Jim Rockford is different from your average Private Investigator - even more so for a television series. Instead of being the usual injured, traumatised or pensioned off ex-cop, Jim is a former convict - even if he was one who was falsely imprisoned, and he lives in a rather run down trailer on the beach. But instead of being the usual loner, and contained within a series that spends too much time cuddling up to the film noir genre, he has a close relationship with his father "Rocky" who is always on hand to assist in one of his many schemes to help solve a crime.
Originally aired way back in 1975, the twenty two episodes of the second season of The Rockford Files are spread over six discs with the extras, in the form of two on set interviews filmed in 2005, contained on the sixth disc. The episode details are below:-
- The Aaron Ironwood School of Success
- The Farnsworth Stratagem
- Gearjammers (Part 1)
- Gearjammers (Part 2)
- The Deep Blue Sleep
- The Great Blue Lake Land & Development Company
- The Real Easy Red Dog
- Resurrection in Black & White
- Chicken Little Is a Little Chicken
- 2 Into 5.56 Won't Go
- Pastoria Prime Pick
- The Reincarnation of Angie
- The Girl in the Bay City Boys Club
- The Hammer of C Block
- The No-Cut Contract
- A Portrait of Elizabeth
- Joey Blue Eyes
- In Hazard
- The Italian Bird Fiasco
- Where's Houston?
- Foul on the First Play
- A Bad Deal in the Valley
Given the age of the series, and a similar age to the print, the transfer can be both good and in equal measures, pretty awful too. First off, the good points. The picture is bright and colourful with a good level of detail throughout with some rich and lush colour tones and it makes it a reasonable viewing experience - even if there are some major flaws. The bad points are rather major ones indeed - with an extremely grainy and noisy transfer that can makes some scenes look extremely poor indeed.
The transfer also suffers from a large amount of print damage with dust scratches appearing on just about every frame. The poor quality of the transfer also means that pixelisation is an issue, plus the compression required to fit the episodes on the disc doesn't help matters. I know cleaning up a print is an expensive business, and this series on DVD will never be a million seller to justify such an extravagance, but I'm sure some attempt to clean up things could have been attempted - even more so considering that this is such a classic series.
Whilst the picture transfer is acceptable, the soundtrack is a pretty dire one. Sure, you can't go expecting some explosive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack from a thirty year old television series, but the 224Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is nothing to write home about. In fact, you'd probably rather write a letter of complaint to the distributors rather than a hello note your mother as the sound levels are so low I nearly had my surround system on full power in order to hear anything. However, once the sound level is cranked up to an obscene level the dialogue is becomes clear enough whilst the musical score settles at an equally reasonable level. Just remember to lower the volume once you've finished with the disc!
The menus across all six discs are static but scored affairs. The episodes can be either be played all in one go (always a welcome edition to a series based DVD) or individually selected from the sub-menu. Unfortunately, in yet another shameful omission from a DVD, there's no subtitle track for the hard of hearing. Extras wise, the first disc contains a trailer for the series whilst the sixth disc contains two on-set interviews with James Garner and co-creator Stephen J. Cannell. However, a word of warning - although I watched a preview disc - the extras menu gets very confused when returning back after watching one of the interviews and you end up having to eject the disc and try again. It may not be a problem on the final release, or even on a different DVD player, but it was certainly a wacky error.
In the eight minute James Garner interview, the rather worryingly old looking Garner talks about the writing, his character, the regulars, the episodes and the amount of stunt work he did - including his love of his Pontiac Firebird in which he even had to show his stunt double how to drive. In the nine minute Stephen J. Cannell interview, co-creator Cannell talks about how he came up with the Rockford character, how he based Rocky on his own father, how James Garner came on board, those famous telephone answering machine messages and how the usual background fuss and performance with the studios made his life as difficult as possible. Both interviews are extremely interesting and both men come across as being extremely affable folks.
The Rockford Files ran on NBC for five highly successful seasons from 1974 until 1980 when, during the sixth season, James Gardner was advised to give up on medical grounds. He had a long suffering problem with his knee and was usually seen limping - which tended to be dismissed as some sort of boating or fishing accident during the episode - and was eventually hospitalised with a bleeding ulcer. But that wasn't the end of things as James Gardner did eventually return to the role in three made for television Rockford Files films.
Still, I have the unfortunate revelation of being able to remember the series being screened in the UK the first time around. Fortunately, I don't remember all of the series - after all, I'm not that old! - but I certainly remember it being broadcast during the late seventies and early eighties. And yes, it's still being shown on our televisions today with a solid fan base and it's all perfect inoffensive rainy Saturday afternoon entertainment. Oh, and let's not forget that classic theme tune that'll soon have you humming to yourself in the shower.
Unlike some other American detective series that have dated badly, The Rockford Files is just as good now as it was then. The subtle comedy is superb, the writing is simply wonderful, the flared clothes and dodgy moustaches are laughable whilst the various cars and other modes of transportation are now American classics. It's great to be able to watch it on DVD all over again and I can't wait for the other series to be released. Highly recommended and wonderful entertainment.
- James Garner on Camera Interview
- Stephen J. Cannell on Camera Interview