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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Fight! Fight!
A few days ago, I wrote about watching TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER, which is a terrible Canadian action movie starring a pair of twin martial artists, Michael and Martin McNamara. Something I didn't mention was the ridiculous theme song. It's one of the funniest things I've ever heard. It's called "Right to Fight" or something like that and repeats lyrics like, "We're gonna fight for our right to fight." I don't know what that means, but it's a remarkably cheesy '80s power rock tune and you need to hear it. So here's the opening title sequence of TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER. It'll also give you the chance to witness the McNamara brothers and how desperately they tried to model themselves after the great god Lee Horsley.

And don't forget--you got to fight...for your fight.

Posted by Marty at 10:45 AM CDT
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Thursday, June 22, 2006
A Talking Monkey?
I don't want to write too much about it now, because I've written a review to appear in next week's The Hub, but let me highly recommend to you KISS KISS BANG BANG. Fucking jagoff Champaign-Urbana theater managers never brought this terrific movie to town late last year, I guess because they had to have 8 or 9 screens free to play KING KONG on. KISS KISS BANG BANG is a lot better than KING KONG, and it didn't help its cause that Warner Brothers gave it an arthouse-type release. That made no sense, as it's definitely a mainstream action/comedy, albeit a very quirky, offbeat one that may not mesh well with the dopier among us. Regular arthouse patrons probably had little patience for the violence and raucous humor, meaning it probably played in a lot of empty movie houses.

KKBB was written and directed (his first time) by Shane Black, who wrote LETHAL WEAPON, LAST ACTION HERO and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and became one of Hollywood's most expensive screenwriters. KKBB is a perversion of sorts of those dumbass action movies that made him rich. It spins '80s buddy-cop movies and '40s detective mysteries with high style and humor.

Robert Downey, Jr. stars as a petty thief who becomes the reluctant partner of "Gay Perry", an L.A. private eye, played by Val Kilmer. The two stumble onto a twisty murder plot reminiscent of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and like that movie, the plot plays second fiddle to the broad cast and rat-tat dialogue. Michelle Monaghan, whom I recall from her brief stint as a regular on BOSTON PUBLIC, is the female lead, and does a surprisingly professional job keeping up with her fast-talking male costars. Corbin Bernsen, of all people, has a terrific role that might very well be, with the exception of MAJOR LEAGUE, the best part he's ever had in a feature.

At home tonight, I began watching POLICE WOMAN, thanks to Netflix. I have no idea why Sony decided to put this '70s cop show on DVD, but I'm glad they did. I really don't recall seeing much of it when I was a kid, even though it followed THE ROCKFORD FILES on Friday nights for awhile. I'll write more on POLICE WOMAN after I've had a chance to watch a few episodes, but it seems pretty solid. Angie Dickinson, 42 at the time and looking stunning, starred as an undercover cop with trusty Earl Holliman as her boss and Ed Bernard (THE WHITE SHADOW) and Charles Dierkop as her colleagues.

Posted by Marty at 11:06 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Won't Kill For It, Won't Marry For It
“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).

Posted by Marty at 10:59 PM CDT
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Monday, June 19, 2006
The Best Of Times, The Almost Worst Of Times
Here's a public thank you to my friend Steve Stewart, who hosted my friends and me for a fun weekend of Reds baseball at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Unfortunately, my Reds did not look good, losing three straight from the White Sox. Saturday night's game was at least exciting, and Sunday afternoon saw a scoreless tie (that's for you, Steve...) for half the game before the Reds self-destructed.

Other than the Reds' dismal on-field performance, the weekend was great. We got in several hours before game time on Saturday, which allowed Stiner and me to walk around downtown Cincinnati before meeting up with J Brown and Rock Goddess at their hotel. A nice stroll back to GABP and nice baseball weather by the time of the 6:10pm start. It was very hot earlier in the day--too hot perhaps to be walking around the city--but it was a nice night. We had terrific seats behind first base about halfway up the bottom section. I missed catching a foul ball by about five feet, which is closer than I have ever come. At least we were close enough to get a decent look at the Reds cheerleaders.

