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 Franciscosynagogue. Avram, 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, Avram spends a little time with some Pennsylvania Dutch (whom he takes for Jews at first). Injured when he was dumped out of the speeding wagon, the Amish nurse Avram 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 Avram's helplessness and frank personality, despite the trouble it occasionally gives him. For instance, when Tommy robs a bank on a Friday, he finds that Avram (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 Avram's insistence on riding into foul weather, he and Tommy 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 of San Francisco, Avram 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 Tommy, who takes back what they had stolen from Avram and a bit more besides. Seeking revenge, the three bandits follow the pair and ambush them on a California beach where Tommy and Avram have stopped to bathe. Avram experiences a crisis of faith when he is forced to shoot Darryl Diggs in self-defense. Tommy brings him back by 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 Avram and Tommy springs to his friend's defense, Avram regains his composure and shows his wisdom and courage in front of the entire community. He exiles Diggs from San Francisco ("I'll tell you what I think is the best thing. I'll take San Francisco. You take the rest of America. And if you ever come back to this place again, I don't think you're going to get off so easy. Now get the hell out of here!"). The story ends happily with Avram marrying Rosalie Bender, younger daughter of the head of San Francisco's Jewish community, with Tommy attending the ceremony as his best man.
- Gene Wilder as Avram Belinski
- Harrison Ford as Tommy Lillard
- Ramon Bieri as Mr. Jones
- Val Bisoglio as Chief Gray Cloud
- George DiCenzo as Darryl Diggs (as George Ralph DiCenzo)
- Leo Fuchs as Chief Rabbi
- Penny Peyser as Rosalie Bender
- William Smith as Matt Diggs
- Jack Somack as Samuel Bender
- Beege Barkette as Sarah Mindl Bender
- Shay Duffin as O'Leary
- Walter Janovitz as Old Amish man (as Walter Janowitz)
- Joe Kapp as Monterano
- Clyde Kusatsu as Mr. Ping (railroad work crew)
- Clifford A. Pellow as Mr. Daniels (as Cliff Pellow)
- Eda Reiss Merin as Mrs. Bender
According to Gene Wilder's autobiography, the Tommy role, played by Harrison Ford, was originally planned for John Wayne.
Aldrich replaced director Dick Richards during preproduction.
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.
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.