Highly recommended 4.5 Stars

The Rockford Files, one of the most highly-regarded series in the history of television, arrives on Blu-ray from Mill Creek with picture and sound that are a substantial improvement over the DVD releases by Universal.

The Rockford Files (1974–1980)
Released: 27 Mar 1974
Rated: N/A
Runtime: 60 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Cast: James Garner, Noah Beery Jr., Joe Santos
Writer(s): Stephen J. Cannell, Roy Huggins
Plot: The cases of an easy going ex-convict turned private investigator.
IMDB rating: 8.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Mill Creek
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: None
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 103 hrs. 28 min,
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Standard Blu-ray cases in slipcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/25/2017
MSRP: $129.00

The Production: 5/5

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

The Rockford Files, one of the most highly-regarded series in the history of television, arrives on Blu-ray from Mill Creek with picture and sound that are a substantial improvement over the DVD releases by Universal. 

Most readers of this review are likely very familiar with The Rockford Files, so I will not go into detail about the individual episodes. Suffice it to say that private investigator Jim Rockford (James Garner) is no Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Instead of an office in the city that is illuminated by neon lights, he operates out of a trailer in Malibu that he also calls his home. The original concept was that he only worked on criminal cases which had been closed by the police, but as the series progresses he also takes assignments from insurance companies and others (although criminality invariably is involved).

Rockford once served time in San Quentin for a crime which he did not commit, and he was ultimately pardoned by the governor of California. The pardon notwithstanding, his criminal record is partially responsible for his often contentious relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. He has one friend on the force, Sgt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), but he is intensely disliked by Becker’s superiors, first Lt. Diehl (Tom Atkins) and then Lt. Chapman (James Luisi). From time to time Rockford is assisted by his plucky attorney and sometimes love interest, Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), and his former cellmate, the cowardly con man Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin). Frequent appearances are made by his father, Joseph “Rocky” Rockford (Noah Beery Jr.), who would prefer that his son get a job as a truck driver.

Rockford is in some respects an anti-hero who unsuccessfully does his best to avoid violence. He owns an unlicensed gun which he keeps in a cookie jar in his trailer. He is good at impersonations and he keeps a small printing press in his Pontiac Firebird that he uses to make up business cards when he needs to pretend to be a fire inspector or a health inspector. Rockford’s fee is $200/day plus expenses, but he prefers fishing to working and he frequently finds himself being pursued by bill collectors. The Rockford Files features plenty of action, including many impressive car chases in which James Garner does his own driving. In addition to boasting a very impressive cast, the series attracted such guest stars as Rita Moreno, Lindsay Wagner, Tom Selleck, Lauren Bacall, Isaac Hayes, Rob Reiner, Joseph Cotten, Jill Clayburgh, Abe Vigoda, Linda Evans, Robert Webber, and many others. But the glue that holds it all together is the consistently excellent acting by James Garner, who wears the character of Jim Rockford like a glove.

Also deserving of kudos mention is the writing. The scripts by the likes of Roy Huggins, Stephen J. Cannell, David Chase, and Juanita Bartlett (among others) are consistently entertaining, featuring interesting plots, clever dialogue, and a nice mix of action and humor. Although I do not work on criminal cases, I am a private investigator in real life and on one case where I was trying to find someone I successfully used an approach that Rockford employed in the Season Three episode “Just Another Polish Wedding.” Thanks for the idea, Jim!

The Rockford Files was originally released on DVD by Universal Studios in single-season sets in 2005. They were double-sided discs which had playability problems for many. When Universal released Season One the studio inexplicably omitted the pilot episode, “Backlash of the Hunter.” Protests from fans convinced Universal to include it on the Season Two set. The studio subsequently released a DVD box set in 2015 which includes all six seasons and the eight television movies which were made between 1994 and 1999. The television movies are not included in this Blu-ray set, but they are still available on DVD at Amazon.

Some viewers may be perplexed by the beginning of the pilot episode, which opens with a shot of Rockford’s trailer at Paradise Cove and a telephone message which refers to Lt. Chapman’s birthday. During Season One the trailer was parked in a lot on the Pacific Coast Highway (it is moved to Paradise Cove at the beginning of Season Two), and Lt. Chapman does not appear in the series until Season Three. However, this is not an error. The pilot episode originally appeared as a television movie in the spring of 1974. The footage of the trailer and the telephone message were added when the pilot was syndicated as a two-part episode, which is how it appears here.

During its six-season run The Rockford Files was nominated for 18 Prime Time Emmy Awards, winning for Best Drama Series once and individually for James Garner, Stuart Margolin (twice), and Rita Moreno. Anyone who has never seen the show will be delightfully entertained, and those who already have it on DVD will be able to upgrade to Blu-ray at a very reasonable street price.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

This Blu-ray set is presented in 1080p via the AVC codec, and it is properly framed at 1.33:1. The image is very sharp and highly detailed. The occasional specks which appeared on the Universal DVD releases have been cleaned up. Colors are vivid and accurate, black levels are fine and shadow detail is very good.