After the game, Steve gave us a "nickel tour" (which was worth a thousand times that) of the stadium, including the broadcast booths, the scoreboard, the press box, luxury boxes, private clubs, players' parking lot, etc. I also met my first Baseball Hall of Famer, thanks to Steve: legendary Reds play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, who has been broadcasting Reds games on radio since 1974. That's the year before I became a Reds fan, so it was a great thrill to shake hands and say hello to him. I told him I had been watching the '75 World Series on DVD, which I think amused him.

After the stadium lights shut down, Steve took us over to Kentucky for a couple of drinks at a sports bar down on the levee. I think all of us were too tired to do much more partying than that, but it gave Steve and me a chance to do some catching up, and I think my friends got a kick out of him. He was interested in them and their lives, and we all had a nice relaxing time. Steve and I got a chance to do more catching up back at his place, where I spent the night, not just talking about old memories, but also about baseball and the broadcasting business.

Sunday afternoon, we were right back at GABP for a 1:15 start, but with even better seats. These were directly behind home plate and were very hoidy-toidy: an usher that wipes down the padded seats, a private restroom, bar and concession area, even a wait staff that takes your food order on a Palm Pilot and has it delivered straight to your seat. Very nice, indeed. Steve also took us up into the WLW radio suite for an inning, where we got to enjoy some air conditioning and some of the free food and drinks at the buffet.

Leaving the game was a breeze. We had a good parking spot and were able to get right out on the interstate. From the time the last pitch was thrown until we got safely out of the city and onto the highway, it was less than 30 minutes. No problem or stress at all. We hit some very heavy rains driving back to Champaign from Ohio, but nothing to deter the fun weekend. Except, of course, the asskicking the Reds received at the feet of the Chicago White Sox.

And when I got home, I still had more fun ahead. Kevin was in town and stopped by for a Crappy Movie. I pulled one out I hadn't seen before: TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER. This one sucks, but we did laugh. I gotta thank Will Wilson for sending this one my direction. TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER stars Michael and Martin McNamara, two real-life twin brothers and kung fu instructors in Canada with curly hair and mustaches. They apparently thought they could also make movies, and this was their first. They play Michael and Martin McNamara, two tools who take their girlfriends on a rustic vacation in the woods, where they encounter punker survivalists who fuck with them and kidnap their women. The brothers return from fishing to find their girlfriends gone, but just think the girls are hiding to play a trick on them. Hours go by, and the twins only figure out something is wrong when one discovers that the poster of themselves they have hanging in their cabin is missing.

The homoeroticism is hilarious. One scene finds the girls wearing bikinis pleading with their boyfriends to come swimming, but the McNamaras are too busy cutting wood, shirtless, with an old-fashioned two-man hacksaw. "Leave us alone, we've got work to do!"

TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER is not very good, mainly because the brothers, despite their background, are shitty fighters, and it shows in the dumbass decision to shoot the fights in clunky slow-mo. The sequel, which is more like a remake, DRAGON HUNT, is better in this regard. It still sucks, but not as much as TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER.

Will put some bonus material on the DVD-R he sent me, including the trailer to a marvelously crappy action movie called DESERT WARRIOR. I've never seen it, but I won't rest until I do. It looks hilariously awful and stars Lou Ferrigno (!), who also provides his own voice, and Shari Shattuck, who I have to believe shows some boob.

Two baseball games, a shitty kung fu movie, and a Baseball Hall of Famer. Not a bad 36 hours.

Posted by Marty at 10:47 PM CDT
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Thursday, June 15, 2006
Taking A Nothing Day
Twice a year, Deep Discount DVD offers a big across-the-board 20% Off sale, which is always a choice opportunity to nab some larger-ticket DVDs you've been holding off on. One of my shipments arrived today, and inside was THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON. I already have the First Season and I believe Seasons 3 and 4 are out now too.

