Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Four Pound Brick

While "The Four Pound Brick" is not a bad episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES, it has to go down as something of a letdown, considering its pedigree. It was co-written by none other than Leigh Brackett, and considering that her screenwriting credits include such impressive detective films as THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE, one can hardly be blamed for expecting more than a typical plot that could have been used on nearly any private eye show of the period.

Jim (James Garner) is pressured by Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.) to look into the accidental death of a rookie cop named Dave Banning, whose mother Kate (Edith Atwater) is the widow of Rocky's old trucker pal. Brackett and co-writer Juanita Bartlett create several nice scenes for Garner and Beery, as Rocky, ashamed of his son's job, first tells Kate that Jimmy is a trucker who only does P.I. work "as a sideline," and then demands that Jim charge him his full rate for service.

On an all-night stakeout at "the Greek Theater" (actually the amphitheater at Universal Studios), Rockford witnesses Banning's partner, veteran officer Wilson (Paul Carr), taking what appears to be a payoff. Lt. Diehl (Tom Atkins) doesn't want to hear any of Rockford's accusations about Wilson and possibly Banning being on the take and tosses him out of the police station, where he is also threatened by uniformed cops. Whereas before Jim was willing to drop the case in order to save Kate from the news that her son may have been dirty, the cops' hostility makes it personal for the stubborn detective.

Much good work is turned in by the performers and crew, including some impressive night shooting that may have cut into the budget a bit. A welcome appearance by Stuart Margolin as Angel leads to some great comic bits, including a scene in which he and Rockford gather for some chili (with onions) and beer. In fact, the guest actors, except for Atwater, are underused in this episode, which is odd considering how good they are. William Watson and John Quade, who play gunsels (and have some funny dialogue when they kidnap Jim), possessed two of the best "bad guy" faces in Hollywood.

Brackett, whose writing career also included several science fiction novels (she was married to noted SF novelist and comic book author Edmond Hamilton) and John Wayne westerns, wrote just one more movie before dying of cancer in 1978. George Lucas hired her to pen THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but she died after completing the first draft. Although both she and Lawrence Kasdan share screenplay credit, it is said that little of Brackett's draft remains in the film.

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