Friday, July 8, 2022

THE FRISCO KID (1979) (Warner Archive Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: PG 
Duration: 119 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.O with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Robert Aldrich 
Cast: Gene Wilder, Harrison Ford, Ramon Bieri, Val Bisoglio, George DiCenzo, William Smith

Set in the Gold Rush era of 1850 the Robert Aldrich (Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) directed The Frisco Kid (1979) is a fish-out-of-water comedy about Jewish Rabbi Avram Belinski (Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) who is sent from his home in Poland to come to America to become the San Francisco congregation's new rabbi. He arrives Philadelphia with his Torah in hand, and clearly has no idea how far away San Francisco is from Philly, attempting to walk it on foot at first. Realizing his error he makes the acquaintance of brothers Matt (William Smith, Maniac Cop) and Darryl Diggs (George Ralph DiCenzo, The Ninth Configuration) and their buddy Mr. Jones (Ramon Bieri, The Andromeda Strain) - who tell him that for a price they can transport him by wagon across the country to San Francisco, only to be double-crossed by the con men who rob him and dump him in the Eastern territories. Lost and wandering on foot he comes across a group of Amish, both he and they are confused about each other at first, each assuming that with their shared black attire and beards, the other must be of the same faith - and there's the comic styling of this picture in a nutshell. The kindly Amish accept him into their community and nurse him back to health, put together a small cash collection, and set him on his way, with the fish-out-of-water story continuing with additional vignettes as the rabbi finds himself in working for the railroad for a short bit before teaming up with a kind-hearted bank robber named Tommy Lillard (Harrison Ford, Blade Runner) who takes pity of the na├»ve and highly moral rabbi, taking him under his wing and teaching him the ways of the American West. This mismatched pair set off across the frontier together making their way to San Francisco, along the way encountering inhospitable native Americans - lead by Chief Gray Cloud (Val Bisoglio, The Don Is Dead) -  and evading a hanging posse after Tommy robs a bank, before finally arriving in San Francisco and eventually re-engaging a member of the trio that robbed the rabbi at the start of the film. 

This is a film I saw multiple time on cable TV in the 80's, a western comedy featuring two stars from a pair of my favorite movies as a kid, Willy Wonka and Star Wars, so it had to be comedy-gold, right? Well, I watched it several times dutifully when it would air but this one never quite got the traction with me that I had imagined it would, and that two hour runtime and episodic nature of the comedy might have had something to do with that. Watching it now it holds up slightly better than I remember, Wilder as the stranger-in-a-strange-land rabbi is a fun time, but Ford seems to be going for a low-energy Han Solo in the Old West - but he still manages to comes across pretty charming. The whole premise is pretty one-note, but every now and again that note can be pretty funny and their offbeat pairing is pleasing, if not exactly comedy gold - it's definitely more Goin' South (1978) than it is Blazing Saddles (1974), but it has a few good laughs and is actually quite touching as the mismatched pair bond and feud over questions of morality.  

Audio/Video: The Frisco Kid (1977) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Warner Archive with a brand spanking new HD master, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, in 1080p HD. There's no mention of the source or if this is a 2K or 4K scan, but it's a pleasing image from a clean source. Grain levels are mostly uniform and well-managed, though a few scenes to showcase some chunkier grain levels. The color-grading is spot-on and captures the western arid landscape with a mix of golden hues and earthen colors, the fine details of fabric and facial details are well resolved, and colors are strong, particularly the red and green of interior saloon scenes have a nice punch-up. Contrast and clarity are much improved over the 2006 DVD, as you'd expect, though many of the outdoor scenes shot by cinematographer Robert B. Hauser (Someone's Watching Me) have a gauzy soft filtered lensing to them which saps detail, but that's inherent to the source and no fault of the transferAudio is handled by a rock solid uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is clean and crisp, there are no age related issues to deal with, dialogue is delivered crisply and the score from Frank De Vol (The Dirty Dozen) has a nice showing in the mix - De Vol actually shows up in a small role as the saloon piano player in a scene. 

Sadly, the only extra is a 2-minute trailer for the film. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with single-sided sleeve of artwork; an original movie poster illustration that captures the goofy western essence of the film quite nicely.

Special Features:
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

Screenshots from the Warner Archive Blu-ray: 

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