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On the cusp of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was curious to see what other roles Harrison Ford played in his youth which may not have had the staying power of the aging archaeology professor. The film I chose to represent this era was The Frisco Kid.
Released in 1979, The Frisco Kid stars Gene Wilder as a student directed to leave his Poland hamlet to become San Francisco's first rabbi. Arriving in Philadelphia, he misses the boat to the West Coast and must make his inept way across the new world. Well into the film's first hour, he meets up with a post-Star Wars, pre-Indiana Jones Harrison Ford playing a very Han Solo-ish cowboy.
It's an unusual pairing that further manifests itself in the film's dichotomic nature. I liked The Frisco Kid, but not because it was a comedy. It's not that the jokes fall flat — there are some laughable moments, to be sure, but most scenes aren't trying to be funny. What I instead found fascinating was Wilder's character and his faith. The rabbi often values his religious practices and symbols above his and his friend's lives, creating some moments that are wonderfully celebratory — a scene that meshes Hebrew and Native American dancing is especially fun — and others that are tragic, driving him to tears. His faith is tested and even questioned — but, like the protagonist of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wilder's values are strengthened by these trials and ultimately prove central to his character.
Predictably, he also has an influence on Ford's cowboy. When we first meet Ford, he's a loner with few redeeming characteristics and with little interest in anything that doesn't line his coffers. But when he begins mentoring young Skywalker — er, Rabbi Avram — on the ways of the West, he finds friendship to be a powerful and selfless motivator.
The Frisco Kid is a departure from Wilder's time in Blazing Saddles and may disappoint fans looking for more of the same. But it uniquely succeeds as a gentle, lighthearted comedy and heartwarming tale.