From: "RG Naylor"
Date: Fri, 2 Jul 1999 17:09:05 -0700

Well, here I am a couple of days early, but that shouldn't matter. For those who are new, I have all but committed to doing one Rockford review per week till the last regular episode. This week's episode, The Countess (episode 3), is one of my favorites, because it has Susan Strasberg, who is in another episode (A Bad Deal in the Valley), and is quite beautiful. If I'm not mistaken, she is now deceased. I once looked up her portfolio, and found she played in some movies in the sixties, but I'm surprised she didn't hit it big.

The story starts with Deborah Ryder (the Countess, played by Susan Strasberg) in a taxi on her way to meet her blackmailer, Carl Brego, a hitman for the mob. The taxi driver makes a lame attempt at flirtation, and Ryder retorts with a cynical line that exudes her worldy experience. . It should be noted that at this time, there had been a total of two episodes out of four with the mob element in them. We all know that stories with the mob is a recurring theme in the Rockford Files. The Countess is Rockford's client, and Rockford is in the weeds with a high speed camera, trying to get evidence to take to the police. Brego searches Ryder's purse, and finds the tape recorder, and they leave in his car to discuss the blackmail situation.

Back at Rockford's trailer, Jim determines that the audio tape was very necessary. He also alludes to the fact that he knew someone who use to work with Carl Brego, who said he had "nine scalps" under his belt. Strasberg has such a sexy way about her that really comes out in this scene, among others. Rockford: "You gotta trust somebody.:" Countess: "And you're applying for the job." I love that line. Very cool.

Here we are at the Ryder party, where a pretentious lady is turned off when Jim pretends to be the owner of a hot dog stand. Much like the bathroom scene with the man cleaning his fingernails in Backlash.., Rockford uses his superior acting skills to get rid of someone. Inside, the Countess and Jim talk business, where she says, "I think I like you. You certainly aren't impressed by the fact that I once had a title." This was a great exchange, and example of Rockford's appeal to the ladies. Then Rockford explains about the only title that ever impressed him; that of a hitman. Here, early on in the series, it is established that Rockford knows some bad, bad dudes, and is somewhat bad himself (in a good way.)

At the beachhouse that Brego is renting, Rockford has a meeting with him on the beach regarding the blackmail "account" against the Countess. Rockford may be the hero who's not ashamed to admit he's scared, but in this scene, he really shows some guts. Rockford: "You see I don't like gettin' bumped in the curves, so, uh, if I see you hanging around her again, I'm gonna come down here and pound your mouth full of sand and drop you off the end of the pier." Brego: "It seems to me that would put you out of business too." Rockford, with a slight smile: "I'm reckless." I love that line. So they fight, Brego gets shot by someone with a Porsche, and as Rockford's chasing him down, he gets arrested by a cop, who calls him a "157 suspect", a Rockford blooper.

At the station, Lt. Diehl is giving Jim a hard time. Rockford: "Oh, come on Lieutenant, I didn't come down with yesterday's rain. You've got a very creaky case and all of it circumstantial. You don't have a motive. Those two old people won't make very good witnesses. A good attorney could blow them off in ten minutes." This is Lt. Diehl's debut as a real SOB. Diehl calls Beth Davenport "honey," and Beth expresses her hot displeasure, threatening to inform Diehl's Captain. She calls Diehl's bluff, and gets Jim released without charges. Outside, Beth explains why she parked in a red zone: "They never give tickets outside of the police station, it's kind of a psychological neutral zone." Then Beth asks Rockford if he killed Carl Brego, as "a routine attorney question." To me, this is yet another ploy by the writers to show early on just how bad Jimbo is, while still being considered a good guy.

Now this is 1974, and Jim's got himself a primitive VCR. That must have cost a fortune. He discovers that his tape of the Countess exchange has been erased, so he goes to see the Countess because he thinks she framed him. Here she is, hot legs, flat stomach and all, playing tennis quite well. Rockford: " I wouldn't try it Terry, I'm in a bad mood today. I'm liable to make you eat the rest of those tennis balls in that basket. You gather the rest of your things and scoot." Again: "Come on countess, you know he's dead, you sent me down there to get nominated for it." And: "Well, you see I've got this little problem. Every time I get indicted for murder, I seem to lose all my manners."

Rockford goes over to the beachhouse and finds Brego's address book, which has his girlfriend's name and number in it. He then goes back to his trailer, and calls Becker, to get info on her, but Becker tries to trace the call, because the girl has come forward against Jimbo, and there's a warrant. Jim catches on, but outside the trailer, he gets picked up, but they're not cops, there crooks. The cops sent over to pick Rockford up follow them to the empty building. Those who are paying attention see a Jack in the Box in the background. I wonder if it's still there?

He meets with a bigshot mob character, who thinks he smoked Brego. He's just about to be taken to a "suitable place" to be whacked, when the cops show up. Then, to avoid arrest and prove his innocence, he sucker punches Becker in the stomach. Now I was thinking that this early on, a scene where Becker gets punched probably scored some points with the audience, especially after that deceptive ploy on the phone.

So Rockford finally cracks the case, and tells Deborah Ryder, aka the Countess that her husband killed Brego. Mike Ryder takes Jim at gunpoint to his car, and makes JIm drive. Here, Jim takes some tricks out of his "survival kit" by racing the car down the canyon, as he has nothing to lose. Rockford: "The keys don't come out of the ignition while it's moving, it's a safety feature. How's that for irony?" Jim jumps out of the car after getting shot in the arm, and Mr. Ryder dies in the canyon.

At the hospital, the Countess asks Rockford, "How do you deal with that?" Here, Rockford has a touching scene, where he really knows what to say to the leading lady. I think this was a great scene. Rockford: "We're all scared to death. I guess that's the penalty we pay for living in a world where all the price tags end in 99 cents., and we sell mortuary plots on billboards next to the freeway. What you do is, you just keep laughing. There gonna kiss your hand,honey, 'cause you are a Countess. Stop worrying about it. You're playing a big practical joke. Just keep laughin'. " Countess: "Is that what you do?" Rockford:"You bet." Then Jim leaves, with the all too familiar grim look on his face.