I've written before about THE MTM SHOW (and may again), and you should know by now how brilliantly warm and funny it was. I took a look at some of the extras and found something interesting and likely obscure. Before the series started its fourth season on CBS, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW creator David Davis took a crew, including MTM creator James L. Brooks, and cast members Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper to Minneapolis (where the show was set) to film a new opening title sequence. A local Minneapolis news crew tagged along with its cameras and filmed the filming for a WCCO-TV documentary. It's interesting to see how the MTM crew spent four days and $15,000 on a title sequence, to see the level of commitment and care they demonstrated to prevent the show from getting stale. Nowadays, nine out of every ten shows don't have opening titles, and the shows that do cobbled them together in a couple of hours. I believe good opening titles can really help an audience grow comfortable with a TV series, particularly shows with lots of characters who need introductions or shows with an elaborate premise that a title sequence could explain. Network TV ratings are about a third of what they were when THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was on the air, but, hey, what the hell do I know?

My big Deep Discount DVD purchase was THE AVENGERS: THE COMPLETE EMMA PEEL MEGA-SET, which is a 17-disc box set including all 51 episodes of THE AVENGERS in which Diana Rigg appeared as Mrs. Emma Peel, the slinky spy sidekick to Patrick Macnee's John Steed. Macnee had several female co-stars, but Rigg was the most famous, the most popular, the sexiest and the best. THE AVENGERS was a major success in its native England before ABC imported it to play in prime time during the late 1960s. Most of the episodes, which veered from straight espionage to out-and-out fantasy during the Rigg years, hold up quite well today, and it's cool to have them all together. Now I just have to figure out where to store the damn thing.

I will likely be away from the Crane Shot this weekend. I'm heading to Cincinnati for the Reds/White Sox series at the Great American Ball Park. I expect a really good time...and some Reds victories!

P.S. Shit. I just realized that my AVENGERS box set is the original release, which contains just 16 discs. The more recent version has a Bonus Disc with some really interesting extras, plus the discs are in easily storable thinpaks. Ah, well, at least I have the shows, which is what's important.

Posted by Marty at 10:45 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2006 10:49 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
On iTunes
This saves me from having to actually create real content.

KNIGHT RIDER--Stu Phillips
"Song Sung Blue"--Neil Diamond
"Seeger's Theme"--The Monkees
"Midnight Caller"--Badfinger
"The Saint"--dance remix of Edwin Astley's theme by Mike Townsend
"Bad Little Woman"--The Shadows of Knight (was Van Morrison still with them?)
"77 Sunset Strip Cha Cha"--Warren Barker
"Barazinbar"--Jade Warrior (this cut runs over 14 minutes!)
"Long, Long, Long"--The Beatles (from the White Album)
"Hey, Joe"--The Stillroven
"The Fun Zone"--Mike Curb from the MARYJANE soundtrack
"You'd Better Think Twice"--a young Rick Springfield from the MISSION MAGIC soundtrack
"Flower Girl"--Ron Dante (catchy bubblegum)
HELLTOWN--Sammy Davis, Jr. (from the TV series that starred Robert Blake as an ass-kicking crimefighting priest!)
"Like A Prayer"--Madonna (I don't even know how this got on my computer)
"Split Decision"--The Penny Arkade
"Calvera's Return"--Elmer Bernstein from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
"Cylon Attack"--Stu Phillips from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
"Departure"--Bernard Herrmann from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
"Quanto Costa Morire"--Francesco de Masi
"Ballad of Easy Rider"--Roger McGuinn
"Open Up Your Door"--Richard and the Young Lions
"Don't Mess with Mister T"--Marvin Gaye from TROUBLE MAN
"Apache"--The Shadows
"Down on the Corner"--CCR (live)

Posted by Marty at 10:56 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The New Boss: Nothin' Like The Old Boss
Now Playing: 16 BLOCKS
If I had forgotten why I have more or less given up on new movies coming out of Hollywood, this week was a reminder. I Netflixed two 2006 studio thrillers--FIREWALL and 16 BLOCKS--and considered both mediocre.

FIREWALL commits the blasphemy of wasting a terrific supporting cast. One scene finds Alan Arkin, Robert Patrick, Robert Forster and Harrison Ford sharing a scene, and I'll be damned if director Richard Loncraine couldn't find anything cool for them to do together.

