The theme song is easily in my top five of all-time favorite TV theme songs.
This was one of those shows I watched at my grandma’s house on the all awesome-detective show network (okay, not really; it just seemed like these shows were all on the same channel, but they were all awesome). It was right up my alley. A 70’s detective show. I didn’t realize then how much I would love that specialization, but I’m sure The Rockford Files had something to do with it.
Jim Rockford (James Garner) is a private investigator that drives a kicky Firebird, lives in a trailer at the beach, tries to talk his way out of physical confrontation, and keeps a gun (for which he does not have a permit) in a cookie jar. He did time in San Quentin for a crime he didn’t commit and was pardoned for. His father Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) does his best to get Jim to find a safer line of work, but usually gets drawn into his cases (or brings some to him) anyway. Jim also has a friend from prison, Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), that tends to bring trouble to his trailer door, usually due to his scheming. His lawyer (and sometimes girlfriend) Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) and Sgt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) help him out of more jams than they get him into.
There wasn’t much glamour in Rockford’s private investigator life and his pursuit of cases (missing persons, minor insurance scams, and closed cases so he doesn’t have to deal with cops working open ones) in order to earn a living sometimes got him into trouble. That was pretty much the whole point of the show. Rockford would end up working on cases full of trouble and then he’d have to find a way out while solving the case.
Despite Rockford not being fond of getting into physical altercations, it seemed like he got into at least one an episode, more than once getting the crap kicked out of him. Definitely a different take than other detective shows in which the star in question rarely got roughed up. Rockford also seemed to have to evade trouble (or chase trouble) in his gold Firebird, scenes that loved to feature what became known as the J-Turn or “Rockford”, a move used by the secret service which involves driving backwards, turning the wheel sharply to spin the car around in a 180 and then slamming that sucker into drive. I don’t know how he never dropped a transmission doing it, but he’s a man that makes off the rack suits look great, so there you go.
As for guest stars, this show had them including several recurring characters. They included: Louis Gossett Jr., Isaac Hayes, Dennis Dugan, Tom Selleck (before he was Magnum, he was Lance White, the perfect PI), Kathryn Harrold, James Whitmore, Lauren Bacall, Harold Gould, Sharon Gless, Ned Beatty, Joan Van Ark, Linda Dano, Joe E. Tata, Gordon Jump, Noble Willingham, Stacy Keach Sr., Carmen Argenziano, Bill Mumy, James Sikking, Abe Vigoda, Veronica Hamel, Hector Elizondo, and (for the Dallas and Halloween II fans) Hunter von Leer.
My favorite episodes were the ones with Angel. He’d always end up getting Rockford in trouble somehow, usually because he was in trouble and needed help, and while Angel was sniveling and whining and scheming, Rockford would spend the entire episode fed up and at his wits end.
I loved the Rockford/Angel relationship. Their back-and-forths were some of the best. I also adored the father/son relationship between Jim and Rocky. One of my favorites.
It’s a great show. I could use a Jim Rockford in my life.