The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Frisco Kid (1979) Classic Movie Review 166

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

He gives us strength when we're suffering. He gives us compassion when all that we feel is hatred. He gives us courage when we're searching around blindly like little mice in the darkness... but He does not make rain!




Today’s movie is The Frisco Kid (1979). This is a pretty funny movie that didn’t get much love when it was released. It is also a trove of Yiddish humor. The movie has a poor 6.4 rating on[1] and only 53 percent on the Tomatometer with 66 percent audience approval on[2]. It’s a funny buddy flick. Roger Ebert pretty much killed the film, but he did like Gene Wilder’s performance[3]. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby said “Asking Robert Aldrich to direct a sentimental Jewish comedy on the order of “The Frisco Kid” is like putting the late Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in charge of a tap-dancing class for tiny tots”[4]. shtreng!



Gene Wilder plays the young rabbi, Avram. Wilder was first covered in the very funny Young Frankenstein (1974). Harrison Ford played cowboy/bank robber Tommy. Ford was covered in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). William Smith is Matt Diggs, one of the bad guys. Smith was covered in Red Dawn (1984). Ian Wolfe showed up as the non-speaking Father Joseph.


Val Bisoglio played Chief Gray Cloud. Val was born in 1926 in New York City. He has done a ton of television but is only known for a couple of movies; Saturday Night Fever (1977), where he played the dad and messed up John Travolta’s and The Frisco Kid (1979). He was a regular on televisions “Quincy M.E.” 1976-1983.

Penny Peyser played Rosalie, the younger sister of the bride pledged to Avram. Penny was born in 1951 in New York City. Penny has been on a lot of television shows and a few movies. Her acting began with a small role in All the President’s Men (1976). Other films include The In-Laws (1979), The Frisco Kid (1979), a small part in Miss Congeniality (2000), and Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon (2008).


In 1850, a Yeshiva School in Poland gets a request from San Francisco for a new Rabbi. The professors’ debate, but the head of the school sends for Avram (Gene Wilder). Avram is special and has a wonderful view of the world. When Avram enters the council, they all fall silent. The head tries to talk to him discretely, but he keeps giving it away. They all object, but the head overrules them. They decide that San Francisco is near New York.

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

Avram’s ship sails for Philadelphia, “the city where all the brothers love each other.” Avram narrates his story as he moves through the crowded dock. He soon finds out that the ship to San Francisco is gone because of the gold rush. There will not be another ship for two months. The man behind him in line, Darryl Diggs (George DiCenzo), starts crying that he has to get to San Francisco to see his dying mother and he and his brother Matt Diggs (William Smith) have already sold their wagon. Of course, Avram volunteers to help.

Avram and Darryl go and meet Matt and the man that bought the wagon, Mr. Jones (Ramon Bieri). Jones says he wants $50 dollar more than he paid for the wagon. Avram jumps in to pay the $50 over the protests of the brother. They all agree that he will get a seat on the wagon for his money.

In San Francisco, Samuel Bender (Jack Somack) reads a letter to the congregation that a Rabbi is coming and bringing a Torah. The letter also says he plans to marry Bender’s oldest daughter Sarah Mindl (Beege Barkette), who on hearing the news, drops a cup because she is in love with someone else.

Avram sets out for San Francisco in the wagon with Darryl. Matt is riding on a horse beside the wagon. They take a shortcut, and Mr. Jones rides up and climbs into the wagon. He beats Avram and throws him out of the wagon. Jones throws out the Torah but keeps the medal that hangs on it. Avram is thrown out in his long johns as the crooks ride away laughing. Avram collects the items they threw out of the wagon and finally gets dressed and recovers the Torah. They have taken all of his money. He keeps walking west, towards San Francisco.

After some time walking, he sees men that are speaking archaic German, which is very similar to Yiddish, and dressed in dark clothes. They are Pennsylvania Dutch, but they are very kind and take care of him for a few days before giving him money for a train to Akron.

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

Avram is enjoying his train trip. A suspicious looking cowboy, Tommy (Harrison Ford) goes to the restroom, and a very buxom ladies comes and sits by Avram. She could be a professional. The nervous Avram ducks out to the restroom as well. Tommy steps out of the bathroom wearing a bandana and begins robbing the train. He tells the people not to turn around because his partner is behind them with a shotgun. Tommy jumps and tells his pretend partner to jump at the next bend. Avram comes out of the bathroom and thinks everyone is playing Simon Says.

Avram rides the train until, it is the Sabbath, and he can’t ride. He ends up getting work on a railroad crew. He manages to hit the foot of the meanest man with his hammer three times. He hugs it out. Then he smashes the guy with a water bucket. Finally, he buys a horse and heads west again. He dreams of Sarah Mindl and has his food is stolen by raccoons. He tries to hunt birds and fish. Tommy watches him from up on a hill. Tommy finally shoots the fish.

They camped together and enjoy Avram’s cooking. Avram finds out he has been going in the wrong direction. They bond over the campfire. In the morning, the plan to go their separate ways. Seeing that Avram is hopeless, Tommy decides to travel with him and lead him to California. Tommy teaches him that She-it is the same as oy gevalt, which really means woe is me.

