One of the joys of Netflix Streaming is re-discovering shows you haven’t watched in a while. The other night I couldn’t sleep so I, for some reason, watched the first two episodes of The Rockford Files. Well, I’m about just about done with the entire first season now.
This detective show premiered in 1974 and ran for six seasons. Starring James Garner it was unique in that “Jim Rockford” wasn’t very heroic. Sure, he was a smart aleck but he frequently was on the receiving end of a terrible beat down. Heck, in one episode he gets a concussion and is in the hospital for two weeks. He’s constantly broke and haggles with his clients for his payment. When the bad guys pull a gun on him he always tells them that he’s deathly afraid of guns and he is.
There’s no grand opus or groundbreaking work here; just a finely made, above average detective show. David Chase worked as a writer and a producer and would later go on to create The Sopranos, which also specialized in an off-beat sense of humor.
Some wonderfully anachronistic things I have noticed:
- Everyone smokes everywhere. Even the background extras are smoking.
- There are heavy ashtrays to use as weapons in every room.
- Someone who hates smoking is seen as weird or even a bad guy.
- Computer programmers were cast as middle-aged, paunchy white guys.
- The cars are monsters, just huge monstrosities. During car chases turns are as wide as their neckties.
- Cops frequently were not to be trusted or outright bullies. (look at TV now. Most tv heroes are cops or work with them. Rockford was usually running from them.)
- Character actor Michael Lerner has played three different characters in just this first season.
- Rockford calls a bad guy a “queer” to goad him into fighting.
- In the first season there were only two black men; one a gardener, the other an FBI agent.
- Though Rockford doesn’t sleep around, sex with his clients is heavily implied.
- The show attempts to be non-sexist are fun. There are frequently professional women who announce their careers (“I’m a scientist and damn proud of it.”) But there was a great bit where Rockford’s lawyer, Beth Davenport, responds to a cop calling her “babe.” “Officer, I am a lawyer and you will treat me as an officer of the court.” In 1974? That was cool. But mostly, women were getting into trouble and Rockford had to save them.
- Rockford doesn’t’ button the top three (maybe four!) buttons of his shirts.
- To impersonate different professions and gather information, Rockford has a mini-printing press in his car to create fake business cards. He rearranges the typeface and then actually presses (hand cranks) one card.
- Rockford, in the first season (13 episodes) only uses a gun once. He hates them. But he does get shot at a lot and manages to actually get shot twice (Bad guy has a gun on Rockford and his making him drive somewhere. “We both know you’re not going to shoot me.” Bang. Guy shoots Rockford, car crashes.)
- His best friend is his father who frequently helps Rockford out.
It’s a great, fun show. And if you watch it just to make fun of the seventies it’s still worth a peek. Hell, the theme song is great.
The Rockford Files is also on YouTube for freesies.