The Rockford Files

Rocky is a witness to plans for a crime, or so they think, the criminals. Half of this feature-length episode depicts assassination attempts against him, the rest is devoted to a scam that Rockford himself finds admirable.

Trucks are hijacked, their cargoes untouched, only the tractors are taken. These are shortly used to drive away with a shipload of Russian furs.

What makes the difference in this film noir is Wiard’s filming of it by day at the Port of Los Angeles and nearby.


The Deep Blue Sleep
The Rockford Files

The abstract composition of the script gives Wiard pause for some striking views of a top-floor hotel banquet room with a fashion show in rehearsal, and an intensive squealing of tires in conclusion.

The mob launders money through a low-rent boutique, transforming it into a fashion empire for the nonce. A model is killed for secreting the records of this transaction, and she’s a friend of Beth Davenport’s.


A Deadly Maze
The Rockford Files

The Goldwyn Follies figures a studio head (Adolphe Menjou) casting about for the pulse of the public and finding it in a young working girl (Andrea Leeds). Juanita Bartlett reconsiders this situation in the light of marketing techniques, and makes the girl a prostitute and bit player who accepts a role in an experiment tried on Rockford by a behavioral psychologist, whose wife’s supposed disappearance is the MacGuffin of a Department of Labor study on monetary compensation as an offset to difficult, dangerous work.


South by Southeast
The Rockford Files

The story is remotely akin to Mission: Impossible’s “The Psychic”, and preserves the Latin American setting (here called Tecolote).

An American heiress is pressured by her husband to sell shares in the family company to the Arabs, missiles are the commodity, the CIA flies an old friend of hers down to sort her out. The agent in charge is out sick, an unfortunate mix-up at the Post Office has been sending Rockford the wrong mail, he is whisked away on a private jet with the other man’s passport and a dossier on the case.

Superbly filmed by Wiard, brilliantly written by Bartlett, well-acted by all. The pressure point is the lady’s father, a robber baron glorified in schools. “Let ‘em rewrite the history books,” says Rockford.


Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man’s Job
The Rockford Files

Juanita Bartlett’s script is a direct adaptation of The Sting or its The Adventures of Harry Lime original (“Horse Play”) to the requirements of the art show market. A corrupt, vicious and murderous businessman is made to conceive a hatred amounting to obsession for a fictitious rival from West Texas. King Tut is the object of a moneymaking scheme, or rather the subject.

“Don’t cough in my face,” the neurotic and petulant mark shouts at his muscle man. A certain Mr. Wendkos and a Miss Cavafy figure in the deal.


The Hawaiian Headache
The Rockford Files

Rockford goes to the islands on a vacation supposedly won from Mason’s Department Store and fished out of the trash by Rocky. Actually, it’s been engineered by Rockford’s Korean War CO, now in government intelligence, for a five-minute currency exchange with the Vietnamese as part of “secret negotiations” before a ping-pong match on the analogy of China.

One of the greatest war satires, precisely written so that every detail is expressive of the theme, and beautifully filmed by Wiard (note the long take driving past the shorefront).

The Hawaiian Mafia takes a hand, a standoff ends in a shootout as the bodies multiply, a U.S. agent in the field for the first time, a Vietnamese operative, no exchange is made but “five no-goods”, including a British middleman, are taken “off the playing field”.

Wounded Rockford goes home in a Coast Guard plane, unknowingly liable to subpoena.



Tom Horn

Tom Horn is in every way a masterpiece, and only Clint Eastwood knows it, apparently. The key is its originality, which is observed from nature and art, and then couched in solider terms than the blindest critic could jeer at. Notice, for example, that the sequence of Horn’s incarceration, which takes up the second half, is directly taken from One-Eyed Jacks (Wiard even has Slim Pickens for this). The confrontation in the stock pens by night is from Nevada Smith. The centerpiece of the flashback sequence (Linda Evans bathing in a tub outdoors) echoes The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Practically every detail is anchored in precedent, and if you look more closely at the first shootout (which recalls the famous one in True Grit) you’ll see the slow-motion handling of this scene on the prairie has the hand of Frederic Remington as its guide. Altman, Eastwood... the scribe who takes down Horn’s conversation so that it may be twisted against him in court recalls the Baron in Russell’s The Devils, and reappears as the Duke’s biographer in Unforgiven. All of this is a matter of style, if you will, in a very learned director whose work instantly ranks alongside Jeremiah Johnson, say. But it also serves the constructive purpose of determining the action as stylistically unaccountable, and there is the originality.

The great scout Horn (the story is true) is hired to fend off rustlers. He faces some at a cattle auction (and backs his horse away like John Wayne in Rio Lobo), tracks them down and kills them. One he trails to his ranch house shoots Horn’s horse and is killed in the exchange. Horn walks over to the body and fires a half-dozen more rounds into it with his rifle, then burns the house down, to avenge the horse.

Horn is then seen in town buying supplies. It’s a small, isolated town in the Eastwood style, miles of prairie all around and mountains in the distance. The main street with its characteristic puddles still has numerous people and wagons in it. Among them is a ruffian Horn has had a run-in with. The fellow now makes his way amid the traffic, draws his pistol, takes a standing two-handed bead on Horn, and fires. Horn, at the other end of the street, drops his goods and faces the shot, then scurries for some cover under fire. He finally drops the varmint, but here’s the dramatic point. Horn walks over to the body, stands over it and fires once to finish the job. Then he walks over past the restaurant diners to the kitchen to wash his bleeding arm in front of them.

Everything follows from this, he’s framed for murder by his own employers and hanged.

The formal structure has an interlaced love affair with Linda Evans, beginning with her sunnier-than-thou smile at an outdoor lobster feast (in Wyoming at the turn of the century) that’s new to Horn, melding into flashbacks from his jail cell with an effect of reflection. In the centerpiece mentioned above, she’s bathing outdoors when a rustler tries to kill Horn, who beats the man to death with the butt of his rifle, splattering Evans.

The gallows is an interesting contraption, trip-weighted so that a man hangs himself, in a sense. That’s history, Emerson says.