ROCKFORD FILES: “This Case Is Closed” S1 E6

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“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”

“You really want Shinbone in the seventh? Come on. That nag couldn’t go a mile in the back of a pickup truck. Call me.”

(Did you catch that? A bookie is trying to talk Rockford out of a bet. That tells you what kind of episode Jimbo’s going to be having today.)

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I

This Case Is Closed

A plane touches down at LAX. Moments later, James Rockford is striding through the terminal with cagy purpose and the feigned nonchalance of a man who knows he’s being watched. Rockford finds a payphone and reports to his client, a Mr. Warner Jameson, to whom Jim seems uncharacteristically deferential, a lot of “yes sirs” and “no sirs.” Rockford informs Jameson that something “a little weird” happened back in Newark, and that Jim will fill him in later. But first he has to go home, shower and change clothes. It’s pretty obvious from Jimbo’s body language that whatever happened in Jersey didn’t stay in Jersey, and has clung to Jim like bad cologne, leaving him feeling uneasy and unclean.

 

Jim walks out to the parking garage to retrieve his car, still cagy and even more certain that he is being shadowed. Those instincts are correct. From the moment Rockford slips his key into the Firebird and pays the parking attendant, the chase is on, unfolding down a series of empty L.A. side streets.

 

With a half-block lead, Rockford literally piggybacks his way into a public parking lot by rear-ending a guy in a Mercedes convertible (an astute reader has pointed out that this sports car is actually a Triumph TR-6) who has just deposited money into the automatic slot and is waiting for the barrier arm to go up. Jim wasn’t trying to be a cheapskate by saving parking fare or anything, he was only nudging the guy along so that he could get in on the guy’s dime before the arm came down.

 

By the time Rockford’s pursuer arrives, that arm has indeed come down and the pursuer has to waste precious moments fishing for coins to pay the parking fee. When he does finally insert the correct change and wait for the barrier arm to lift back up, it’s already too late. Rockford has eluded him.

 

This is not the first time we’ve seen Rockford get away in a game of cat and mouse, but this might be the first time we see it from the chaser’s perspective. The silver Nova follows Jim’s Firebird into a parking lot that has only one way in and one way out. Jim would appear to be a sitting duck as the Nova begins methodically working its way up and down the row of cars, waiting for the Firebird to reveal itself and make its move. But there is a full ninety seconds of silence as the Nova searches for Rockford in ever increasing panic before finally exiting the parking lot in defeat. One moment Jim’s there, the next he’s gone. Eventually, the guy in the Nova thumps his palms against the steering wheel in exasperation, acknowledging his defeat. It’s a novel perspective on a very familiar scene–Jimbo getting away cleanly. We’ve seen it from Jimbo’s point of view many times; this is what it looks like for the other guy.

 

I should note here that “This Case Is Closed” was originally a 90-minute show that, for the purposes of syndication, has been split into two hour-long episodes and padded with extra footage. So, depending on which version you watch, it really is like witnessing two different chase scenes.

 

In the longer version, you do get to see how Jim eludes the hapless guy in the silver Nova, and it’s nothing special. I prefer the mystery of the shorter version.

 

In either case, it’s notable that a chase that begins in one parking structure, at LAX, ends in another parking structure, an open-air lot in a quiet neighborhood. Not only does Jim use that parking lot barrier arm to his advantage by piggybacking the poor guy in the Triumph, in the longer version he also utilizes the ‘Warning! Do Not Back Up, Severe Tire Damage’ spikes that prevent you from entering the exit side. Jimbo startles the Nova into doing exactly what the sign warns against, backing up over the spikes and puncturing all four tires.

If you’ve ever been morbidly curious about what actually happens when you drive the wrong way over those dreaded spikes, this clip gives you a plausible scenario of what that might look like.

 

All in all, this is a nice scene because it weaponizes the parking lot’s attributes, reminding us how Medievalish and dystopian our late 20th Century car cities (of which LA is the prototype) are, to the extent that access is impeded with barricades and daggers, like some moated fortress. For the same reason, every 70s detective show, including Rockford, likes to stage scenes inside parking structures. These huge, drab concrete erections are like monstrosities from a Philip K Dick nightmare world, they’re massive, Brutalist, and manage to be both cavernous and claustrophobic at the same time. They amplify the squealing of tires to almost warzone levels of volume on even the most languid American eight-cylinder sedan, no matter how leisurely it winds its way through the structure.

