The Frisco Kid is a Western, but it doesn’t open like one. It opens more like a seventies Gene Wilder theme comedy (composer Frank De Vol starts out like it’s Young Frankenstein, but quickly gets bad… especially at the end). The film takes a little while to ground itself. Before Harrison Ford shows up, much of the film is Wilder making his way—a rabbi from Poland headed to San Francisco—across the United States. There are comic moments, comic dialogue, but it’s not really funny. When there’s humor, it’s not stupid—Michael Elias and Frank Shaw’s script, which has its bumps, is actually very thoughtful.
Obviously, Wilder being a rabbi in the Wild West is going to produce some comedic situations, but that religious aspect of the character is thoughtfully portrayed.
The problem is Aldrich, who apparently doesn’t know how to direct something like Frisco Kid. He doesn’t seem to get it’s not a spoof; he shoots it like a sitcom.
He also is a disaster with some of the actors. Ford, in particular, is weak. He’s likable, but his performance constantly sputters (much like his accent). Then there’s Val Bisoglio, who—along with Aldirch’s weak handling of it—turns a potentially sublime scene with American Indians into something good, but clearly failing.
The directorial failings don’t affect Wilder—he never plays the caricature he could. He’s superb.
It’s unfortunate Elias and Shaw never wrote another feature.
The film’s a moderate success, but some of its parts are amazing.
Directed by Robert Aldrich; written by Michael Elias and Frank Shaw; director of photography, Robert B. Hauser; edited by Jack Horger, Irving Rosenblum and Maury Winetrobe; music by Frank De Vol; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Mace Neufeld; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Gene Wilder (Avram), Harrison Ford (Tommy), Ramon Bieri (Mr. Jones), Val Bisoglio (Chief Gray Cloud), George DiCenzo (Darryl Diggs), Leo Fuchs (Chief Rabbi), Penny Peyser (Rosalie), William Smith (Matt Diggs), Jack Somack (Samuel Bender) and Beege Barkette (Sarah Mindl).