Today is Lauren Bacall‘s birthday, and to celebrate this beautiful, talented and iconic star of thesilver screen, a blogathon has been set up by the blog In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood – follow the link, and you’ll find the full list of all the blogs taking part in the blogathon.
Karavansara is proud to be part of this event.
And being fans of old classic pulp entertainment, we have decided to go for an oddity in the Lauren Bacall catalog – her participation in a double episode of the classic TV series, The Rockford Files.
This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.
This is Betty Farnell. I don’t know who to call, but I can’t reach my foodaholics partner! I’m at Vito’s on my second pizza with sausages and mushrooms; Jim come and get me!
Aired on the 12th and 19th of October 1979, Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs is a two-part episode of sixth and the final season of The Rockford Files, a TV series created in 1974 by Stephen J. Cannell.
For the uninitiated, The Rockford Files was about Jim Rockford (James Garner), a laid back Los Angeles private eye living in a trailer by the beach in Malibu.
The character is halfway between Chandler’s Marlowe and John D. MacDonald Travis McGee, and Rockford is liable to bend the rules, cut corners and break the law to help his clients. Most of his work is on closed cases, with the odd missing person and insurance scam thrown in.
From the back story, we know that Jim Rockford did time in jail on a wrong charge – he did not betray a friend.
From his time in the can, Rockford acquired “Angel” Martin (Stuart Margolin), a former cell-mate and currently a con-man, that acts as comedy relief/complication on the series. Jim’s dad, Rocky, played by Noah Beery, is also a regular of the series.
Rockford has some friends on the LA Police force – such as sargeant (later lieutenant) Dennis Becker – but he is usually at odds with the higher echelons.
Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs (LTM&D from now on) was written by Juanita Bartlett, co-producer, who is credited with other thirty-odd episodes of the series.
The story in brief – an embarrassing mix-up in a high-class restaurant brings Jim Rockford to the attention of Princess Irene Rachevsky and her entourage.
When an attempt is made on the life of Kendall Warren (Lauren Bacall), best friend of the princess, Irene (Dana Wynter) hires Rockford to protect her friend.
As further homicidal attacks are made against Kendall, the woman and the detective grow close.
But who wants Kendall dead, and why?
Soon the plot takes a noirish, vaguely Chandleresque tone.
There is also a romantic element, and some may be tempted to call LTM&D the Poodle Springs of the Rockford Files.
Bacall in the role of Kendall is obviously the main selling point in this two-part episode – basically a TV movie split in two – and her acting is so natural and effortless that the viewer might as well think she’s not acting at all, but just being herself.
At 55, Lauren Bacall is gorgeous and self-assured in the role of a lower-class girl that made it big.
Her acquired sophistication works as a counterpoint to Jim Rockford’s down-to-earth manners, and there is a common ground of streetwise cynicism that forms the basis for the developing feelings between the two characters.
The chemistry between the two leads is obvious – according to rumors that Garner would later deny, there was a relationship going between Bacall and Garner at the time.
The rest, is typical Rockford Files fare – some nice action set-pieces, colorful characters, a (lame) Angel Martin side plot as the con-man tries to take advantage of Rockford’s new ties with royalty, and Rocky acting starstruck.
The police is not pleased with Rockford’s investigations, and even less with the fact that he can now count on a princess to cover his back.
Conniving upper class dweebs? Check.
An ethnic mafia don? Check.
Chases, fistfights, witty dialog? Check.
There is even a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it in-joke about Betty Grable, in an obvious reference to How to Marry a Millionaire – a sure sign that the production was doing it all to cash-in on the presence of Lauren Bacall in the cast.
The plot, alas, rambles, and if closely analyzed shows a number of holes and inconsistencies.
But it’s really not a problem – Garner and Bacall are on screen, and they can dazzle the viewers and make them overlook the logical fallacies.
It’s great fun, and it’s classy.
You can’t ask for more from a TV show.
As for some personal considerations, as a Rockford Files fan…
. LTM&D is not the best episode – or the best two episodes in the long run of the series, but it is still a solid entry.
. No matter what the rumors may be, and despite the obvious fun the actors are having, Bacall is given a character that fails to fully work as a counterpart for Garner’s Jim Rockford1, and the budding love story appears too sudden and somewhat tacked on.
. The presence of Bacall on screen might cause the audience to dismiss the other high-class actress featured in LTM&D, and it would be a pity: Dana Wynter is beautiful and believable in the role of the Irene Rachevsky, and owns the final fifteen minutes of the show.
In the end, it is the high-class performance of all the stars that makes LTM&D memorable.
To see so much talent together is always an awe-inspiring experience.
- elsewhere in the series, Rita Moreno was given a much better character and developed a much more believable relationship with the title character. ↩