TV directors of the early 70s pick right up on this eerie juxtaposition and always find a way to insert a parking structure scene into the mix to add grit to their shows.

 

We never do find out how Jim got away (in the 90-minute version). In the next shot he’s already pulling up to his trailer, victorious. But Rockford’s string of good luck pretty much ends there. As soon as Jim opens the door he finds that his trailer has been thoroughly ransacked while he was away. Every drawer and shelf has been upturned. Even the contents of his fridge have been spilled out onto the floor.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

Ransacked. Not even the cookie jar was spared.

Ransacked. Not even the cookie jar was spared.

*

II

But first things first. Jim wades through the mess and places a call to the DMV, because while the guy in the Nova didn’t manage to catch Jim, Jim did manage to catch that guy’s license plate number. In no time at all Jim has conned the nice young DMV clerk into using the agency’s all-powerful computer system to tell him to whom the Nova was registered. Rockford crosschecks the name he’s given with the Yellow Pages, and discovers that he was being pursued by a fellow PI.

 

Before Jimbo can process the implications of this, there’s a gentle rapping at the trailer door. For a guy who’s so good at outwitting his pursuers in car chases and getting the DMV to divulge confidential information over the telephone, Rockford exhibits surprising naivete when it comes to opening the door for strangers. Not even trudging through the debris of his freshly plundered trailer to reach that door is enough to make Jim pause for a moment and ask who’s there before throwing it open.

 

The gentle rapping does indeed belong to a pair of thugs who barge their way in once Rockford cracks the door open. Jimbo manages to land a punch, but there’s two of them. One points a gun at Rockford’s head while the other takes careful aim and punches him squarely in the face, sending Jim sprawling to the ground. The thugs then cram a pair of dark Ray Charles sunglasses onto Jim’s face and hustle him out into a waiting sedan.

Thug number one.

Thug number one.

Taken to a waiting sedan.

Taken to a waiting sedan.

Blind Lemon Rockfish being escorted to the great gig in the sky?

Blind Lemon Rockfish being escorted to the great gig in the sky?

 

Jim tries to engage his abductors in meaningful conversation, which goes like this:

“Would it be too nosey to ask what you guys want?”

“Shut up and get in,” says the squat thug who clocked Rockford.

Rockford: “I suppose you’re the guys who went through my place?”

Thug: “I thought I told you to shut up.”

Rockford: “Tell me what you want, and I’ll probably give it to you.”

Thug: “I want you to shut up, Rockford. Understand? Shut up.”

 

The rest of the ride passes in peaceful silence until the sedan arrives at a secluded estate. As the gate is opened, ominous mood music swells and the party pulls up to the front door. Still rocking the Ray Charles blackout glasses, Jim is led into an office and seated.

 

“You can take those off, Rockford,” a voice tells him. Rockford removes the glasses and sees an effete, pencil-moustached zoot suit Mafioso, who may or may not be wearing eyeliner, seated across the desk from him, sipping dessert wine with an arched eyebrow and a raised pinky. The zoot suit, whose name is Torrance Beck, has a simple question for Rockford. “Who are you working for?”

 

Jimbo tries to buy time with some line about having to check with his client first and getting back to them as soon as he gets the okay. The zoot suit ices Rockford with a stare, slowly rises to his full 5’1” height, revealing a severe limp, and walks out of the room, telling Rockford simply, “you lose,” before pausing to elucidate, “we’re making the arrangements. It’ll be about five minutes. You’re dead.”

 

Left by himself in the office while the Mafiosi presumably arrange his whacking in the mansion’s other wing, Rockford tries the doors and windows and realizes they’re all locked.

 

Was it worth it, Mr. Rockford? Was it worth it to you? I’d really like to know,” the words of Torrance Beck echo in Rockford’s mind as, alone with his fate, Jim has time to flash back to the sequence of events that brought him to Newark in the first place, and ultimately into this diminutive hoodlum’s lair, and to ponder if indeed it really was worth it.

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Torrance Beck.

*

III

"Are you really a private dective?"

“Are you really a private detective?”

