Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rockford VERSUS Magnum

The most popular television private eyes of the Seventies and the Eighties clash in a battle for investigative supremacy. In this corner, we have James Rockford (portrayed by the sublime James Garner) – Korean War vet, ex-con (he was innocent), con man, and loving son, while in this corner, we've got mustachioed Thomas Sullivan Magnum (the charismatic Tom Selleck), a Vietnam vet, former Naval Intelligence officer, and fashion disaster.

Now, Rockford's – arguably – more mature, and his prison experiences give him an "in" with the criminal element, as well as a number of contacts and informers that he can turn to while investigating his cases. Magnum, on the other hand, has a circle of war buddies and a wealthy –if unseen – patron, in the form of mysterious pulp novelist Robin Masters, whose resources he can exploit in pursuing his investigations. Rockford drives a gold Firebird, while Magnum drives a red Ferarri (although, it should be pointed out that at least Rockford owns his own car).

Both P.I.s struggle with their finances and take on far too many non-paying cases. Both also have maintained semi-romantic relationships with cute female lawyers. Rockford owns his own home – a beat-up mobile home in a restaurant parking lot in Malibu – while Magnum lives in the guest house of Masters' vast, Hawaiian estate, ostensibly in return for being the on-site security. This tends to mean that Rockford's domicile is much more frequently invaded by angry, sap-and-revolver-wielding thugs and desperate lowlife clients. I'm guessing that Magnum sleeps much more soundly.

Professionally, they both seem to be more-than-competent detectives, although (especially in early episodes) Rockford will sometimes quit a job when it looks to be getting too dangerous. On the other hand, one can't help wonder just what Magnum's success rate would be if he didn't have Rick and T.C. to lean on. Magnum is definitely more willing to use deadly force if it seems necessary, carrying his service .45 as a matter of course. Jim's gun is usually home in his cookie jar when he most needs it.

So, if you needed a private eye – excuse me, Magnum – private investigator, which would you turn to? Wry, solid – but sometimes less than tenacious Jim Rockford? Or the occasionally goofball, Hawaiian shirt-and-shorts-wearing Thomas Magnum?

16 comments:

Ian Sokoliwski said...

Jim Rockford. No contest.

I'd even pick Jim over Tom's alter-ego from the, what, fourth? fifth? season of Rockford.

Now, it says something that, not only have I rented the first five seasons of TRF in the past couple of years, I also own the third season (I'll be getting the first two as well)...whereas, I don't find Magnum nearly as much fun to rewatch.

Still, Columbo beats them both at the detecting game...as long as the answer somehow involves phone records ;)

Michael May said...

Magnum, baby! If only for a shot at riding around in the Ferrari.

Rockford's just a little before my time (I still think of him as my Dad's pi), but I was a HUGE Magnum fan growing up.

Stacy said...

Yeah, I have to say I have fond memories of Magnum from my youth, mainly remembered as the tail end of the hour of power that was The A-Team, Knight Rider, and The Dukes of Hazzard. I seem to remember Magnum used to come on at 9, and I loved Mr. Higgins dry wit and utter disdain for the declasse Magnum even as a little kid. That and he had those badass dobermans. Rockford sadly was before my time, so Magnum wins by default.

Craig Zablo said...

I'd go for Rockford. I watched that show and skipped Magnum. Therefore I'd hire Rockford and skip Magnum. Do I see a pattern forming?

Martin Powell said...

Have to be ROCKFORD for me.

Even in my teens I suspected that it was one of the more "realistic" private detective TV shows. When I met several real P.I.'s later in life, most of them agreed.

Oddly enough, I never watched a single episode of MAGNUM. I think, for some reason, the name turned me off.

Brandi said...

Rockford was before my time as well, but I'd hire him before Magnum. I've seen more episodes of Rockford Files than Magnum P.I. so this might not be completely fair, but Rockford always comes off as more intelligent than Magnum. He's also more of a pragmatist.

But most of all, I wouldn't hire Magnum because I absolutely loathe his friend Orville "Rick" Wright who may have loved Casablanca but he was certainly no Bogie.

Martin Powell said...

There was only one Bogie.

Andy said...

No contest - Jim Rockford all the way.

Glen said...

Well, I'd pick Magnum for the trip to Hawaii, but otherwise, Rockford.

Jay Faerber said...

Very, very tough call. I'm a huge fan of both, and both shows have their appeal. As noted, Rockford is probably the more "realistic" private eye, and that show stayed more true to the PI premise (whereas Magnum episodes would frequently have no formal case or client -- sometimes not even a mystery).

I watched Magnum during its original run and only discovered Rockford in my 20s, when it was in reruns.

But I love both dearly. Too much so to choose!

Kevin Findley said...

Rockford, it's really no contest. Thomas may have had the better toys, but Jim always had a backup plan that involved more than just hoping TC arrived in the nick of time. I point to the episode where Magnum was getting beaten to death by the 'blinking' martial artist until TC gave him just enough time to shoot him.

That said, Magnum did get to sleep with Sharon Stone.

El Vox said...

I agree Columbo :)

Gerald So said...

Depends on the job. If I needed to con someone, Rockford. If I needed to break into a heavily fortified facility and possibly face armed opposition, Magnum.

Brian Meredith said...

I was a big fan of both, but winner for me would be decided with the tie-breaker in the form of that awesome mustache of Magnum's!

Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool said...

Gotta be Rockford or "Rockfish" as my immigrant Baba called him. He took a punch like nobody since Manix. Reruns of Rockford were on at the same time that Magnum was weekly so they both have a place in my heart.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

No question, I'd go with Jim Rockford.

Cheers,
Jeff