The Frisco Kid

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For the 1935 western film starring James Cagney, see Frisco Kid.
The Frisco Kid
Frisco kid ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Mace Neufeld
Written by Michael Elias
Frank Shaw
Starring Gene Wilder
Harrison Ford
Ramon Bieri
Val Bisoglio
George DiCenzo
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Robert B. Hauser
Edited by Jack Horger
Irving Rosenblum
Maury Winetrobe
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 13, 1979 (1979-07-13)
Running time
119 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9.2 million[1]
Box office $9.6 Million[2]
156,213 admissions (France)[3]

The Frisco Kid is a 1979 movie directed by Robert Aldrich. The movie is a Western comedy featuring Gene Wilder as Avram Belinski, a Polish rabbi who is traveling to San Francisco, and Harrison Ford as a bank robber who befriends him.


Rabbi Avram Belinski (Wilder) arrives in Philadelphia from Poland en route to San Francisco where he will be a congregation's new rabbi. He has with him a Torah scroll for the San Francisco synagogue. Belinski, an innocent, trusting, and inexperienced traveler, falls in with three con men, the brothers Matt and Darryl Diggs and their partner Mr. Jones, who trick him into helping pay for a wagon and supplies to go west, then brutally rob him and leave him and most of his belongings scattered along a deserted road in Pennsylvania.

Still determined to make it to San Francisco, Belinski spends time with some Pennsylvania Dutch (whom at first he takes for Jews). Because he was injured when he was dumped out of the speeding wagon, the Amish nurse Belinski back to health and give him money for the train west to the end of the line. When he reaches the end of the line in Ohio, the rabbi manages to find work on the railroad. On his way west again after saving up enough money to buy a horse and some supplies, he is befriended and looked after by a stranger named Tommy Lillard (Ford), a bank robber with a soft heart who is moved by Belinski's helplessness and frank personality, despite the trouble it occasionally gives him. For instance, when Lillard robs a bank on a Friday, he finds that Belinski (an Orthodox Jew) will not ride on the Shabbat — even with a hanging posse on his tail. With some luck, however, they still manage to get away, mainly because with the horses rested from having been walked for a full day, they are fresh and able to ride all night, outdistancing their pursuers. On another occasion, due to Belinski's insistence on riding into foul weather, he and Lillard have to use an old Indian trick and snuggle up next to their horses, which they have gotten to lie on the ground, to wait out a snowstorm. While traveling together, the two also experience American Indian customs and hospitality, disrupt a Trappist monastery's vow of silence with an innocent gesture of gratitude, and learn a little about each other's culture.

While stopping in a small town not too far from San Francisco, Belinski encounters the Diggs brothers and Jones again. He gets into a fight with the three of them and, after taking a beating, is rescued by Lillard, who takes back what they had stolen from Belinski. Seeking revenge, the three bandits follow the pair and ambush them on a California beach where they have stopped to bathe. Belinski experiences a crisis of faith when he is forced to shoot Darryl Diggs in self-defense. Lillard restores his faith by an eloquent argument with simple language, reminding him that he still is what he is inside, despite what he had to do on the beach.

When Matt Diggs, sole survivor of the ambushing trio, prepares to avenge his brother by killing Belinski and Lillard springs to his friend's defense, Belinski regains his composure and shows his wisdom and courage in front of the entire community. He exiles Diggs from San Francisco. The film ends with Belinski marrying Rosalie Bender, younger daughter of the head of San Francisco's Jewish community, with Lillard attending the ceremony as his best man.


Production notes[edit]

According to Gene Wilder's autobiography (Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art), the Tommy Lillard role, played by Harrison Ford, was originally planned for John Wayne. John J. Puccio of Movie Metropolis writes that Wayne was "eager to take it on as a comic follow-up to True Grit and Rooster Cogburn. Salary concerns nixed the idea, though, and it's questionable he would have finished the shooting, in any case, as he died shortly before The Frisco Kid opened."[4]

Robert Aldrich replaced director Dick Richards during pre-production.[1] Roger Ebert wrote, "It's really nobody's movie. The screenplay has been around Hollywood for several years, and Aldrich seems to have taken it on as a routine assignment."[5]

At one point, Wilder says to Ford that Poland is right next to Czechoslovakia, but the movie is set in 1850 and neither Poland nor Czechoslovakia existed as independent nations until 1918.

Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a 53% rating on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 15 reviews, with a 67% audience score.[6]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times described The Frisco Kid as "harmless chaos": "People keep coming and going and doing ferociously cute things, but never anything that could appeal to anyone except a close relative or someone with a built-in weakness for anything ethnic whatsoever." He criticized the lack of plot development, saying that, while based on a clever idea, The Frisco Kid ultimately fails to deliver on its promise.[7]

Roger Ebert gave the movie a mixed review, admitting that after seeing Cat Ballou he was "forever after spoiled on the subject of comic Westerns." "The movie's based on a good idea, yes... But what approach do you take to this material? What's your comic tone? The Frisco Kid tries for almost every possible tone."[5]

Jordan Hiller called it one of "25 Essential Jewish Movies", praising its "uncommon innocence and unselfconscious humility." He called it an "unpredictably paced part screwball comedy farce, part dramatic buddy picture, part spaghetti western" and wrote, "The Frisco Kid has the feel of an artist’s charmingly naive youthful indiscretion... The Frisco Kid is, all pratfalls and tuchus jokes aside, the quintessential Torah movie."[8] Reviewer Ken Hanke wrote, "Robert Aldrich's penultimate film is an easygoing work of some considerable charm that relies far too much on ethnic humor — mostly Jewish, but not entirely — to sit quite as comfortably as it might like... [Aldrich's] professionalism serves the film well. It's very hard to fault on a technical level, and he brings a strong visual sense to bear on a number of sequences that raise them several notches above the TV flavor of the material. The dance sequence, when Avram and his unlikely companion, Tommy (Harrison Ford), are prisoners of a tribe of Indians, is a good case in point, as is the final shoot-out in the streets of San Francisco... Never a great movie, it's nonetheless a pleasant one — an old-fashioned entertainment that more than gets by on the unforced (albeit unlikely) chemistry of Wilder and Ford."[9]

Puccio of Movie Metropolis called the film "humorous and touching" and "uplifting as well": "The Frisco Kid is not a great film; it's not even a very good film by the best filmmaking standards; but it's such a sweet and gentle film, it's hard not to like... The film moseys along at a leisurely pace, and the director has a little difficulty finding the right comedic tone between dry, subtle farce and outright slapstick; yet it manages to find a soft spot in the heart for every scene, so maybe 'heartwarming' is what Aldrich had in mind, in which case he couldn't have done better."[4]

Wilder's performance received wide praise. Ebert wrote, "What's poignant about the film is that Wilder's performance is such a nice one. He's likable, plucky, versatile. He is, in fact, as good an actor here as he's ever been before, and at his own brand of complex vulnerability Gene Wilder has never been surpassed."[5] Hanke said, "But the main interest in the film is probably Gene Wilder's performance, which is interesting simply because it's one of the few times that Wilder played a character that wasn't essentially Gene Wilder. And, lo and behold, he does a perfectly credible job of being someone else — or at least someone else who isn't Willy Wonka."[9] Film scholar Stuart Galbraith IV declares that Wilder gives "one of his very best performances" and calls his character "incredibly endearing": "The Frisco Kid is a real surprise, offering as it does one of Gene Wilder's best characterizations in a film that's alternately funny and sweetly touching, this despite Robert Aldrich's generally indelicate direction."[10] Puccio wrote, "Nobody does nice like Gene Wilder... Nor have many actors been so willing to celebrate their culture and religious convictions as Wilder does here, perhaps also a trait he picked up from [Mel] Brooks."[4]


  1. ^ a b Silver, Alain and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995, p. 308.
  2. ^
  3. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  4. ^ a b c Puccio, John J. (February 13, 2006). "FRISCO KID - DVD review". Movie Metropolis. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1979). "The Frisco Kid". Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Frisco Kid (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (6 July 1979). "The Frisco Kid (1979)". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2011. There's scarcely a plot development, from the moment the rabbi is swindled out of his money on his arrival in Philadelphia, through his adventures on the open range in the company of a kind-hearted, WASP outlaw (Harrison Ford), that isn't telegraphed from the opening, pre-credit sequences. 
  8. ^ Hiller, Jordan (September 24, 2009). "25 Essential Jewish Movies". Bang It Out. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Hanke, Ken (June 15, 2005). "The Frisco Kid". Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC). Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  10. ^ Galbraith, Stuart (March 13, 2006). "The Frisco Kid". DVD Talk. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 

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