In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_otcv3wwkz0vjyicozgz2ahej5uv

John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

Thumb_j0gvkbn0bjd9wfkn6jxr1kbyu5

Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

The Frisco Kid

  |  

Once a long time ago on the Champs Elysee in Paris, of all places, I saw "Cat Ballou" and was forever after spoiled on the subject of comic Westerns. I laughed, indeed, at a great deal of "Blazing Saddles" but was that really a comic Western, or just an extension of Mel Brooks' all-purpose comic vision? But I haven't seen anything else to even approach "Cat Ballou" and Lee Marvin's drunken horse, and that includes the new Gene Wilder movie, "The Frisco Kid."

The movie's based on a good idea, yes: Wilder plays a Polish rabbinical student who places so far down in his class that the Jewish elders decide there's only one place for him, and that's San Francisco. So he's sent to the New Land in 1850 or thereabouts, and he's expected to make his way through the Wild West and eventually serve a congregation in the midst of the Gold Rush.

What are the chances of this naive, unexperienced schlemeil making it across the continent? Almost exactly zero. But then along comes a gunslinging desperado (Harrison Ford, of "Star Wars") to take pity on the poor rabbi and help guide him through the deserts and the Indians and a goodly supply of other gunslinging desperados.

As I say, a good idea. But what approach do you take to this material? What's your comic tone? "The Frisco Kid" tries for almost every possible tone. It has slapstick (Wilder, on a railroad work gang, consistently slamming his sledgehammer down on the toes of the biggest member of the gang). It has poignancy (Wilder and Ford get to like and respect one another, and it's a shame when they have to part). It has dialect jokes and costume jokes, puns and double entendres, romance (a bride awaits Wilder in San Francisco) and action (Wilder is taken captive by Indians).

But what it doesn't have is a consistent comic logic to lead us through its Western smorgasbord. The movie's director is Robert Aldrich, who is one of Hollywood's most consistent craftsmen and who, theoretically, should have been ideal for this material: He's made a semispeciality out of action-oriented semicomedies about bands of men (his credits include "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Longest Yard" (1974) as well as the unsuccessful "The Choirboys").

But Aldrich's best movies have had a certain ironic, satirical tone to them: "The Dirty Dozen" was a study in cynicism. "The Frisco Kid," on the other hand, has a certain softness at its center. The Wilder character has a sweetness, a niceness, that's interesting for the character but doesn't seem to work with this material.

It's really nobody's movie. The screenplay has been around Hollywood for several years, and Aldrich seems to have taken it on as a routine assignment. What's poignant about the film is that Wilder's performance is such a nice one. He's likable, plucky, versatile. He is, in fact, as good an actor here as he's ever been before, and at his own brand of complex vulnerability Gene Wilder has never been surpassed. The challenge is to find the right vehicle, to find a character like Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother. Wilder needs that certain cynical edge to play against. In a character of mostly pleasant dimensions, he gets lost.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

"1941": An Appreciation and Interview with Bob Gale

An appreciation of "1941" and interview with Bob Gale.

A free man: L.M. "Kit" Carson, 1941-2014

An appreciation of filmmaker, writer and actor L.M. "Kit" Carson, a singular talent.

NYFF 2014: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”

A review of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" from the 2014 New York Film Festival.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus