James Garner: The Rockford Files

by The Acolyte/Blaise Bienvenue

How does one man negotiate a landscape of ham-fisted bureaucracy, soul-crushing modernity, and moral chaos? With wits, charisma, and a compulsion to do right that can’t be ignored no matter how hard he tries. Say what you will about television, especially in the seventies, when there were only three networks and one moral stance, but The Rockford Files (1974-1980) managed to rise above this to create a show that was quirky, funny, exciting, truthful, and emotionally resonant. It was about American life in the 1970’s. It portrayed government agencies as monolithic steamrollers driven by blind, palsied lunatics. It portrayed mobsters as both dangerous and absurd, giving short shrift to neither. It was set in a world where thieves, con artists, and connivers worked both sides of the law and wore a myriad of faces. Sure, the cops always got called in at the end and got the bad guys and everything was set right, but there was so much ambiguity between every line that by the time you got there, you hardly even noticed. The Rockford Files called bullshit on a genre while simultaneously creating a new one.  In the center of it all was private eye Jim Rockford. No independently wealthy vigilante crusader type here, just a genuinely decent but world-weary guy who lived in a trailer and kept his gun in a cookie jar. The incredulous look that came over his face when confronted with yet another example of how little regard humans can have for one another says it all.

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Without that presence, there was no show. Garner was Rockford, and Rockford will be missed. RIP James Garner, 1928-2014.