Over the weekend, I stumbled upon the fact that Netflix streams episodes of The Rockford Files, the TV show starring James Garner that ran from 1974 through 1980. That time period coincided with my first stint in the US while in graduate school and I recall the show fondly and so I spent several enjoyable hours watching episodes.
For you young ‘uns out there, the show features Garner as Jim Rockford, a private investigator in California who served five years in jail for an armed robbery that he did not commit. He was later pardoned but his reputation as an ex-con makes him highly disliked by the local police except for his one friend there whom he leans on repeatedly to get information to help him solve cases.
A running gag in the show is that Rockford’s clients are either broke or find ways to stiff him of his fee so he is perennially hard-up, pursued by creditors, and lives in a shabby trailer by the ocean which also serves as his office. He is by no means a do-gooding crusader trying to seek to right society’s wrongs, but he often ends up being reluctantly persuaded to do so against his better judgment. He is also a loner, the only person close to him being his cranky retired trucker father who keeps trying to convince him to take up the safer and steadier life of a trucker.
Rockford’s work takes him close to the edges of the law, and he is not above doing shady things, but he has his own sense of integrity and honor. He is big-made but unlike the stereotypical hard-boiled detectives, he tries to avoid fights, almost never carries a gun, avoids shooting people, and often gets beaten up. I don’t recall him ever deliberately killing anyone on the show.
My admiration for Garner goes back even farther than this show, to the Maverick cowboy series that featured him from 1957 to 1960 and coincided with my stay in England as a little boy. Bret Maverick was a gambler in the old west, but going against the clichés by not being fast on the draw and avoiding fights when he could, not incidentally because it would mess up his natty gambler’s clothes. While not a coward, he avoided trouble but it kept finding him and he would reluctantly deal with it, depending mostly on his wits to get him out of sticky situations.
Jim Rockford is an evolution of his Bret Maverick character, similar to him in many ways, especially in how he reluctantly ends up being sucked in to solve other people’s problems.
It is an excellent TV series. The stories are well written and produced but the main reason for its success is Garner. His easy-going charm draws you to the character and he has such good comic timing that he makes even fairly banal dialogue sound amusing.
If you have not see The Rockford Files, you are missing a treat. It holds up pretty well with time, the main signs of age being minor ones, such as the cars and clothes, and the absence of computers and cell phones.
As a true Rockfordphile myself, I encourage you to watch it if you get the chance.