elizondo) who hires Jim to find his dead love Jennifer (Pamela Hensley)…who is wanted by police for murder.
1.19 Charlie Harris at Large Airdate: 02/14/75
Jim’s former cellmate Charlie Harris (Tony Musante) is accused of killing his wife and turning to Jim for help. When Charlie reveals that his only alibi is a woman calling herself Cassandra (Diana Muldaur) who won’t come forward, Jim must find her to keep his own name clean.
1.20 The Four Pound Brick Airdate: 02/21/75
Rocky’s friend Kate (Edith Atwater) has lost her son and believes he was murdered. When Rocky volunteers Jim to investigate the murder, Jim finds his dad the boss as he investigates the police for a cover-up.
1.21 Just by Accident Airdate: 02/28/75
A demolition derby driver named Billy Jo Hartman (Joey Aresco) is killed in an accident and his mother (Neva Patterson) asks Jim to investigate the death. When Jim discovers that Billy Jo has multiple identities and ties to an insurance agency, he uncovers a financial scheme that could cost him his life.
1.22 Roundabout Airdate: 03/07/75
Jim is hired to deliver a life insurance policy to Nancy Waid (Jesse Welles) but discovers that the case might be more than it appears when he discovers Nancy in hiding and he witnesses her kidnapping.