Friday, August 3, 2012

The Frisco Kid (1979)


The runaway success of Mel Brooks’ Western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974) inspired many underwhelming imitators, including pictures by a handful of directors who should have known better. For instance, Robert Aldrich, whose career includes several great action films and melodramas, had no business helming an “outrageous” romp about a rabbi-turned-outlaw—although whether anyone could have made a watchable movie from this gimmicky premise is open to debate. Anyway, Blazing Saddles star Gene Wilder is Rabbi Avram Belinski, a wide-eyed rube who travels from Poland to America in order to assume his post as the leader of a San Francisco synagogue. After getting robbed by hooligans upon reaching the East Coast, Avram finds work on a railroad as a means of making his way West. This brings him into the orbit of Tommy Lillard (Harrison Ford), an outlaw who takes sympathy on the hapless traveler. They become unlikely companions for a series of what presumably were conceived as “wacky adventures.” In Aldrich’s hands, however, the episodes comprising The Frisco Kid are loud non-events, spasms of shouting and slapstick connected by exhaustingly exuberant music—the vignettes look and feel like comedy without actually being funny. While much of the blame falls to Aldrich and his screenwriters for failing to summon inspiration, Wilder is complicit, too. Succumbing to his worst excesses, notably bulging his eyes at regular intervals and screaming most of his dialogue, Wilder presents such a broad caricature of Jewishness that he’s almost unbearable to watch, to say nothing of borderline offensive. This isn’t Wilder at his worst (alas, he was even more grating while acting in the first couple of movies he directed), but this sure ain’t Wilder at his best. As for Ford, caught in the post-Star Wars transitional period of his career, he doesn’t really have a character to portray, so he overcompensates with unearned intensity that doesn’t suit the comedic milieu.

The Frisco Kid: LAME

1 comment:

Alan Beauvais said...

Spot-on review. I am in complete agreement. Finally caught this recently on TCM and I was absolutely dumbfounded at how unfunny and poorly paced this film is. A complete misfire. Anyone looking for the spirited laughfest Aldrich made out of "The Longest Yard" (1974) will need to keep looking. A boring unfunny comedy is bad enough. A two-hour one is capital punishment.