In San Francisco, the congregation is building a temple, and Sarah Mendel is playing kissy face with a boy.

Avram and Tommy make it to a high mountain town. Tommy and Avram end up in a barn and Tommy, wants to wait until the weather is better. Avram is determined to go on. They have a big fight and, in the morning, head out into the mountains. Tommy helps Avram survive the cold. It is so cold, they have to spoon. Finally, the come down the western slope of the mountains and head into the high desert.

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

They come to a small western town. Tommy leaves Avram outside while he goes in and robs the bank. Avram had no idea that it was happening, and the town forms a posse to chase them. Tommy and Avram flee into the wild and Avram attacks Tommy for mixing him up in a bank robbery. Finally, Tommy pulls a gun and Avram gets indignant. They have to keep riding as the posse closes in. They would do better getting away, but Avram won’t ride the horse on the Sabbath.  Tommy gets mad and leaves Avram behind. He catches up by mid-day. Tommy shows him where the posse is. Avram still won’t ride until the sun sets. Finally, they start riding again. After several days they lose the posse. Only to have them replaced by Indians.

In the attempt to escape from the Indians, Avram loses the Torah. He rides back, and Tommy refuses to go. The next scene shows the two together after they are captured by the Indians. Avram starts singing his prayers. Chief Gray Cloud (Val Bisoglio) comes out and asks Avram who the hell he is. Tommy tells the chief that Avram is a holy man. Chief Gray Cloud has the Torah. Avram agrees to purify his soul with fire in return for the Torah. They slowly lower Avram on to the fire but he refuses to give up the Torah. Chief Gray Cloud orders him pulled back up. He says Avram is brave and Tommy is true. They have a big dinner and Avram explains why his God doesn’t’ make rain, and then it rains.

Avram passes out from the peyote he has been eating and wakes up in a cloistered monastery. At first, he thinks he is in Christian heaven. Tommy and the Torah are there too. Father Joseph (Ian Wolfe) hasn’t spoken in 45-years. When Avram gets one of the men to talk, they all laugh.

At the next town, Avram sends the bank robbing money back. Tommy is going to bath, and drink, and some other things. Avram waits in the street for Tommy to finish. The drunks are wondering and shouting wahoo. Avram starts dancing and singing wahoo and is told by the sheriff that dancing in the street is not allowed.

Avram goes in the saloon. He sees Daryl, Matt, and Mr. Jones gambling. Avram takes the Torah medal back and demands his $50 from Matt. Matt pushed Avram, and he hits back. Then Matt hits him and says that’s just to get his attention. They beat the crap out of Avram. Finally, they lay him on the bar and Matt is going smash his face with a beer barrel. Tommy shots the barrel and makes them put $200 on the bar. He makes them leave their money and orders them to go away.

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

Avram and Tommy make it to the coast. Tommy says he is going south to Sutter’s Mill to look for gold. Avram wants Tommy to be the best man at his wedding. The two finally decide to go to San Francisco together. Along the way, they stop to swim in the ocean. While they are horsing around, Daryl, Matt, and Jones show up. Tommy jumps for his gun and Avram runs to get the Torah out of the fire. Tommy shoots Jones and wounds Matt who runs away. Tommy gets hit, and both he and Daryl are out of bullets. Tommy is yelling for Avram to shoot Matt as he goes for the other gun. Finally, Avram pulls the trigger. Matt watches from the bushes. Avram is ashamed that he went for the Torah before saving his friend and he thinks that killing makes him not worthy to be a Rabbi. Tommy feels like God sent him to show Avram the way.

In San Francisco, Avram dresses like a cowboy, before delivering the Torah to the Bender home. He meets the younger daughter, Rosalie (Penny Peyser). It’s like at first sight. He leaves the Torah with Rosalie and goes back to the bar to meet Tommy. Tommy is trying to talk Avram into going and being a Rabbi.

Bender and the entire congregation come into the bar. They think Tommy is the Rabbi. Avram tells that he is the Rabbi and they say he doesn’t look like a Rabbi. The crowd is happy that they have a Rabbi. Avram and Rosalie are making eyes.

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

Tommy sees Matt looking in the window. Tommy goes outside, and Matt knocks him out from behind. Rosalie and Avram decide they will be married and everything seems right in the world. Matt burst in with a shot and say he wants to have a fair fight with Avram because he killed his brother. Avram says no more killing. When Avram admits he killed Daryl, the bartender sends them into the street.

In the street, Matt sticks the gun, that Daryl was killed with, into Avram’s pants. When Avram won’t draw, Matt starts shooting at his feet. Finally, Matt runs to hit Avram with the butt of his gun. Avram sidesteps and trips Matt. Then he kicks him in the ass and says that was just to get your attention. When Avram says not more killing and throws his gun away, Matt goes for his. Tommy shows up and shoots the gun away.

Avram steps in the middle and gives a solution. He says he will take San Francisco and Matt can have the rest of America. Then he asks the congregation to show this poor asshole out of town.

Tommy is the best man at the wedding of Avram and Rosalie. The movie ends with dancing.

World-Famous Short Summary – keep your eye on the tukas

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Beware the moors


The Frisco Kid (1979)

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