The Rockford Files (1974) – The Kirkoff Case & The Dark and Bloody Ground

 

In this installment of Bellisario & Cannell we talk about the first two episodes of Season 1 of James Garner’s The Rockford Files.

First off we have The Kirkoff Case, penned by series creators Cannell and Roy Huggins which aired September 13, 1974 and features James Woods.

The answering machine gag this week is Norma at the market calling to tell Jim (Garner) that he bounced another check, should she mail it to him, throw it out, or put it with the rest.

A young man, Larry Kirkoff (Woods) is an heir to a fortune when his parents are murdered. He is also the prime suspect in the eyes of the police, but they have no evidence to convict or even arrest him with. Larry maintains his innocence, and hires Jim to find the killer, promising him a $20,000 bonus should he prove who killed his father and money.

The episode opens with Rockford tailing a cowboy, Travis (Roger Davis), but when he loses him, Jim meets a young woman, Tawnia (Julie Sommars) who invites him back to her place for a drink. She drugs it, and we learn that she’s working with Travis. We learn, that Jim is working on the Kirkoff murders and needed to confirm if Travis had an intimate relationship with Mrs. Kirkoff. Confirming this, Jim gets away, with a nice cigarette trick.

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Later, in pursuit of another lead he cons his way into a tennis club to confront Tawnia. It seems she was possibly having an affair with Mr. Kirkoff. She confirms this, explaining that she and Travis were now working together to figure out who murdered the Kirkoffs.

Following up another lead, Rockford ends up in a warehouse, and gets soundly beaten. He’s warned off of the case, hinting that if the case is reopened it may reveal details of a land fraud deal which would be bad for certain parties.

Becker (Joe Santos) helps him run down a lead, in exchange for a 10 point spot on their next handball game, and learns that the warehouse is owned by a local, ahem, union, and that the man who oversaw his beating may be a thug named Muzzy (Philip Kenneally), an ex-boxer, who works for mob boss, Al Dancer (Abe Vigoda).

Jim lets Dancer know that Muzzy will most likely be fingered for the crime and it may lead back to him…

Dancer sends a couple of men to see Muzzy, but Muzzy slips away, but Jim is in hot pursuit, and this week’s car chase sees them racing through a golf course.

It seems Mr. Kirkoff hired Muzzy to kill his wife as opposed to going through divorce court, but Jim is still convinced that Larry murdered his father.

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The Dark and Bloody Ground aired September 20, 1974,penned by Juanita Bartlett and Roy Huggins (using the alias of John Thomas James again) and saw Rockford helping a woman, Ann (Patricia Smith), at the request of Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), who is accused of murder but as he gets deeper and deeper into the case he realizes he’s made himself the target.

This episode features the first appearance of Beth, as the recurring character of the Public Defender. She weasels Jim into agreeing to help Ann, if she pays his fees and expenses. When she agrees, the first thing he asks her to do is go and get him some information. A great moment as you watch Beth’s face…

The answering machine gag this episode features Louie at the fish market calling to ask if Jim is going to pick up the halibut or what?

As Jim investigates, the first attempt is made on his life as he is pursued by a Mack truck chasing him in his car, through the desert. Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.) is quick to point out though, that a Mack truck would be more than able to wipe Jim out, so they must want him scared at first and not dead. This is but one part of the ever delightful exchanges between Jim and his dad, Rocky.

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The second attempt on Jim’s life, sees the removal of his brake fluid, and consequently he and Beth almost die in an accident, but he’s not stopping now!

We learn that everything ties back to a book, The Dark and Bloody Ground, its copyright, and the movie that has been made from it. Seems if the author dies before the copyright renewal the rights move to the widow, not the book company that made the movie deal…

This episode’s car chase climax is down some dark California streets as Jim chases the killer Eliot Malcolm (Linden Chiles) until he crashes. It seems Eliot did it all to protect Elizabeth (Nancy Malone) from a murder charge all to keep the rights, and make loads of cash.

Like the episode previous to this Jim gets mostly stiffed on his fees, and Beth tries to weasel him into helping out another of her clients.

Next week we look at The Countess & The Prentiss Case!

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