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The Frisco Kid

Have you ever had a movie that you dust off and watch…every year? The Frisco Kid is mine. I used to rent it every year, and then I realized what I was doing and bought it. The Frisco Kid, simply said, tickles my funny bone. Whether I’m watching it with a friend or by myself, I laugh out loud and I don’t do that often.frisco_kid_xlg

This is a quirky, inventive saga of a young Polish rabbi who is sent to America in 1850 to take over a congregation in San Francisco and meet his wife-to-be. Now Rabbi Avram Belinski did not finish at the top of his class but he is on his way to a bright new world. After docking in Philadelphia, the rabbi (Gene Wilder) plays Good Samaritan to three roustabouts who later rob him. Avram finds that the ship around the Horn to California has already sailed, and there won’t be another one for two months. He decides to make the trek overland by covered wagon instead. Fortunately he comes upon some Amish farmers who seeing a kindred spirit, give him shelter and money to resume his journey.

After a brief stint working on the railroad, Avram meets Tommy Lillard (Harrison Ford), a bank robber with a heart of gold and a quick temper. An unlikely pair, they team up and the adventure begins. A wild ride across this big country includes an escape from a posse, a trial by fire at the hands of some Indians, a visit to the brotherhood of silent monks, and two violent encounters with the men who robbed Avram in Philadelphia.

The Frisco Kid is an offbeat comedy that manages to convey the sturdy faith of a believer. Avram will not travel on the Sabbath for any reason; he returns his share of the money from Lillard’s bank robbery; he transmits the joy of Judaism to the Indians; and he agonizes over murdering a man in self-defense. Although Avram is duped and tricked on every turn he manages to hold on to his precious and blessed Torah, the holy book he must bring with him to his new congregation.

This is one of the better buddy-comedy Westerns, directed by Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard). Like most buddy movies, this one relies on opposites attracting. Avram is the humble, mild-mannered man of peace; Tommy is the gruff gun slinging outlaw. But both of them are bighearted, so the combination makes for a kinder, gentler sort of buddy movie. I think you are going to get a big belly laugh at this one! This is Gene Wilder and vintage Harrison Ford at their finest.

As always, I invite your comments at chastings@rockcliff.com or visit my archives at CarolynHastings.com.