We flash back to a stylish afternoon cocktail party full of beautiful people at a place called Mark’s, which unsurprisingly turns out to be a tennis club. Though we’re only six episodes into the series, Jim already has a long history with people who play tennis(Ep. 1  Ep. 3  Ep. 4).

 

Rockford is escorting a pretty young woman named Kathy, or Cathy, or possibly Cathi, who promises to introduce Jim to Mark Chalmers (owner of Mark’s) himself. But making the rounds proves difficult, as Jim can be notoriously abrasive to the well-heeled tennis playing class.

 

One of the guests at this party happens to be a very young Sharon Gless, sporting a haircut straight out of the Roaring Twenties. She beelines over to Jim, seemingly star struck, and asks, “are you really a private detective??” like a teenage bobby-soxer would ask, “are you really the Big Bopper?”

 

(It’s appropriate that Sharon Gless’ character has a look that puts her completely out of sync with the rest of the 1970s, because the real life Sharon Gless is a bit of anachronism for that particular time in Hollywood. In 1974, the year this episode was filmed, Gless had just signed a 10-year contract with Universal Studios, making her the last of the old-fashioned studio contract players in Hollywood, and binding her to Universal well into the ‘80s, even after her Emmy-winning series Cagney & Lacey began its successful run. The binding contract with Universal caused Gless to miss the first six episodes of her own show.)

 

Confronted by Gless’ character, Jim plays dumb at first, explaining that he’s no private detective, he’s merely a corporate profile analyst, but the blonde doesn’t buy it for a second and forces him to fess up on the spot. Jim does, while imploring the young woman to keep the information to herself, because if anyone else knew he was a PI, he’d be tossed out of the party like a deadbeat. “I’d start growing bouncers from both arms,” is how Rockford puts it.

The elegant blonde promises not to tell, and introduces herself as Susan Jameson.

"A corporate profile analyst? Ha!"

“You’re a corporate profile analyst like I’m the Queen of England”

*

 

We then hard cut to Rockford’s Firebird roaring through the gates of a very posh estate fronted by a sign announcing “Private Property–W. Jameson.” This is the Warner Jameson that Jim called from the airport, the client whose identity Jim refused to divulge to the hoods in the mansion. In the longer version, there are a few extra close ups on Rockford’s pensive face as he’s driving up the scenic road to the Jameson estate, evidently about to deliver some news that he’d rather not have to.

 

It’s no coincidence that Susan shares the same last name as Warner Jameson. She happens to be his daughter.

 

Our first introduction to Warner Jameson is through the barrel of his gun. He’s enjoying some target shooting, as powerful men are wont to do on the grounds of their secluded estates. Jim is there at Jameson’s side, helping him sight his rifle. This is a page straight out of Power Moves for Dummies: Summon your associate to your formidable land holdings and have him stand subserviently at your side with a display of your firearms laid out before you.

Rockford and Warner Jameson

Rockford and Warner Jameson

*

 

IV

This is only the sixth episode in the series, and we’ve already had several contemptuous rich men treat Rockford like dirt even when they’re his clients. A lifetime of dealing with jerks like this is the reason Rockford demands $200 a day plus expenses in the first place.

 

Getting dumped on by powerful and wealthy men is old hat for Jim Rockford, who can be counted on to give as good as he gets in these situations, sometimes better. He takes his lumps, but he never gets tired of telling these stodgy old tyrants to go lump it themselves. This is the kind of freedom that living off the grid in a beach trailer allows Rockford to have, and this is why we love him.

 

This old man, Warner Jameson, is particularly insufferable. He exalts in pulling power move after micromanaging power move on Jimbo throughout the episode, dictating where and when they’ll meet, even the table they’ll sit at (“I don’t want people to see me with you”).

 

Jameson gratuitously humiliates Rockford for his chosen profession even while pumping him for the information his investigation has uncovered. The old man has some great insults, and Rockford has some equally fine retorts. Rockford doesn’t let the display of firearms intimidate him, either. This is strong dialogue here. These are two tough, self-confident men sizing each other up and testing each other’s limits.

 

Warner Jameson’s daughter Susan wants to marry Mark Chalmers, and old man Jameson is dead set against it. Rockford offers that he doesn’t like to get involved in cases of “helping frustrated old men try to break up their daughters’ romances. It just makes me feel like I’m taking anything that comes along.”

