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Ten Best The Rockford Files TV Episodes

James Garner starred in The Rockford Files from 1974-80. Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job, Dwarf in a Helium Hat, The Man Who Saw the Alligators, The Queen of Peru, The No-Cut Contract, Tall Woman in Red Wagon, The Competitive Edge and Paradise Cove are the best Rockford TV episodes.

NBC-TV's The Rockford Files ran from 1974 to 1980. Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, The Rockford Files generated 118 episodes and starred the incomparable James Garner as ex-con-turned-private detective James Scott Rockford. Other regulars included Noah Beery Jr. as Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, Joe Santos as LAPD detective Dennis Becker, Stuart Margolin as weaselly con man Evelyn "Angel" Martin and Gretchen Corbett as Rockford's attorney Beth Davenport.

Here are ten classic The Rockford Files episodes that no Rockfordphiliac/James Garner fan should ever miss. This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message. I'll get back to you...

"Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job" - March 3, 1979

In this expanded two-hour episode sports promoter Harold Jack Coombs (Robert Webber) cheats Mr. Brockelman (Harold Gould) out of his printing business, paying him $40,000 for a company worth $500,000. Hearing of his father's plight, private eye Richie Brockelman (Dennis Dugan) enlists the help of Jim Rockford and other con artists, running a game on Coombs in order to collect the full price of the business. It proves to be an elaborate sting operation exploiting Coombs' irrational fear of germs while introducing a phony second King Tut exhibit and the "curse" that goes with it. Rockford slips into his patented good ol' boy Jimmy Joe Meeker impersonation, getting the ball rolling when he relieves Coombs of his prize race car during a grudge match at the track. "Captain Space, thanks for the race," a winning Rockford needles Coombs who is decked out in his silver racing outfit.

Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett

Director: William Wiard

TV Guide, June 2, 1979, James Garner in The Rockford Files (Triangle Publications, Inc.)

"Dwarf in a Helium Hat" - January 27, 1978

Hanger-on Julius "Jay" Rockfelt (John Pleshette) stiffs mobster Gianni Tedesco (Gianni Russo) with the tab for Gianni's own birthday party. The angry mobster then begins making threats, phoning Rockford by mistake. Tedesco kidnaps Jay's sister Amy (Robina Suwol), demanding that Jay come up with the money in order to garner her release. Jay goes to his English rocker friend Keith Stuart (Rick Springfield) for the cash, but is turned down. Now reluctantly involved, Rockford arranges a payoff using money acquired from Jay's wealthy parents. Rock 'n' roll and the party scene are expertly spoofed in this classic episode, which takes its title from one of Keith Stuart's hit albums – "Dwarf in a Helium Hat."

Teleplay: Stephen J. Cannell & David Chase

Director: Reza Badiyi

"The Man Who Saw the Alligators" - February 10, 1979

This expanded 90-minute segment guest stars George Loros as Anthony Boy Gagglio, a mob contract killer just released from prison who comes gunning for Rockford. Anthony Boy, along with his sidekick Syl (Luke Andreas), corner Rockford, his accountant Adrianna Danielli (Sharon Acker) and Angel Martin at a remote cabin. George Loros turns in a stellar performance as the homicidal "Tony Boy," reprising his role from a previous two-part episode titled "To Protect and to Serve." The unbalanced Gagglio talks of dreaming of alligators under his bed as a youth, hence the episode's title.

Teleplay: David Chase

Director: Corey Allen

TV Guide, August 20, 1977, James Garner and Joe Santos in The Rockford Files (Triangle Publications, Inc.)

"The Queen of Peru" - December 16, 1977

Rockford is working on a big diamond recovery case for an insurance company. After making the exchange, the thieves leave the gem in Rockford's grill back at his trailer in Malibu. Carl Wronko (Ken Swofford) and family of Peru, Indiana, come into possession of the diamond after young Sean Wronko (Michael Morgan) swipes Rockford's grill. Rockford then takes to the road manning his CB, trying to locate the Wronkos in their RV with a criminal character named Ginger (Christopher Cary) and his hired muscle Lou (Luke Andreas) also in the hunt. Hunter Von Leer has a good secondary role as lifeguard Skip Speece, who is well-known for his "work" with youth, especially teenage girls. George Wyner plays naive insurance company executive and gung-ho weekend warrior Steve Kalifer, with the California National Guard taking a ribbing.  

Teleplay: David Chase

Director: Meta Rosenberg

"The No-Cut Contract" - January 16, 1976

Larry "King" Sturtevan (Rob Reiner), star quarterback for the minor league Southern Illinois Warriors, is in town. Sturtevan's "hobby" is taping secret mob conversations back home at his restaurant. With the gangsters now on to him, Sturtevan randomly picks Rockford out of the Yellow Pages, with several thugs paying Jim a visit and demanding the tapes at gunpoint. Rob Reiner has a field day as the conceited Sturtevan, who tells Rockford that he doesn't know anyone in L.A., except maybe for "a couple hundred girls." NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus plays himself, meeting King Sturtevan at poolside and telling him that he never heard of the Southern Illinois Warriors.

Teleplay: Stephen J. Cannell

Director: Lou Antonio

James Garner as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (NBC-TV)

"Tall Woman in Red Wagon" - October 11, 1974

Newspaper reporter Sandra (Sian Barbara Allen) hires Rockford to find her missing friend Charlotte Duskey (Susan Damente). The trail eventually leads to the mob and phony IRS agent Harry Stoner (George DiCenzo). This is a classic Rockford segment, with Jim impersonating an insurance agent, funeral home representative, psychiatrist and Internal Revenue agent. Using a mobile printing press, Rockford churns out his own phony business cards from the comfort of his tan Pontiac Firebird.

