The Rockford Files

Season 1 Episode 1

The Rockford Files: Backlash of the Hunter

Aired Unknown Mar 27, 1974 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
32 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The Rockford Files: Backlash of the Hunter

Jim Rockford works for Sara Butler by investigating the death of her father, a drunken wino who was murdered at the beach. The case leads Jim to the strange Mrs Elias, her boyfriend Jerry and a ground to air shootout in the Las Vegas desert…

Who was the Episode MVP ?

  • Quibble with Plot Point in Pilot Episode

    First just want to make clear I was and still am a great fan of the show. Maybe I have a bit too much time on my hands but I was puzzled by one key plot point in the pilot, which I just watched on Netflix. Possibly I missed the clarifying moment that would have explained it. Will appreciate feedback from anyone reading this.

    The brother of the Lindsay Wagner character (Sara) who is played by Billy Mumy is being sent through med school by Mrs. Elias, who was complicit in the murder of the father of both brother and sister. I assume this could only be because the brother learned from his father (though they did not have much contact) about the wedding scam in Vegas where his father "pinch hit" for the just-deceased Mr. Elias. Then the brother must have blackmailed Mrs. E to keep him from going to the cops and bring her world crashing down. I don't think this point was ever made explicitly but that is what must have happened. What seems surprising is that Nick would not have suffered the same fate as his old man at the hands of the bruiser that killed his father, rather than receiving an ongoing payoff. Just one of those little things that bothers me about puzzling plot elements, whether in novels, TV shows, or movies.moreless
  • Private Investigator Jim Rockford is hired by an attractive young woman to investigate the unsolved murder of her hobo father, but finds himself pursued by an unknown thug. An enjoyable Pilot to the great TV series...moreless

    'The Rockford Files' finished production in 1980, when I was only two years old, before I was really aware of it, but I have enough interest in classic TV from... well, anywhere from the 1950s-1980s, to later discover it and love it. In recent years here in the UK, both BBC Two and later ITV / ITV3 have rerun parts of the series (on occasion, BBC Two and ITV broadcast episodes that clashed with each other, go figure!), but none of them have gone past the third or fourth season. With the series out on DVD, I've finally decided to watch it right through. And with a remake rumoured (at last word, a Pilot that was not picked up), I'm gonna re-live the original before any new version ruins it!

    Much of my love for 'Rockford' is due to series co-creator and regular writer Stephen J. Cannell, who went on to be behind my all-time favourite TV show, 'The A-Team' (yes, really!). Although with a different concept to 'Rockford', it shared the same great one-liners, quirky situations, and that whole 'twinkle-in-the-eye' excitement. Cannell is my favourite TV writer (sadly, at time of writing, he passed away several months ago). While 'Rockford' sometimes didn't have the most exciting plots on paper, it was the little quirks and touches, mostly a combination of James Garner and Cannell's input, that made even the weaker episodes fun to watch.

    Anyway... this is, on the whole, a decent Pilot to the series. By the way, I don't know if the rights to this Pilot are slightly different to that of the series, but here in the UK, it was noticeably absent from several of the various rerun packages. Even on the DVD sets, it's not included until Season 2 (I have the Region 1 version, which presents it as original broadcast; I understand Regions 2 and 4 to have the butchered (and padded with stock footage version) two-part version that came about later. )

    Right off, Rockford is a watchable lead character. He has many interesting character traits – but the key thing is that neither Garner nor the writers try *too hard* with this, letting his appeal come across naturally.

    One of the main things of note with this Pilot is that Jim's father Rocky, is played by a different actor, Robert Donley, before the part was recast and Noah Beery Jr brought in for the regular series. Of course, comparisons are inevitable, but I don't think it's fair to judge Donley on one single performance; he's certainly no Beery, but he does well enough in the role, and probably would have flourished had he continued in the role.

    James Garner has a good rapport with the story's guest female, Sara (played by the gorgeous Lindsay Wagner). It is said that it was this performance that won Wagner the role of 'The Bionic Woman' a while later.

    The story is pretty typical of 'Rockford' in terms of both pros and cons. As with many episodes, I found I had to really keep up with the dialogue so as not to lose the thread, and while I love that it isn't one continual car chase and shoot out, it does verge on being slightly over-talky (especially in the first half). But by mid-way through, things have found their pace more, and everything leads up to an exciting climax, as Jim and Sara are pursued in the desert by the bad guys in an aeroplane.

    All-in-all, whilst a bit slow here-and-there early on, this soon develops into a very reasonable Pilot for the TV show. I give it a respectable 9 / 10.moreless
Lindsay Wagner

Lindsay Wagner

Sara Butler

Guest Star

Nita Talbot

Nita Talbot

Mildred Elias

Guest Star

Bill Mumy

Bill Mumy

Nick Butler

Guest Star

Stuart Margolin

Stuart Margolin

Evelyn 'Angel' Martin

Recurring Role

Joe Santos

Joe Santos

Sergeant Dennis Becker

Recurring Role

Luis Delgado

Luis Delgado

The Groom

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • Nitpick: As fun as the bathroom scene where Jim puts handwash soap over the floor to cause the thug to slip over, the soap seems far too runny to be regular soap, and it's unlikely that the small amount of soap (or whatever it was) would cause the thug to completely slip over. Great scene though!

    • Jim's 1/4 page advertisement in the Yellow Pages has no telephone number shown!!! This must explain why most clients came to the door as opposed to calling.

    • The Pilot is simply called 'The Rockford Files', but it also airs in a two part format called 'Backlash of the Hunter - separate shows with additional filler scenes to bring the viewing time up to fifty minutes.

    • Three scenes were reused within the the two part version of the pilot, the most glaring being character Jerry Grimes shown in the Mayfair lounge with a poster of Rose Marie in the background, only to be shown later in the episode in a nightclub called Gazzarri's sitting at the same stool with the same poster in the background.

  • QUOTES (6)

  • NOTES (6)

    • In a very pre-PC moment in the washroom scene, Rockford taunts the thug about being "queer". Some re-runs remove this line.

    • The man Rockford encounters in the washroom is played by Jack Garner - James Garner's brother. Jack would play a number of bit parts in many Rockford episodes.

    • Lindsay Wagner returns as Sara Butler later in the first season, in "Aura Lee, Farewell". It is also widely believed that it was Wagner's performance in this episode that won her the guest role of Jamie Sommers in The Six Million Dollar Man, which in turn led to her own series, The Bionic Woman.

    • The producers had not yet decided on Noah Beery Jr playing the part of Jim's father Rocky; Robert Donley plays the character in this Pilot before the part was recast for the regular series.

    • Stuart Margolin is credited as Angel in the 90 minute version of the Pilot, but in the two-part version "Backlash of the Hunter", he goes uncredited.

    • In the two-part version, the answerphone tag is used just as it is in the series; here the message given by Officer Billings (who is yet to appear in the show till season 3) refers to Chapman's party (again yet to appear till season 3). THis answerphone tag is reused in the sixth season's Hawaiian Headache. Luis Delgado appears in the Pilot as the groom!

      The two-part version uses the traditional theme used from season 3-6. The movie plays a jazzier version of the traditional theme at the beginning, otherwise there is no familiar opening theme used.

      Jim's trailer is situated on the Pacific Coast Highway, where it would live for the first twelve episodes of the first season before moving to its traditional location of Paradise Cove.

      The two-part story features a main title theme and pictures the trailer (instead of Jim's desk) for the answerphone tag – the picture clearly shows the trailer at Paradise Cove!

      The main title features only pictures of Jim, placing pictures of Jim from the pilot story where other characters usually feature (i.e. Dennis, Beth, Angel or Rocky).