Friday, July 14, 2006

Calidonia--It's Worth A Fortune!

This is one of my favorite ROCKFORD FILES episodes. It’s another con episode, sort of, that leads to a very clever ending. Like many ROCKFORD scripts, this could easily have been a MAVERICK episode just by changing the name “Jim Rockford” to “Bret Maverick”. Star James Garner receives quite a boost from this week’s guest stars: the beautiful Shelley Fabares, a former child star (THE DONNA REED SHOW) and pop singer (“Johnny Angel” hit #1) who continued acting well into the 1990’s as a regular on COACH and voicing Superman’s mother in cartoons, and Richard Schaal, often cast in comic roles, but successful here as a swindler and loser.

Jolene (Fabares) hires Rockford to help her recover a cache of valuable stamps that was stolen by her husband and hidden in the small town of Caledonia, California just before he was arrested four years earlier. Her dying husband gave her only half of the directions, however, and the other half to his partner, Len (Schaal). A few doublecrosses and a pair of ex-cons in on the secret stand between the treasure and the dollar signs in Rockford’s eyes. A couple of nice car stunts make up the action in an episode that doesn’t really need it, as Juanita Bartlett’s teleplay keeps you on your toes for the full hour, right down to the “gotcha” final act.

Fans of exploitation movies will definitely recognize the great Sid Haig, on a rare respite from visiting womens’ prisons in the Philippines, as one of the hoods terrorizing Len, but you’ll have to look fast to catch a glimpse of a young Robert Ginty as a photographer. Ginty became a sleaze-movie star after playing the lead in James Glickenhaus’ grisly THE EXTERMINATOR in 1980.

A major factor in THE ROCKFORD FILES’ popularity was its quirky supporting cast, but outside of a handful of scenes featuring Noah Beery as Rockford’s dad and brief appearances by Joe Santos (as Detective Becker), Gretchen Corbett (as lawyer Beth) and Stuart Margolin (playing a very different Angel in the pilot), Garner was really carrying the ball on his own--a tough gig in a one-hour drama. Garner and producer Stephen J. Cannell always planned for the series to have a strong supporting cast, but NBC paid for Garner and wanted Garner. So, to appease the network and give the audience time to know and like Rockford, Garner was very “heavy” in the first several episodes. Margolin, at least, was still involved as director of this episode. He does a good job too, except for one handheld shot that feels out of place.

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