“You’re through when I say you’re through!” Jameson thunders, casually pointing a pistol in Rockford’s direction while threatening to use his considerable influence to have Rockford’s trailer towed, his taxes audited, and his PI license suspended just for starters. “I shoot a mean game of dirty pool,” Jameson exults.

 

“You really shouldn’t threaten me,” Rockford responds. “You’ve got a soft spot I can hit blindfolded.”

“What are you talking about?” says the indignant Jameson.

“Well, all I have to do is call your daughter and tell her you’re having Mark investigated.”

“Your ethics are lousy!” says the man who threatened Rockford with extortion thirty seconds earlier.

 

Ultimately, although it pains him almost as much as death itself, Jameson utters the magic word. “Please, Mr. Rockford. Please.”

 

And, somehow, there Rockford is, on a plane to Newark that afternoon.

*

 

V

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This Jameson character is such an over the top CEO villain that he makes Donald Trump look like Andy Griffith. On a ‘70s detective show, you would expect a robber baron this mean and ruthless to be streetwise and rough around the edges, but this guy’s got the blueblood mannerisms of a Virginia squire and the vocal affectations of Katherine Hepburn; he’s practically dressed for the fox hunt as he target shoots on his estate. He’s the kind of gentleman who would goad Jim into a duel with sabers, after first making sure Rockford’s saber was equipped with a rubber tip.

 

Jameson punctuates his threats and tirades with aggressively aimed shots from his rifle, saying in so many words, “if it were up to me, the landed gentry would still be allowed to kill serfs like you with impunity. And by the way, it’s a good thing for you we aren’t the same age or I’d take you out behind the woodshed and wipe the floor with you.”

 

This guy is so over the top, in fact, that he is the first character in the run of the series that takes me out of the moment enough to ask, “wait a sec, I’m supposed to believe this Pass the Grey Poupon Guy as a Rockford Files villain?”

 

Just who is this jamoke, anyway?

 

Well, it turns out he’s Joseph Cotten, a major leading man in the Golden Age of Hollywood, who worked regularly with Orson Welles during the great years, from Citizen Kane on. Cotten is probably the biggest name the show has landed in its six episode run.

*

VI

NEWARK

 

Once again, James Rockford is traveling to another glamorous destination. So far in the series run, he’s been to Vegas, the Arizona desert, the California badlands, and now he’s going bicoastal as he flies out to renowned Newark, NJ.

 

Once Jim arrives in Newark he does what you’re supposed to do when you’re a PI on a cop show. He checks in with the local police department and in return  gets told off by a surly cop who doesn’t like the idea of nosey PIs snooping around in his town. If you close your eyes and listen to him speak, the surly cop sounds just like Fat Tony from the Simpsons.

It’s interesting just how similar the police brass and the organized crime figures are on the Rockford Files–same personalities, same suits, sometimes the same actors.

 

Fat Tony the cop offers Jim concise directions to the Newark airport and advises him to get on the next plane back to La La Land if he knows what’s good for him.

 

Jim makes like he’s going to do just that, but in the next scene he’s at a bar, talking himself into an exclusive high stakes poker game taking place in a back room behind closed doors, where he plays the Jersey locals like a bunch of rubes.

 

Rockford has been sent to Newark to dig up information on Mark Chalmers, the guy who owned the fancy tennis club.

 

After getting kicked out of the poker game and having to leave his considerable winnings on the table, Rockford goes back to his very cheap motel room. For a rich man who literally pleaded with Rockford to stay on the case, Jameson is being extremely tight-fisted with the per diems.

 

In what is fast becoming a theme to this episode, when Rockford returns to his Newark motel room, two men are waiting for him. They announce that they’re from the “Chamber of Commerce,” and they’ve already searched everything, including his underwear. The first guy does all the talking. He’s not unlike Gene Hackman in the French Connection, wearing a suit and smiling a lot, but ready to resort to his preferred method of communication, violence, at any moment. The other guy sits morosely in a chair, trying to look intimidating, but only managing to look like the ghost from the Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Even Jim can’t help but do a double take and laugh at the guy a little.

JIm's double-take.

JIm’s double-take.

The smiling Gene Hackman fella demands to know who Rockford’s client is. When Rockford refuses to disclose Jameson’s identity, smiling Gene exclaims, “You can’t possibly be that stupid!”

