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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 119 min.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical Trailer
Avram, a young Polish rabbi (Gene Wilder), arrives in 1850s Philadelphia intending to travel to San Francisco*, where a synagogue and an arranged marriage await him. He is almost immediately double-crossed and robbed, and left farblondzhet in the American wilderness. A good-hearted bank robber (Harrison Ford) takes pity on him and they travel West together.
The blockbusters of the late ‘70s remain so timeless today it’s easy to forget how long ago that era really was. Outside the bubble of genre fare like Star Wars and Alien, and far removed from the enduring idiosyncrasy of Altman and Allen, lie the truly dated films. Which brings us to 1979’s The Frisco Kid.
"Tell me more about this St. Patrick’s Day of yours."
With a lead actor best known for comedy and a director (Kiss Me Deadly‘s Robert Aldrich) best known for violent action, it’s hard to tell what kind of picture this was supposed to be. The pacing is random and episodic, and the tone swings from Chaplinesque whimsy to bloody gunplay.
Not too shabby.
I suspect the filmmakers intended to pay tribute to their forefathers, and also (through Ford’s character) to educate Gentile audiences on the broader points of Judaism. But while at one point Wilder’s voiceover tells us “it’s difficult to explain that a Jew can’t ride on a Saturday,” that’s one of the only things that is explained. For instance, it’s also a rather big plot point that Avram is bringing a Torah to San Francisco with him; if, Goy that you are, you don’t know what a Torah is, this movie isn’t going to tell you.
Like the man says: you don’t have to be Jewish, but it helps.
"Funny, you don’t look Siouxish."
One interesting aspect of the movie is how it depicts the Eastern European fascination with the American West, and Native Americans in particular. In real-life, that pop-culture boom began in the 1880s so Avram’s at least 20 years ahead of the pack, but it’s worth noting. Click here to learn more.
5 out of 10
Bob Mitchum’s story of ‘Right Hand, Left Hand’ loses something in translation.
A long-overdue widescreen transfer, presented in anamorphic 16:9. The print is grainy but glitch-free. One quibble: I’m not certain, but I think the scene with Avram and the raccoon was supposed to have been tinted day-for-night— it just seems meshugge of him to sleep while the sun’s up.
7 out of 10
Insert tired, tired gay-cowboy joke here
Mono, like in the old days. For what you need two speakers? You gonna watch this on two TVs maybe?
6 out of 10
2 out of 10
Yep, that’s a bullet hole. Back in ’79, a PG rating meant something.
I hate when movie ad campaigns try to cash in on the fact that one of the actors got really famous for something else and throw his (or her) face all over the posters. That’s what’s going on here: a blurry colorized blowup of Harrison Ford dominating, with the original poster art (and the film’s actual star) crammed into the upper left corner.
Finger of Doom party trick #5. Make a wish!
2 out of 10
The Frisco Kid is fondly remembered by two kinds of people: those who were kids when it came out and thought anything with Han Solo in it was worth a look, and those with sufficient knowledge of Judaism to view Wilder’s sensitive characterization in context. You menschen know who you are; go ahead and add a point or two.
*Don’t be a shmendrik — only tourists call it ‘Frisco’. When in town, stick with ‘S.F.’ or ‘The City’. And remember to dress warm.