Teleplay: Stephen J. Cannell with story by John Thomas James (pseudonym for Roy Huggins)

Director: Jerry London

"The Oracle Wore a Cashmere Suit" - October 1, 1976

Robert Webber plays phony psychic Roman Clemente a.k.a. "The Great Clemente," who implicates Rockford in the disappearance of Rick Richards and Allison Curry. Both clairvoyants and the record business take a hit in this segment, with Robert Walden playing music executive Barry Silverstein and Pepe Serna appearing as hired muscle and ex-drummer Ray Achoa, who performs his own number on the hapless Rockford.

Teleplay: David Chase

Director: Russ Mayberry

"The Competitive Edge" - February 10, 1978

Joyce Brauder (Neile McQueen) hires Rockford to find her missing husband Barry ((Jim McMullan), an accused embezzler who jumped bail. Jim's investigation leads to a new wave health club called The Alphian Way and a crooked mental asylum located just below the Mason-Dixon Line. Dr. Herb Brinkman (Stephen Elliot) learns of Rockford's meddling and injects the nosey private eye with a knockout drug, sending him to the aforementioned asylum which is run by his equally crooked brother Dr. Carl Brinkman (Logan Ramsey). The wild scene in which Rockford, "Doc Holliday" (George Murdock) and several other patients break out of the sanitarium is priceless. Jack Garner, Jim's brother, plays the cigar-smoking Sheriff Delbert Bassett with Harold Sakata (Oddjob from 1964's Goldfinger) appearing as John Doe.

Teleplay: Gordon Dawson

Director: Harry Falk

"Local Man Eaten by Newspaper" - December 8, 1978

Rockford goes undercover as a reporter for The National Investigator, a scandal sheet which has been obtaining confidential medical information from his client Dr. Richard Hagens (Dallas Mitchell). When publisher Harold Whitbeck (Scott Brady) learns of Rockford's real identity, he boots the private eye out of his office, with Jim and disbarred attorney friend John Cooper (Bo Hopkins) later becoming the subjects of a scandalous Investigator story. Mobster Johnny Bongard (Gianni Russo) has a beef with The National Investigator as well, which erroneously reported that he is dying of cancer. The National Enquirer and other like-minded gossip tabloids take a real razzing in this segment, with prominent mention of UFO stories and a young girl who fended off a giant grizzly bear.

Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett

Director: Meta Rosenberg

"Paradise Cove" - September 28, 1979

Court appointed receiver Althea Morgan (Mariette Hartley) pays Jim a visit to his trailer at Paradise Cove in Malibu. Rockford has lost a $35,000 lawsuit filed by neighbor C.C. Calloway (Leif Erickson), and Althea is there to inventory his assets. Jim, Althea, Rocky and Angel Martin later become involved in a treasure hunt for stolen gold bullion, which is rumored to be buried near Jim's trailer. C.C. also knows of the story, and along with his dimwitted nephew Cliff (Frederick Herrick) also pursues the missing gold. Hollywood car crash aficionados take note, as Rockford wrecks three different cars in this segment: his own Pontiac Firebird, Angel's 1959 Chevy nicknamed "Lucille" and Althea Morgan's Chevy Nova. James Garner and Mariette Hartley also appeared together in a series of popular TV commercials for Polaroid in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Teleplay: Stephen J. Cannell

Director: Stephen J. Cannell

Stuart Margolin as Evelyn "Angel" Martin in The Rockford Files (NBC-TV)

Ten More The Rockford Files TV Episode Favorites

  • "White on White and Nearly Perfect" (10/20/78)
  • "The Prisoner of Rosemont Hall" (2/17/78)
  • "Quickie Nirvana" (11/11/77)
  • "To Protect and to Serve" Parts I and II (3/11/77 and 3/18/77)
  • "Just Another Polish Wedding" (2/18/77)
  • "The Hammer of C Block" (1/9/76)
  • "The Deuce" (12/29/78)
  • "The Battle-Ax and the Exploding Cigar" (1/12/79)
  • "Hotel of Fear" (12/2/77)
  • "Drought at Indianhead River" (11/5/76)

Top Image

  • Opening introduction to The Rockford Files with framed photograph of Noah Beery Jr. (NBC-TV)

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (3)

Nice work here, Will. I was and still am a big fan of 'The Rockforf Files'. James Garner's best tv series in my opinion. He was great in all those westerns, too. I remember a few of these episodes you mention, and had no idea that David Chase helped write some of the teleplay's for this series. The car chases were the best with his Firebird and this article brings back fond memories of my youth. Great write and read.

Not bad, but with all "top lists", there's never going to be agreement.  However with the first 10, I agree with most except for these: Local Man Eaten.... (good, not great), The Man Who Saw Alligators (Loros brings it with every appearance, but the story here drags big time), Red Wagon (1st season I think. put in 2nd top 10 ten, maybe).   Second list, that needs to move up: Drought at Indianhead River (outstanding, classic Angel sleaze, rate in top 3). Just Another Polish Wedding (new appreciation for the Gandy appearances, especially this one with Louis Gossett).  The Prisoner of Rosemont Hall (pretty much a dud, like you'd expect to see it in season 6).  Both "Lance" episodes were good, probably the only good acting Selleck has ever done.  Anyone go back and try to watch Magnum?  Embarrassing, and extremely weak writing compared to Rockford.  Ones that were missed for the list: Return to the 38th Parallel and Dirty Money, Black Light (this one definitely top 10, with another classic Angel appearance).

Disagree on almost all your choices.

I much prefer the first season episodes. Still, it\'s gold and diamonds to select from with this show.

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