Rockford responds in full honesty that he can be and is.

Instead of enhancing the interrogation methods, the Gene Hackman guy just chuckles and says “Okay, okay,” holding up his hands in supplication as if to say, “you got me, sport. We’ll just show ourselves out.”

 

Hackman guy settles for warning Rockford to warn his client that he’d better stop following Mark Chalmers around if he knows what’s good for him.

"We're from the Chamber of Commerce."

“We’re from the Chamber of Commerce.”

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The silent partner.

*

 

VII

Cut to the next morning, and Rockford is where he was at the beginning of the episode, getting off the plane at LAX and calling Warner Jameson from the airport payphone.

 

The flashback is now complete, and the action picks up with Rockford right back in Torrance Beck’s mansion, awaiting his execution.

 

At least now we understand why Rockford acted so paranoid at the airport that morning. And now we know why his trailer got ransacked and why he was nabbed in broad daylight.

 

Or do we?

 

As wee Torrance Beck and his henchmen walk Rockford back out to the sedan in order to take him to his destiny, the car is inexplicably set upon by a swarm of other vehicles.

 

For the rest of the 90-minute episode, Rockford ends up being batted around like a ping-pong ball between two much larger, nationally networked forces. Three if you count his client. All are indifferent to his suffering.

 

“This Case Is Closed” is a quadrifecta of everything that drives a Rockford Files plot. It’s got the evil old man, the damsel in distress, the complement of goons, and somehow the Feds are mixed up in it, too.

 

That last point is the great innovation of this episode. So far in the series, the plots have been standard whodunits. But one of the characteristics of the Rockford Files in its middle, and most highly acclaimed, seasons is that even as Jimbo is chasing the bad guys, he himself is being surveiled by some shadowy government agency (or agencies). It was a common enough theme throughout movies and television in the post-Watergate years, and Rockford was no exception.

 

Of course, in the wry universe of the Rockford Files, while these nebulous G-men like to think of themselves as a cross between Elliot Ness and Big Brother, they usually come across more like Barney Fife and the Keystone Kops.

 

But to be fair, in this episode the feds are actually somewhat competent and by the book, they’re just obtuse and tunnel-visioned. That won’t always be the case in future episodes.

*

 

VIII

SLY GRIFTER ROCKY

Well after dark on the day that started with him flying in from Newark, getting punched in the face, and narrowly escaping a whacking, Rockford finally ends up back at his trailer, where he opens the door and is instantly reminded that he still has to pick up the ransacked mess from earlier. Just then there’s another rap on the trailer door. This time Jim remembers to take precautions before answering. He grabs a discus-sized metal ashtray and holds it over the jamb with his left hand as he flings open the door with his right.

But it’s only Rocky, who is so happy to see his son, at least until he notices the metal ashtray his son is wielding over his head. Rocky surmises what’s going on and takes the opportunity to tell Jim, not for the last time, that he really ought to think about finding a new line of work.

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“Hiya Sonny! What you got there?”

It doesn’t take long for father and son to get to reminiscing about old times again.

“You know there’s only three Rockfords in the phone book,” Rocky recollects fondly. “There’s you, there’s me, and there’s that guy from Detroit that got beat up because they thought he was you.”

“The little guy with the glasses?” Jim recalls brightly.

“That’s the one!” Rocky chortles, and they both enjoy a good laugh at the memory.

 

Rocky helps himself to a beer from Jim’s fridge and father and son are simpatico again. But it isn’t long before Jim gets a call from Warner Jameson demanding Rockford come out to meet him that instant.

 

Rocky offers to straighten up the mess in Jim’s trailer while he’s out with Jameson. Jim is genuinely grateful for the gesture, before common sense takes over, making him narrow his eyes and ask, “What’s it gonna cost?”

 

Nothing, Rocky says with an easy smile. No charge. We’re family.

*

 

IX

CHEAPSKATE JIM

Rocky does indeed clean the trailer up spic and span that night. The next morning, he stops by the trailer again, and once more Jim greets him at the door with an ashtray over his head, so Rocky once more nags Jim about finding a new line of work.

 

Jim, no doubt famished after the previous day’s activities, opens the fridge to get breakfast going. Rocky reaches in and snags a cold one before Jim can even open it wide enough to see what’s inside.

