“Sleight of Hand.” An episode of The Rockford Files (Season 1, Episode 15). First air date: 17 January 1975. James Garner, Noah Beery, Joe Santos, Tom Atkins, Lara Parker, Pat Delany, Allan Miller. Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell & Jo Swerling Jr., based on the novel Thin Air by Howard Browne.

   Stop me if you’ve heard (or seen) this one before.

   Private eye Jim Rockford is coming back to LA after a vacation trip with Karen Mills, his current girl friend, a vivacious young divorcee with a three year old daughter. He stops at her house, she leaves to open the front door, he carries the girl up to her bedroom and tucks her in, and goes downstairs to find Karen’s open purse on a counter – and no Karen. He was only a few feet behind her when he went in — and she has disappeared.


   When the police are called (Joe Santos as Sgt. Becker), they find the body of Karen’s next door neighbor lying on the ground next to her house. Do the police (Tom Atkins as Lt. Diel) believe Rockford’s story? Well, what do you think? (Would you believe such a story?)

   Or in other words, Rockford’s on his own in solving this one, except for his dad, Rocky, who catches the one clue Rockford misses.

   The novel has been reviewed earlier on this blog, and from Gloria Maxwell’s description, the story line of the TV show is almost exactly the same, at least the beginning. While I’ve read the book, I couldn’t tell you now if the ending is the same, nor how closely they followed the plot when the story was used again as the basis for an episode of Simon & Simon in 1982.


   I have to tell you, though, as entertaining as the story is on this mid-season episode of The Rockford Files, if you allow yourself the time to think it about carefully, and maybe only casually and not even that carefully, the whole thing is adroitly administered hogwash, a heap of impossibilities disguised as a stack of highly unlikelies.

   It may be that 50 minutes or so just isn’t enough running time to make the parts fit together so they make sense, but in all honesty, they don’t.

   But did I say that this was one of the most entertaining episodes so far this first season? I did and I didn’t, but it was. It also comes the closest to true noir, albeit in a slightly ham-fisted way. As private eye Jim Rockford, James Garner lets his feelings show more than usual on this one.