Houston, We’ve Got a Problem

The Apollo 13 crew directly participate by way of flight recordings, but this is expressly a dramatization of the ground crew and, to be more exact, the flight controllers negotiating the disaster from explosion to splashdown.

A very fine drama, as tragedy and absurd and ridiculous categories are, all at the same time.

Filmed on location with NASA personnel and a very distinguished cast indeed.



Profit and Loss
The Rockford Files

Rockford plunges in media res, or rather the thing stumbles into his purview and is dragged away, leaving him with a sore head. In the event, it’s an old-fashioned stock swindle made new by various guises. The company, Fiscal Dynamics, Inc., is one of the world’s largest. The man at the top, Mr. Fielder (Ned Beatty), has a crushing grip that can be returned, and he isn’t smart enough to know when the game is up. Murders have been committed, therefore he is tenacious.

We have all seen the game played before our very eyes. Fielder prints up phony stock certificates to secure an acquisition, Rockford’s investigation jeopardizes the stock price, heavy penalties accrue.

It’s not an accountant but a computer programmer who notes the irregularities within his own company, and then denies ever having done so. The reason why is made clear in a scene which shows Doheny’s mastery, as Rockford is pursued by goons through the corridors of corporate power. Quick and easy moves by the camera keep this direct and calm, the visual equivalent of those aural spaces.

Stephen J. Cannell worked out this two-part episode from a story by Roy Huggins as John Thomas James.


The Farnsworth Stratagem
The Rockford Files

Lt. Decker, Mrs. Diehl and 28 other society notables buy a home away from home for mobsters without realizing it. Rockford plays J.W. Farnsworth of Tulsa, with the mineral rights to the property. A mobster seizes on his idea, but the gusher Farnsworth hits (water indicating gas) belongs to the city.


The Great Blue Lake Land and Development Company
The Rockford Files

It’s strictly from Nowheresville, a brisk scam. Doheny’s skilful technique is very deft in transitions, and correctly registers air-conditioned motel rooms in the middle of nowhere, the great scrub desert where a murderous con artist peddles mirage.


Chicken Little Is a Little Chicken
The Rockford Files

Angel Martin, con man extraordinaire, is set up to take the fall not once but twice for a check-forging scheme on his brother-in-law’s newspaper, the Courier-Telegraph, first for laundering the cash at the stock exchange, which happens to be on a different mobster’s turf, and then framed for the forgery itself with all the paraphernalia in his desk at work.

Rockford coolly slips a story into the paper after hours which describes unfortunate Angel’s gangland execution, and plays a very elaborate shell game with rival gang bosses at the funeral (which is attended by the honoree in the choir loft).


Pastoria Prime Pick
The Rockford Files

Gordon Dawson’s script is so blisteringly audacious a vision that even suave and dapper Doheny can do nothing but keep pace with it.

A vision of the New Economy elevating a rustic speedtrap town into a prosperous and thriving extortion racket all but mechanized, from Pastoria to New Pastoria in an astonishingly short span of time, with a lady mayor who is an ideal political cynic of the sociopathic sort and ringleader of the town gang.

Rockford, traveling incognito on a case, is pegged for a sucker and framed with a suitcase full of heroin that has the initials of his alias on it. A terrible level of suspense is created by the breathtaking magnitude of the scheme, administered as it is by the district attorney and the town police. Only the retired sheriff and the judge aren’t conspirators, though the judge has to see the thing in operation to be convinced.

Truly a nightmare, all the more amazing by dint of its impersonality, which lends an air of lighthearted misunderstanding to the exposition, coupled with a Hitchcockian red herring or two, turning finally into an oppressive weight of menace without recourse except to direct action to blow the lid off the whole thing in the most surprising way, literally.