As Rocky pops the top and takes a nice refreshing morning chug, Jim is still rummaging around in the fridge, not finding what he’s looking for. As Jim keeps searching, his tone of voice goes from chatty to irritated, and finally panic. “Wait a minute,” he says to his father. “I had a steak in here. What happened to it?”

 

Rocky explains that he kinda got a little hungry last night, and he kinda sorta ate the steak.

 

Jim then accusingly holds up an empty egg carton and says, “I had three eggs in here!”

“I ate those too,” Rocky coyly confirms. But Jim’s not kidding around anymore. He’s quite furious. “While we’re at it, how about that bottle of scotch?”

Rocky gives him the old ‘whaddya want from me?’

“No charge, huh?” Jim fumes that he could have hired professional housecleaners for a lot less than the cost of eggs, steak, and scotch.

 

First of all, I’ve gotta question Jim’s math on that. A steak and three eggs versus a team of professional housecleaners? I don’t think it’s even close. And unless that was a particularly rare bottle of scotch, it’s still not even close.

 

If you ask me, the fact that a 72-year old man can clean up a ransacked trailer while cooking up and polishing off a steak, three eggs, and a bottle of scotch in a sitting without the slightest trace of hangover the next morning is a pretty impressive feat of human endurance. If that were my dad, I’d be high-fiving him and calling Ripley’s Believe It Or Not instead of yelling at him for eating my food.

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Rocky relaxes with a morning beer…

Jimbo confronts Rocky with the evidence.

As Jimbo confronts him with the evidence.

This little exchange is a nice character study of the early first season Rockford, the antisocial beach bum and notorious cheapskate Rockford who knows exactly how many eggs he has in the fridge, and whose best friend is his conniving father who never does anybody a favor for nothing, especially his own son. That aspect of Rocky’s character gets phased out before too long. In later episodes, Angel Martin would become the buddy who scams Jim, not Rocky.

 

As father and son argue about the steak, there’s a rapping at the trailer door. Rocky, who’s nobody’s fool, hands Jim the ashtray, stage-whispering urgently, “Here, take it!”

*

 

X

CHEAPSKATE JIM PART 2

 

Over the course of the episode, Rockford is visited in his quarters by no fewer than three sets of thugs, two of which bundle him into a car and spirit him away. Jim’s final set of abductors take him to some remote land by the side of the freeway in Hoffa country, but he lives to tell about it. Rockford ends up getting a cab from there to the Federal Building (the one in West LA, presumably). The cab fare for this 20-plus mile ride is only $10.45. Rockford hands the cabbie a twenty and tells him to keep it.

Instead of just driving away, the cabbie says, “ten buck tip? What do I have to do for it.?’

Rockford explains that there is a trailer by the beach at 2354 Pacific Coast Highway. “I want you to go inside, and there you’ll find a very crotchety old man tied up. Untie him. Whatever you got on the meter, you get from him, and you keep the ten-dollar tip.

“Add another five and you’ve got a deal,” the cabbie says.

Rockford shakes his head as if to say, “Wow. You’d probably charge your mother fifteen bucks to save her from a burning building.”

 

Once again, I have to question Rockford’s sense of the value of a buck. For starters, just locating the address of a parking lot on the PCH at night is like finding a needle in a haystack. Then there is the notion of entering a dark, remote trailer fully expecting to find somebody described as “crotchety” who will be bound and gagged, knowing that you’re stepping into the scene of a felony in progress, and somehow assuming that any cabbie would be totally willing to do it for fifteen bucks, let alone ten.

Bad times inside the trailer.

Bad times inside the trailer.

*

XI

Unlike the last few episodes, which take place almost entirely on the road or in the fictional town of Bay City and in which Rockford’s trailer is barely even shown, this episode is very trailer-centric.

 

Part of the show’s charm is the Russian roulette Jim plays with his conspicuously vulnerable, usually unlocked mobile home, whose front door is about as durable as the door on a porta-potty at the Renaissance Faire. Considering his line of work, you’d think Jim would have something a little more reinforced than a hollow-core door on sagging hinges as the gate to his castle, but for a guy who gets pistol whipped on his doorstep as often as Jim Rockford does, he’s very good at treating each trip across the threshold like he’s never known a moment of fear in his life. Lesser men would flinch each time they heard the sound of somebody knocking, but not Jimbo. He’s ready to seize the day and fling the door open wide for whatever fate has in store.