Ford plays a Seattle bank manager whose family is kidnapped by Standard Effete Eurotrash Villain #354 (Paul Bettany), who forces Ford to tap into his bank's computer system and transfer $100 million to an offshore account. In their effort to make all movies inoffensive to everybody, Hollywood has become extremely bland when it comes to casting heavies. Aren't you tired of snobby Brits in business suits waving guns? Particularly when they're played by Paul Bettany, who is about as threatening as a junebug. I can think of about 100 actors off the top of my head who would have not only been more charismatic than Bettany, but would have the screen presence to hold the screen opposite Ford, who looks tired and bored in FIREWALL, but is still believable kicking Paul Bettany's ass.

FIREWALL is neither very good nor very bad--both of which would have made it more fun to watch. The same goes for 16 BLOCKS, which is a blatant (and uncredited) ripoff of THE GAUNTLET, a 1977 Clint Eastwood picture that is ten times better, even if it does co-star Sondra Locke.

16 BLOCKS' "Locke" is Mos Def, who may actually be a more obnoxious performer. Bruce Willis, who is very good, plays Burned-Out Alcoholic Big-City Cop #729 (I wonder if BOABCC has ever appeared in a film with SEEV. What am I saying? Of course, he has!). Willis is assigned the shit detail of transporting a petty thief (Mos Def) from jail to the courthouse so he can testify before the grand jury in two hours. The courthouse is only 16 blocks away, but gunmen attack Willis' sedan on the street in broad daylight. A drunken Bruce somehow kills one attacker and wounds another before grabbing Mos and splitting. From there, it's a chase (but not much of one) to the grand jury chambers with the two heroes being pursued by murderous corrupt cops (seemingly the whole damn precinct) led by David Morse, who is excellent (and would have been better in FIREWALL than Paul Bettany, come to think of it...).

Morse is one of those guys who has been an amazing actor for a very long time, but who knows who he is? He spent two seasons on CBS headlining a good crime drama called HACK in which he played--hey, how about that--a corrupt cop. He has the presence and the physical size to dramatically battle Willis on-screen, and their scenes together cook.

The rest of the film is not much. Director Richard Donner doesn't seem interested in the action, and gives us a lot of Mos Def chattering about bullshit. The gimmick of getting a witness to the courthouse by a certain time limit is tried and true, but I've never seen a film where the courthouse was just down the street. There could have been a suspenseful thriller made from this premise, but 16 BLOCKS ain't it.

Posted by Marty at 9:37 PM CDT
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Monday, June 12, 2006
And This One Belongs To The Reds
Now Playing: Game 1: 1975 World Series
I just watched the opening game of the 1975 World Series, courtesy of A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball, who have teamed up to present several new DVD box sets of historical baseball games. In addition to the '75 Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox, sets include the 2005 World Series, the 1979 World Series, the 1986 World Series and THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: GREATEST GAMES OF BUSCH STADIUM 1966-2005.

My set is officially titled THE CINCINNATI REDS: 1975 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR'S EDITION and offers all seven games in their entirety (pre- and postgame shows are not included). 1975 was the year I became a baseball fan and the first year that I watched the World Series. I began playing Little League that summer, and played organized baseball every year until I graduated high school, including four years at Farmer City-Mansfield High School, where I lettered in baseball. The first MLB game I saw in person was at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium that year (Reds over the Giants 8-4). That, combined with my mother's relatives who lived in Cincy and helped hook me on Reds baseball, made me a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan. Sure, those were the years of the Big Red Machine and stars like Rose, Bench and Morgan, but I suffered through the Bruce Berenyi, Paul Householder and Alan Knicely years too.

The 1975 World Series is considered by most fans to be the greatest of all time. With the exception of Game 1, in which Boston beat the Reds 6-0, all of the games were close, and five were decided by one run. Game 6 may be the most famous baseball game ever played; that's the one Carlton Fisk won in the 12th inning with a homer off the left-field foul pole. Also, both teams were unquestionably the two best teams in all of baseball that season. Today, with too many divisions, too many playoff rounds, and wild card teams, it's easier for the 4th or 5th best team to sneak into the World Series. In 1975, there were two leagues of two divisions each and just one round of playoffs. The Reds won the National League West by a whopping 20 games, an amazing season of dominance.