I do not read other reviews before writing my own, but I have seen complaints about lack of film grain and allegedly excessive DNR. To which I ask, what grain? What excessive DNR? What are they comparing it to? I have done A/B comparisons with the Universal DVDs, and the only noticeable grain is in stock footage (planes taking off and landing, etc.), grain which is still present in the same scenes on the Blu-ray set. Back in the 1970s I watched The Rockford Files on a 25-inch CRT television, and I assure you that it never looked this good. There are no compression issues or other anomalies to distract the viewer.

The show is enhanced by extensive on-location filming throughout southern California, as well as cities such as Honolulu and Las Vegas (the Hoover Dam is featured prominently in the first season episode “Roundabout”).

Audio: 4/5

The packaging says that the audio is simply DTS HD-MA, but I am hearing sound from all three front channels and my Blu-ray player is detecting stereo, so I am putting it down as English 2.0. In any event, the audio is crystal clear, with excellent reproduction of ambient sounds. The scenes involving car crashes, gunshots, explosions, etc. deliver a reasonable amount of punch.

The iconic harmonica-driven theme to The Rockford Files was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. It was so popular that they subsequently recorded an extended version with a bridge. That version became a hit single and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement in 1975.

There are no subtitles, which unfortunately will be a deal-breaker for some.

Special Features: 0/5

There are no extras on this Blu-ray set.

The six seasons are packaged in six standard-sized double side Blu-ray cases, with two discs on each side, one on top of the other. They are held in place very securely and the risk of scratching appears to be very slight. Each disc contains either five or six episodes that run approximately 50 minutes apiece, so it appears that the episodes are complete.

The exception to the packaging is Season Six, which ran for only eleven episodes because Garner unfortunately had to shut down production of the show halfway through the season due to various physical ailments. Consequently, Season Six has only one disc on each side of the case.

The six Blu-ray cases are held in a cardboard slipcase. The bottom of the slipcase has a reproduction of the Yellow Pages ad for “The Rockford Agency” which appears in the pilot episode.

Overall: 4.5/5

I cannot imagine why any fan of The Rockford Files would not want to own this Blu-ray set, particularly since it can be had for considerably less than the bundled Universal DVD sets.

As an aside, for those who would like to have a comprehensive episode guide and insights into the production of The Rockford Files, I heartily recommend “Thirty Years of The Rockford Files” by Ed Robertson, which is available at Amazon. The book also provides thorough coverage of James Garner’s legal battles with Universal.

Published by

Richard Gallagher

editor,member,author

MikeTV

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WOW! This review is a far cry from the review on Blu-ray.com, which gave the video rating 2.5/5 stars and had this to say:

It's problematic in places and particularly early on. Fortunately, various issues lessen along the way to the end. The series' opening episodes represent a low point. Print wear is increased, contrast fluctuations aren't uncommon, edge halos are occasionally distinct, harsh and jagged lines are regular, and occasional blocking clutters up backgrounds. Grain is uneven, a bit spiky in spots -- extremely snowy in places -- but the image is more often rather flat and pasty, leaving details basically agreeable but lacking any sort of tangible distinction. Period attire, as complex as it should be, fails to excite. Faces are far too often smooth. Colors are decent, a bit faded and dull, suitable for the most part but not particularly deeply saturated or realistically nuanced. At its best, the image can be said to benefit from the resolution Blu-ray offers it but not taking advantage of the format or the film medium's inherent qualities. Things do tighten up a bit as the series progresses. The presentation is never exceptional, but details firm a bit even as the image maintains that flatness and pastiness that steals away finer-point textures. Colors serve a little more depth, but not significantly more. Contrast holds a little more stable. Black levels never push too far towards crush or paleness. Flesh tones are a bit pasty. Given the budget nature of the release, it's difficult to be too disappointed. It's very watchable, fairly in-line with Mill Creek's other TV offerings. That the show is even on Blu-ray at an affordable price is reason to celebrate. Just don't expect perfection.
 

MikeTV

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Since I have a copy on order for me and another one for my dad, I sure hope yours is the more correct review.
 
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Adam Gregorich

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WOW! This review is a far cry from the review on Blu-ray.com, which gave the video rating 2.5/5 stars and had this to say:

It's problematic in places and particularly early on. Fortunately, various issues lessen along the way to the end. The series' opening episodes represent a low point. Print wear is increased, contrast fluctuations aren't uncommon, edge halos are occasionally distinct, harsh and jagged lines are regular, and occasional blocking clutters up backgrounds. Grain is uneven, a bit spiky in spots -- extremely snowy in places -- but the image is more often rather flat and pasty, leaving details basically agreeable but lacking any sort of tangible distinction. Period attire, as complex as it should be, fails to excite. Faces are far too often smooth. Colors are decent, a bit faded and dull, suitable for the most part but not particularly deeply saturated or realistically nuanced. At its best, the image can be said to benefit from the resolution Blu-ray offers it but not taking advantage of the format or the film medium's inherent qualities. Things do tighten up a bit as the series progresses. The presentation is never exceptional, but details firm a bit even as the image maintains that flatness and pastiness that steals away finer-point textures. Colors serve a little more depth, but not significantly more. Contrast holds a little more stable. Black levels never push too far towards crush or paleness. Flesh tones are a bit pasty. Given the budget nature of the release, it's difficult to be too disappointed. It's very watchable, fairly in-line with Mill Creek's other TV offerings. That the show is even on Blu-ray at an affordable price is reason to celebrate. Just don't expect perfection.
I don't pay as much attention to the star ratings as two different reviewers on two different sites can have two completely different scales. What did it for me was when Rich said the BD had: "substantial improvement over the DVD releases by Universal. " I have the DVDs. Since I haven't watched them in several years (and am getting ready to watch them again) I think I will upgrade to the BDs. Better quality and they take up less space on the shelf. A win-win for me!
 