So Jim waves away Rocky’s offer of the ashtray and answers the knock. There’s a good effect as the door is cracked open and the camera lens is momentarily flooded by a flash of glaring sun, making you think, ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ But this time it’s just Susan Jameson paying Jim a professional visit. Something sudden has happened to her paramour and she needs to consult a private detective. Jimbo is the only one she knows, so there she is at his door first thing in the morning.

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To go with her Great Gatsby hair, Susan Jameson arrives at Rockford’s trailer in an antique car that looks like it came straight out of Jay Leno’s hangar. In real life, no one except men old enough to have their prostates removed actually drive cars like that on the streets in broad daylight. But, it sure looks good parked in front of Jimbo’s trailer on the PCH.

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It’s breakfast time, and with Rocky having polished off Jim’s steak and eggs, Jimbo is starved for some real chow. So he invites Susan Jameson to accompany him to the greasy spoon taco stand across the parking lot for his patented first date meal of tacos and coffee. Jim thinks she’s the crazy one for not wanting a greasy taco at nine-thirty in the morning, and he makes a point of savoring his as she bares her soul.

Tacos in Paradise.

Tacos in Paradise.

Miss Jameson has come all the way out to Jim’s trailer on the edge of Los Angeles because her fiancé Mark Chalmers has suddenly gone missing and Rockford is the only one she can think of who can help her.

 

Rockford is usually pretty smooth with the ladies, but in this episode he’s about as couth as Wally and the Beaver are around girls. Susan Jameson does an admirable job of maintaining her composure as she describes her situation, but sensitive Jimbo just says, “You’re not gonna start getting weepy or anything, are ya?”

 

Jim is clearly more intent on enjoying his breakfast taco with extra hot sauce than he is in listening to Susan Jameson, and he’s taking no pains to hide it. But here we also see the shrewdness of Rockford. He’s wonderfully poker-faced as he gets Miss Jameson to explain everything she knows about Mark Chalmers without revealing to her that he’s actually working for her father, trying to uncover information on the mysterious Chalmers at that moment.

 

When Rockford explains that he might not be able to take her case because of professional ethics (already working for another client, i.e. her father), sweet innocent Susan Jameson fixes her wide eyes on Jim and asks in all honesty, “what kind of ethics does a private detective have to have?”

 

So that’s two episodes in a row where the petite ingénue has reminded Jim with utmost conviction that private detectives occupy the bottom rung of society when it comes to integrity.

 

But it’s Warner Jameson who goes above and beyond in impugning Rockford’s ethics over the course of the episode. What the audience knows that Jameson doesn’t is that Rockford has endured multiple beatings, home invasions, even attempted executions throughout the episode precisely because he wouldn’t divulge whom he was working for, even though he happened to be working for a pompous ass like Jameson who wouldn’t waste two seconds before selling Rockford down the river. Ethically, the prime directive of the private detective is protecting a client’s confidentiality, and nobody but Jim and the audience know the lengths to which he has gone to maintain that confidentiality during this episode.

Being ethical wins Jim no friends in this episode.

Another ride in a mob sedan. Being ethical wins Jim no friends in this episode.

*

XII

The result of “This Case Is Closed” is, unsurprisingly, while the feds, the local cops, and the mob all compete with each other to solve the crime, only Jim Rockford quietly figures out what really happened.

The balance of power changes.

The balance of power shifts.

*

 

XIII

NOTES

  • “This Case Is Closed” represents the prototype for the intermediate phase of the Rockford Files. That is to say, the scripts of the earliest Rockford Files episodes are straightforward whodunits, featuring blackmailers, embezzlers, jealous spouses, that sort of thing. “This Case Is Closed” kicks the plot development up a notch, towards the signature Rockford Files trope, wherein the cops, the mob, and the feds maliciously and ham-fistedly work to make Rockford’s life misery, while Rockford’s only transgression seems to have been being the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. This will be the “classic” Rockford trope until David Chase starts show-running in the later seasons, bumping the plotlines up to another level of sophistication and giving the show an increasingly Tarantino-like feel.

