“This Case Is Closed” originally aired as a special 90-minute episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES. Unfortunately, Universal’s DVD splits it into two separate 60-minute episodes, the same as when it airs in syndication. I’d rather have it in its original form, since Part 2 begins with an extremely long “Previously On” prologue that Universal added to pad the episode for an hour timeslot.
I’m guessing Stephen J. Cannell wrote it as an hour, because the episode really drags at two. Director Bernard Kowalski can’t be blamed for the interminable driving scenes that slow the pacing almost to a standstill nor for the pointless little pieces, like Rockford hailing a cab or stock footage of a medical emergency, used to stretch the episode beyond what the story could hold. Maybe it plays just fine at 90 minutes, but the two-hour version seen in reruns and on DVD is a letdown.
It’s really too bad, because the kernels of a good episode are here: an interesting mystery in which the audience doesn’t have any more information than Rockford does, some wry dialogue (mainly between Rockford and his various kidnappers), more cunning use of the Firebird, and a coup in guest star Joseph Cotten (CITIZEN KANE), the 69-year-old film legend who did not often do episodic television, but reportedly did “This Case Is Closed” as a favor to executive producer Meta Rosenberg.
Cotten plays Warner Jameson, a nasty millionaire who hires Rockford (James Garner) to find some dirt on his daughter’s fianc?, Mark Chalmers (Geoffrey Land, a regular in junky Al Adamson movies). A trip to Newark, New Jersey lands Rockford in a heap o’ trouble with the local cops and some finger-breakers who may be mobsters or may be Federal agents. Back in L.A., Rockford is kidnapped twice by members of organized crime, but is rescued the first time by F.B.I. man David Shore (James McEachin, who the season before starred in his own private-eye series, TENAFLY). Meanwhile, chipper Sue Jameson (Universal contract player Sharon Gless) has no idea her father is investigating her fianc? or that Mark may be the target of Mob hitmen.
Viewers may have been pissed off a year or so later, when Universal used the same script for a SWITCH episode, but with Robert Wagner playing “Rockford”. Ironically, Sharon Gless was a regular on SWITCH and got to play the same script twice.
The first time NBC aired “This Case Is Closed,” its competition on THE CBS FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE was THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS, a 1972 mystery starring James Garner. THE ROCKFORD FILES topped it in the Nielsens.