* Six future Hall of Famers were involved in Game 1: Carl Yastremski and Carlton Fisk (Red Sox); Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and manager Sparky Anderson (Reds). Pete Rose would obviously be in if he were eligible. Many believe Dave Concepcion should be in too. Also playing: Ken Griffey (father of current Reds star Ken Griffey, Jr.), Fred Lynn (the American League's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player) and Luis Tiant.

* Tiant pitched a five-hit shutout for the 6-0 win. "Looie" was a great entertainer and a bitch for opposing batters to hit. Tiant had a herky-jerky motion that distracted hitters; he flailed his glove, his head bobbed, he spun around 180 degrees, he changed speeds, his arm always came from a different angle. His changeup or "lob" pitch was amazing. He probably didn't throw it faster than 40 mph. In fact, it was so slow that you can see Reds hitters double-pumping to try to hit it.

* Curt Gowdy, Dick Stockton and Tony Kubek were in the broadcast booth for Game 1. Gowdy, who died earlier this year, is one of the all-time great sports broadcasters, as well as a longtime Red Sox announcer (as was Stockton). Kubek is my favorite color man, a very knowledgable and candid former player who meshed well in the booth with whomever his partner was. Kubek and Joe Garagiola was the team I grew up with on NBC's Saturday GAME OF THE WEEK, and the only baseball tandems I ever saw who were (arguably) better were Kubek and Bob Costas and Garagiola and Vin Scully as the two NBC teams during the early 1980's. There is no one working the network circuit today, be it Fox or ESPN, who comes even close.

* The technical advances in television broadcasting in the 31 years since are obvious. Cameras are better (and smaller and cheaper, meaning there are more of them and they can be more quickly and easily moved). Audio is better. Chyron is definitely better; whoever was doing Game 1 had trouble spelling simple words. Like "sports". I do believe that today's telecasts are much too graphic-heavy, but I do like the band at the top of the screen that continually shows the score, the count, number of outs, etc.

* For a sport that lives and dies by statistics, the 1975 telecasts don't tell you much about them. You get batting average, home runs, runs batted in, and that's about it. Nobody cared much about pitch counts, and there were no such things as OPS and WHIP. Of course, baseball networks still haven't caught up with sabermetrics. They like to throw stats at the viewer, but they have little idea what they mean. For instance, I was watching a Cubs/Reds game over the weekend. WGN put up a graphic that said the Cubs were batting .186 (or something like that) with two outs and runners in scoring position. Well, so? In and of itself, that's a worthless stat. How does that average fit in with the rest of the league? If the National League average is, say, .174 in those situations, then the Cubs are actually doing quite well, and that .186 would actually be a positive stat, rather than the negative one WGN intended.

* Game 1 was played on a Saturday afternoon: October 11, 1975. Curt Gowdy read a promo for a new show debuting that evening on NBC, something called NBC'S SATURDAY NIGHT, a new live program with special guest George Carlin. Future guests would include Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and "Bob Reiner of ALL IN THE FAMILY" (sic). Of course, that was the first episode of what is now known as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, a series still running 31 years later.

Posted by Marty at 10:48 PM CDT
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Sunday, June 11, 2006
There's No Bee There
Simply one of the funniest fucking things I have ever seen in a movie:

Yep, it's Michael Caine trying to convince a freaked-out little kid that the giant fucking bee that's floating over his hospital bed is just a hallucination. "I promise you. There's no bee there."

If you've never seen THE SWARM, Irwin Allen's all-star disaster flick about a swarm of killer bees infesting the United States, do so immediately. There's a good chance that no comedy you see this year will make you laugh as much as THE SWARM.

Posted by Marty at 10:56 PM CDT
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Don't Cluck It Up
“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.

Posted by Marty at 10:52 PM CDT
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