 

  • “This Case Is Closed” has a lot of plot twists and confusing edits. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the episode is called “This Case Is Closed” in the first place. It is a name that could be legitimately used for about half the Rockford Files episodes in the series, but not this one. While the dialogue is strong, the action is thick, and we get a whole lot of quality Rocky time, something still feels not quite right about this episode. Perhaps that has to do with its 90-minute running length. NBC aired a series of “Mystery Movies” from 1971-77, which included programs like Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife in a 90-minute format. “This Case is Closed” seems more like one of those NBC Mystery Movie that happened to have a character named Jim Rockford, rather than being an episode of the Rockford Files per se.

 

  • The wee mafioso’s name is Torrance Beck. The idea that they call him Torrance Beck instead of Terence Beck is a nice little wink to the camera. Torrance is the name of one of the many small cities within Greater Los Angeles, and Rockford Files writers are fond of giving their characters local LA street and place names as a subtle nod to the city where detective fiction noir was born and where the life and times of James Rockford play out.
Torrance Beck

Torrance Beck

*

XIV

THE OTHER STAR OF THIS EPISODE: LOUIE

This is the debut speaking role of Luis Delgado, who in real life was the brother-in-law of the show’s creator, Roy Huggins. Delgado also happened to be James Garner’s real-life longtime friend and personal assistant. On later episodes, Delgado usually played Officer Billings, Dennis Becker’s uniform-wearing subordinate on the LAPD, but not here.

He appears twice in this episode, playing two totally different characters. First he is the hapless convertible driver that Rockford rear-ends at the parking lot gate. Later he plays the surly fry cook (named Louie) who mans the Paradise Cove greasy spoon where Rockford likes to load up on breakfast tacos. Louie the fry cook distinguishes himself by being the opposite of customer service oriented. He’s unkempt, unshaven, unclean, and hung over. Plus he is partial to wearing low-cut tank tops with gaping armholes and he’s quick to sweat, which is exactly the look you want in a sweaty fry cook who is rustling up your breakfast. Louie’s surliness adds some skid row character to the beachside bistro.

 

In all, Delgado appeared onscreen in no fewer than 42 Rockford Files episodes. That’s nine more than Beth Davenport, and two more than Angel Martin.

IMG_6417

Louie

*

XV

IMG_6471

Gless and Garner walking off into the ending credits of a timeless Mid-Century L.A. vista.

 

 

3 comments for “ROCKFORD FILES: “This Case Is Closed” S1 E6

  1. September 5, 2016 at 4:39 am

    Well done Dave Soref.
    Finally re-watched this two-part episode again. Guessing only a serious “Rockford” fan might comb through your well done analysis here. I really like the first three seasons. Perhaps maybe because of this almost Eliot Ness-like 50s style, placed in the mid-70s, the writing, the over the top almost cartoon like characters, following Rockford around, more than Mark Chalmers in this episode I might add…
    Having read your extensive well-written break-down here, I can’t say the big stand-in star, Joseph Cotten is really a favorite character of mine in a early ‘Rockford’ episode. Just the same a great long episode. Because as always, so many great characters and moments overlapping.
    Warner Jameson, “the Virginia squire”, “dressed for the fox hunt”. A lousy shot and not a very likeable character. Though maybe that’s the point. One of them anyhow. Dad always knows best I guess- Pass the Grey Poupon…

    I love the few seconds of the go-go dancer in the bar/club Jim visits in Newark. Or how Torrance Beck could be related to Prince (the purple one). Also love the fact that a cab driver gets paid to untie Rocky with extras! Reminds me of some of the shit I’ve had to do. Also noticed for the first time this viewing that Officer Billings moonlights making tacos at the beach! Didn’t realize he was James Garner’s real life bud.
    Love the Newark Chamber of Commerce gentleman. Two of the best exchanges in this two parter…
    ” Sounds like a threat.”
    ” It’s not a threat.”
    “It’s whatcha call sound advice Mr. Rockford…” Classic!

  2. Jim
    January 11, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    The car Jim nudges through the parking gate is not a Mercedes, it’s a Triumph TR-6. A sweet little car. Nice write up otherwise. Just thought for the sake of accuracy I’d give a heads up.

    • admin
      January 11, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks, Jim! I appreciate your attention to detail, and will make the appropriate adjustment.

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