Richard Gallagher

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Since I have a copy on order for me and another one for my dad, I sure hope yours is the more correct review.
As I mentioned, what is the other reviewer comparing it to? We have the DVDs and our memories. To my eyes this set is easily superior to the DVDs, and it certainly looks better than it did on TV 40 years ago. In the other thread we have two HTF members look at the same screen caps and coming away with polar opposite opinions.

Does it look like Lawrence of Arabia? No, but it isn't supposed to. I'd like to hear what you think about it after you get a chance to look at it.
 
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classictvfan40

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Thank you for the review! I am glad I ordered it. I have the original DVD versions that I bought at Target a while back for some under 10 dollars but wanted to upgrade to blu ray. I can't wait to get my copy this week!
 
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Scott Merryfield

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I am looking forward to my copy arriving today. Your review has me stoked to watch some episodes, Richard! After selling my SD-DVD copies and applying some Amazon credits to my order, upgrading to these BD's is costing me almost nothing, so any improvement over the DVD's will make me happy.
 

commander richardson

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Richard Gallagher

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A few clarifications:

My video rating is based upon a comparison with the DVD set and what I have seen on television. Complaining that it doesn't look as good as a feature film makes no sense, because a television show is a different animal. Typically a one-hour show was shot in six days. The production had to go on, even if there wasn't enough light for optimal filming. So it is unfair to hold a television show to the standards of a feature film.

Second, there have been claims that the Blu-ray set contains syndicated versions of the show. This is true of the pilot, which originally aired as "The Rockford Files," a 90-minute NBC Sunday Night Movie. When the show went into syndication the pilot was given the title "Backlash of the Hunter" and it was edited into two parts, with some 16 minutes of footage added to the episode. It is the two-part version which appears on the Blu-ray set. If you feel that more is less, that is a legitimate complaint, but no footage is missing.

There are two episodes which were originally aired in two-hour slots but which appear on the Blu-ray set as two-part episodes. They are "Black Mirror" and "Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job." However, checking the running times confirms that no footage is missing from either episode.

This post in another thread goes into more detail:

https://www.hometheaterforum.com/co...lable-for-preorder.352223/page-4#post-4501680
 
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bigshot

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The DVD had the syndication versions of those too if I remember correctly. There were two different releases on DVD too I think.
 

Richard Gallagher

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The DVD had the syndication versions of those too if I remember correctly. There were two different releases on DVD too I think.
To confuse matters further, the DVD has the extended, syndicated version of the originally 90-minute episode "This Case is Closed." Some people who remember only the syndicated version are likely to think that the Blu-ray version (which correctly has a running time of 75 minutes) is missing footage.

I only have the original single-season sets, so I don't know what, if any, changes Universal made later on.
 

bigshot

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I've seen two versions of the DVDs... I Netflixed the double sided single season sets, and I later bought the single sided complete box. I haven't directly compared the two. They may be different.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Complaining that it doesn't look as good as a feature film makes no sense, because a television show is a different animal. Typically a one-hour show was shot in six days. The production had to go on, even if there wasn't enough light for optimal filming. So it is unfair to hold a television show to the standards of a feature film.
This is especially true for older shows shot on film like this one. At the time they were making it, there was never any expectation that the footage would ever be seen at anything greater than NTSC resolution. So they probably weren't as strict with the focus-pulling as they'd be shooting a TV show on film for 1080p broadcast today.
 
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Richard Gallagher

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This is especially true for older shows shot on film like this one. At the time they were making it, there was never any expectation that the footage would ever be seen at anything greater than NTSC resolution. So they probably weren't as strict with the focus-pulling as they'd be shooting a TV show on film for 1080p broadcast today.
Agreed. It's very different now, plus we have shows such as The Americans, Better Call Saul, Fargo, etc. that only have ten episodes per season, which gives them more time to get it right.
 

bigshot

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I watched an episode last night and it looked fantastic. The people making this show never expected it to be seen in this kind of quality. In closeups, you can see the make up on Garner's face, and you can see how they used fill lighting in outdoor scenes to light the characters' faces. None of that would have been visible on TV at the time.

By the way, the episode I watched (first episode of season 2) had some night scenes. They were shot at night, not day for night, but it looked as if the scenes should have had some sort of blue filter over them. It may be that the night scene filtering isn't done in this set. It didn't bother me though because it worked the way they did it.
 
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