The Frisco Kid (1979)

Film and Plot Synopsis

In 1850, a newly-ordained orthodox rabbi Avram Belinski is dispatched from Poland to take over a new congregation in San Francisco. He arrives in Philadelphia to begin his journey to San Francisco, knowing only that California’s “somewhere near New York.” Along the way, he meets and befriends bank robber Tommy Lillard, who has never seen a rabbi before. But he knows when one needs a heap of help. And getting this tenderfoot to Frisco in one piece is going to cause a heap of trouble—with the law, Indians and a bunch of ruthless killers.

‘The Frisco Kid’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Frisco Kid (1979)New rabbi Avram Belinski (Gene Wilder) is dispatched from Poland to lead a new congregation in San Francisco. Belinski recently graduated at the bottom of his class from yeshiva, and his instructors are glad to find a place for the under achiever. Belinski arrives in Philadelphia and begins his trek west towards the Pacific Ocean. He has meager possessions, but none more prized than his Torah, a book containing several volumes of the Hebrew Bible.

Belinski is extremely trusting and falls for the deception of three con men, brothers Matt and Darryl Diggs (William Smith and George Ralph DiCenzo) and their partner Mr. Jones (Ramon Bieri). The three men trick the young rabbi into paying for a wagon and supplies to make the journey west. Then they rob him and leave him in his underwear along the road. Undeterred, Belinski continues west on foot. He finds many of his things discarded along the road, including his treasured Torah.

Belinski comes across a colony of Pennsylvania Dutch Amish whom he mistakes for Jews. The Amish take care of him and provide him with some money to take a train west. The train takes him as far as Ohio where Belinski joins a railroad construction crew. He works for the crew until he earns enough money to buy his own horse and some supplies. He then heads out west again on his own.

Along the way, Belinski encounters a stranger named Tommy Lillard (Harrison Ford). The two men become friends and Tommy looks after Belinski since he is the human equivalent of a fish out of water. However, Tommy is a bank robber, and he robs a bank in one of the small towns that they ride through. As they flee the town, Belinski is appalled at Tommy’s criminal actions and wants nothing to do with them. However, Tommy points out that the pursuing posse will likely not listen to the rabbi’s story and will hang him for being associated with Tommy.

Belinski agrees with Tommy’s reasoning and stays with the bank robber. However, Belinski, an Orthodox Jew, refuses to ride his horse on the Shabbat (Friday) because it is forbidden. Tommy is frustrated and threatens to leave the rabbi for the posse but stays with him nonetheless until the day passes and both men ride away. They get away from the posse due to their horses being fully rested after being walked for an entire day.

Soon after, Belinski and Tommy are pursued by some American Indians. The two escape, but Belinski realizes that he lost his Torah and rides back. Tommy vows to leave the rabbi, but both men end up being captured by the Indians. They are tied up and questioned by Chief Gray Cloud (Val Bisoglio) who has found the Torah and read it. Belinski asks for the Torah to be returned and the Chief asks the young rabbi if he would be willing to be tested with fire in exchange for it. Belinski agrees despite Tommy pleading with him not to. Belinski is placed over a fire, but is not seriously burned before the Gray Cloud stops the burning. The Chief is impressed by the rabbi’s commitment to his religion and frees both men.

Belinski and Tommy stop in a small town near San Francisco, and while Tommy cohorts with prostitutes, the rabbi encounters the Diggs brothers and Mr. Jones again. He confronts the men in a bar and demands his property back. The three men begin to beat Belinski savagely until Tommy arrives and saves his friend. Tommy gets Belinski’s money back and then some. The duo head off towards San Francisco and arrive at the Pacific Ocean. The Diggs brothers and Mr. Jones follow behind, waiting to get their revenge. They ambush Tommy and Belinski on a beach. Tommy kills Jones and wounds Matt Diggs, who flees the scene.

However, Tommy is hit by a bullet as well. Belinski grabs a gun but can’t bring himself to fire it on an unarmed Darryl. Realizing Belinski’s reluctance to fire, Darryl moves slowly to grab a gun forcing the rabbi to kill him. Belinski is disturbed that he has taken another man’s life and questions his suitability to be a communities’ spiritual leader. Tommy reminds him that he is still is what he is inside, despite what he had to do on the beach, which brings some comfort to the young rabbi.

Belinski and Tommy make it to San Francisco and the young rabbi’s community. The congregation welcomes him with open arms, although Belinski is still uncertain whether he should be rabbi. The congregation hosts a celebration in Belinski’s honor. Belinski meets and dances with a young woman named Rosalie Bender (Penny Peyser) who is the daughter of the head of San Francisco’s Jewish community. Matt stalks the rabbi and Tommy, who sees the gunman outside a window. When Tommy goes to confront the man, he is knocked unconscious. Matt then challenges Belinski to a gun fight. Belinski initially refuses but agrees after Matt threatens Rosalie. However, Belinski refuses to draw and shows his courage to the entire congregation. Matt charges Belinski and threatens to beat him to death with his gun. The rabbi disarms Matt and then orders him to leave San Francisco. Tommy shows up with his pistols and emphasizes the need for Matt to leave.

The film ends with Belinski marrying Rosalie with Tommy attending the ceremony as his best man.

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Warner Bros. Pictures released The Frisco Kid on July 13, 1979. Robert Aldrich directed the film starring Gene Wilder, Harrison Ford, and Ramon Bieri.

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