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Film / The Frisco Kid

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The Wild West adventures of a strictly kosher cowboy.

The Frisco Kid is a 1979 American Western comedy film directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford.

It's about a Polish rabbi (Wilder), traveling to a synagogue in San Francisco, who befriends a bank robber (Ford) while being chased by outlaws and Native Americans.

The film also stars Ramon Bieri, Val Bisoglio, Leo Fuchs, and Penny Peyser.

It was released on July 13, 1979.

Has no relation to the 1935 film Frisco Kid starring James Cagney.

Tropes for the film:

  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When the San Francisco Jewish community finally meets Rabbi Avram, they mistake the fancier-dressed Tommy for him, and try to speak to him in Yiddish. Rabbi Avram, on the other hand, is dressed like a cowboy.
  • Artistic License – Religion: There are several inaccuracies about Judaism (somewhat JustifiedTrope as Avram is described as being at the bottom of his yeshiva class) ranging from relatively trivial to the more significant:
    • After Tommy Lillard shoots the fish rabbi Belinski has been trying to catch, the rabbi exclaims, "If you had been here yesterday, we would have had fried chicken!" In kosher law, while a fish may be eaten regardless of how it was killed, birds and mammals may not be eaten unless they were slaughtered strictly according to the laws of shechita, which involve a quick severing of the animal's neck.
    • Belinski refuses to get on his horse on Shabbat, but he is seen pulling the horse with its reins, and traveling long distances by foot- both also forbidden activities on Shabbat.
    • Shabbat ends at sundown/dusk, not sunset.
    • The movie doesn't seem aware of a basic concept in Judaism called pekuach nefesh, the principle that nearly all the religious laws can and should be violated to save a person's life. He is seen repeatedly risking his life not to violate the Shabbat or see his Torah scroll be burned, and any rabbi would know he has no obligation to do such things, and that it's even considered a serious sin to endanger one's life for such purposes. Especially strange considering they had two rabbis as consultants. Admittedly, some of it can be put down to Rule of Funny.
    • While it's understandable that Belinski would feel traumatized after being forced to kill someone in self-defense, he'd know perfectly well that it's entirely permitted in Judaism. The movie makes it sound like his religion has some absolute prohibition on killing under any circumstance.
  • Avenging the Villain: After Avram shoots Darryl Diggs in self-defense, Matt Diggs shows up and demands a duel between him and Avram.
  • Big Damn Heroes/The Cavalry: Just as the con men are going to kill Avram, Tommy shows up with a gun to save him.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: What the Indians wear.
  • First Friend/Only Friend: Tommy and Avram to each other.
  • The Gunslinger: Tommy is a bank robber who's very skilled with a gun.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Once they're in San Francisco, Tommy gets a shave and some fancy clothes.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Avram stubbornly refuses to ride his horse on Shabbat, despite being pursued by a posse determined to hang him. As mentioned in Artistic License – Religion, this ignores the concept of pikuach nefesh, which allows for violating religious laws to save a life, including one's own.
    • He also fails to explain that Darryl and his pals were trying to kill him and Tommy when Avram shot Darryl. It takes Tommy showing up to realize that Matt was Avenging the Villain.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tommy is a rough, foul-mouthed outlaw who yells at his friend all the time, yet he can't bring himself to leave him alone in the wilderness to die.
  • Mistaken for Afterlife: Avram passes out after having too many berries (or was it peyote?) at an Indian Bonfire, even though Tommy, his gunslinger companion, tells him to ease off. He awakes in a small room, attended by a silent figure in robes, with a large cross on the wall. When he starts to panic, thinking he died, Tommy shows up and tells him that he was brought to a local monastery for help.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Avram has a crisis of faith after killing a man in self-defense (and rushing to save the Torah before his friend).
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Avram is an innocent, trusting, and inexperienced Rabbi, whilst Tommy is a tough, world weary, and skilled outlaw.
  • Settle for Sibling: Played with as Belinksi is arranged to be married to the daughter of a local Jewish merchant, without having met her; she's vain, selfish, a total flirt and obviously not a good match for him. Her shyer more modest and withdrawn sister is a much better the rabbi discovers when he eventually arrives in town, takes one glimpse of the younger sister and falls hopelessly in love with her, without having even met his intended bride. He ends up marrying her instead.
  • Thunder Equals Downpour: After Rabbi Avram tells a skeptical Native American chief that the Abrahamic God can do anything, "but he does not. Make. Rain.", there's a thunderclap and a downpour.
  • Tonto Talk: When Avram and Tommy are captured by Native Americans, they attempt some Tonto talk, e.g. "Me rabbi. Jewish Rabbi. I cross big ocean. I read much book about Indians." Chief Gray Cloud is not amused and replies "You don't speak English very well."