For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Western Crossover Movies, here’s a review of The Frisco Kid (1979) by Debra of Moon in Gemini
Thanks again to Kira of Film and TV 101 for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Ashleigh of The Movie Oracle and it is Spoof/Parody Movies.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of November by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Ashleigh!
Let’s see what Debra thought of this movie:
The Gene Wilder/Harrison Ford Buddy Comedy-Western mash-up The Frisco Kid was not a big hit when it was released in 1979. It pretty much just made its money back.
That is, it wasn’t a hit anywhere except in Jewish communities, where it played to packed houses, if I’m recalling this correctly. And I think I am. My grandmother lived in South Florida at the time and went to see it, then later took my mother to see it when she visited. They reported the theater was totally sold out both times, and both audiences flipped out over the movie.
The tale of a young rabbi named Avram (Wilder) sent from Poland to San Francisco because rabbis are scarce in the West, it’s a surprisingly gentle comedy. Critics were baffled by it, I think, because the film doesn’t make fun of Avram’s faith. In many of his previous roles, especially those he played in Mel Brooks films, there is an underlying cynicism. Here, there is no cynicism of any kind.
In my opinion, this is only one reason why the film resonated with Jewish audiences. The Western genre is a totally American invention. Being Jewish myself, seeing Jewish people represented in my favorite genre is a transcendent experience. The film pretty much checks off a laundry list of Western tropes: train and bank robberies, vicious outlaws, building the railroad, Native Americans, the Gold Rush, shoot-outs, etc. Yet all of it is shown through a very specific lens.
Robbed and beaten by con artists almost as soon as he arrives in the New World, Avram is taken in by a kindly Amish community. On his journey he is taken up by a bank robber named Tommy (Harrison Ford) who tries to protect Avram. Though his religious beliefs and practices drive Tommy crazy (such as insisting on returning his share of the money from a bank robbery and not riding a horse during the Sabbath) the relationship eventually turns into a deep friendship.
My favorite scene by far is when Avram and Tommy are captured by a Native American tribe and Avram demonstrates to them how to dance the Horah. My second favorite scene is after they make it to San Francisco and Avram pretends to be a cowboy so he can bring the Torah to the Jewish community without revealing he’s the rabbi. The mix of cowboy talk with Avram’s Yiddish accent is hilarious. It’s also touching. He believes he is no longer worthy of being a rabbi because he thought first about protecting the Torah instead of his friend during a shoot-out with the bad guys.
The chemistry between Wilder and Ford is phenomenal. Even though Tommy doesn’t understand Avram’s beliefs, he insists that nothing can change the fact that he’s a rabbi. The movie makes me believe these two totally different people are the best of friends.
The other reason to love this movie? It settles forever the question of whether or not Harrison Ford would look adorable in a yarmulke.
(Spoiler: he’s looks EXTREMELY adorable in a yarmulke.)