“The Big Ripoff” contains one of the great ROCKFORD FILES lines. After getting his ass kicked by a pair of thugs, Rockford is tended to by a young woman whom he had picked up hitchhiking that day. As she examines his cuts and bruises, she asks Rockford, “Is there anything you won’t do for money?” His reply: “Well, I won’t kill for it, and I won’t marry for it. Other than that, I’m open to about anything.” That explains the Jim Rockford character about as well as any lengthy backstory could.
The hitchhiker is played by Jill Clayburgh, just two years before breaking into motion picture stardom in GABLE AND LOMBARD and SILVER STREAK and four years before her first Academy Award nomination for AN UNMARRIED WOMAN. Her guest role here, despite getting top billing for it, is actually quite slight and tangential to the story. She’s cute and appealing, though.
Robert Hamner’s script, based on a Roy Huggins story reportedly recycled from the Darren McGavin series THE OUTSIDER, which also was about a down-on-his-luck private eye, finds Rockford (James Garner) talking his way into an insurance case where the company paid off a $400,000 life insurance policy. Jim believes the victim, Steve Nelson (Fred Beir), may have faked his death and split the purse with his wife (a young Suzanne Somers), who’s living it up alone in Europe. Rockford’s nose for money (more specifically, a 5% recovery fee) takes him to Almeria, California, where he (again) runs afoul of the local fuzz (Kelly Thordsen) and a couple of gun-waving goons while following clues.
ROCKFORD writers were frequently unwilling to wrap their mysteries up in neat packages, and “The Big Ripoff” ends with its plot just barely complete. Character-actor fans will enjoy Bruce Kirby (Bruno’s dad) as an art gallery owner and frequent heavy Warren Vanders as a mechanic. Also of note is Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s better-than-average score, which plays beautifully over the otherwise-silent prologue set in Europe (but shot on the Universal lot).