The Frisco Kid 1979 A Movie a Day Day 45

Boy did it get complicated finding a post-able version of this trailer. Please watch it so that I feel the effort was worth it. I don’t know why someone doesn’t have it on youtube, because this movie stars Harrison Ford, the biggest movie star on the planet for 20 years, and Gene Wilder one of the best loved comic actors of all time. Even though it features these two big stars, I don’t think many people know of or have seen The Frisco Kid. This is another gem from the summer of 1979. There were quite a few other films out that summer so maybe it simply got crowded out of the marketplace. This movie was directed by Robert Aldrich, one of the great tough guy filmakers of the sixties and seventies. He brought us “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Longest Yard”. So it was not put together by amateurs.

We saw it at the Gold Theater in Alhambra; that was the small second screen at the site of the main Alhambra Theater. They claim to be the first multi-plex in the country or at least on the west coast. That theater was heavily damaged by the Whittier narrows quake in 1987, and it never reopened. Four years later the Edwards Atlantic Palace opened and it was the most beautiful theater in the world for a couple of years. Now my kids that went there with me when they were little, think it is creepy. If they had ever seen the Gold Theater they would have freaked out. It had a small screen, maybe 150 seats and a pretty low ceiling. That was the experience we had when we saw this movie. It was on a double bill but I can’t recall right now what the other feature was. We loved Gene Wilder and if you look at the trailer, you will see he was the selling point for the film. Harrison Ford had been in Star Wars but not yet the sequel where he really shined and this was two years before Indiana Jones. He was co-billed but definitely the second lead.

The movie is populated with familiar faces from westerns and TV shows of the day. There is a an Indian chief played by the guy who was John Travolta’s father in Saturday Night Fever; you know the one who hits his hair. The head of the Jewish group in San Francisco is someone I’m sure I saw on TV a million times in the 1970s. I want to give special notice to William Smith however, because this may be the most memorable role I saw him in in a theatrical film. He is the heavy, and that was the part he usually played. I remember him best from the two Rich Man, Poor Man Mini-series of the 70s. People who have grown up in a world of cable series that had short runs, may think that this was a normal way to tell a story. In the 1970s, when most people had only the three main networks to choose from, and a series might run several nights in a row or over the course of a few weeks they had huge ratings. William Smith was the scary bad guy in the Rich Man, Poor Man series, so he was seen by huge numbers of people and he was quite memorable in the role. In the Frisco Kid he plays the bad guy that tries to get the Rabbi in a gunfight at the end of the movie. He might be hard to find since the Rabbi took San Fransisco and the bad guy gets everywhere else.

Harrison Ford plays his part for laughs for the most part. He is not doing slapstick but he is often the straight man in the comedy duo. He does get a few choice lines and gets to play some very nice emotional moments with Wilder. The heart of the movie is the friendship that springs up between Ford’s bank robber and Wilder’s Rabbi. It is a buddy picture with a nice twist. It is also a fish out of water story, with the Rabbi encountering con men, Amish, posses, and Indians. For a nice Jewish boy from Poland, it would appear to be overwhelming, but the spirit of the Rabbi is a good one. He is a man trying to live up to expectations, and he doesn’t always have the skill but no one would ever doubt his heart. When he telegraphs back the money that Ford stole from a bank in a small town they went through, you know this is a guy with his heart in the right place.

Gene Wilder carries the movie with his spot on accent and hangdog expressions. He puts more emotion in his eyes then ten other actors could muster. True his lines are sometimes delivered like a stereotype, but that is part of the humor from being out of place in the old west. If you don’t laugh at the whole sequence when he is chasing a prairie chicken down to when he finally meets up with Ford, there is nothing you will find funny in the movie. I laughed hard at the line”If you had been here yesterday, we could have had chicken.” I think the movie was sold as a Mel Brooks style comedy, but it is actually much more gentle and sentimental. Allison said today that this was her favorite Gene Wilder Character, and she loves Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein. The movie could be a little tighter. It feels about fifteen minutes too long. It is not a bad fifteen minutes, and I want to be honest, the extra time with the two characters is not going to hurt anyone.

Moonraker 1979 A Movie A Day Day 44

As far as I’m concerned, every James Bond Film is a classic. James Bond is my favorite character in movies and fiction and has been since the time I discovered the novels when I was ten years old. We had most of the paperbacks that I found on a bookshelf in our house on Kendall Ave in Los Angeles. I saw the lurid covers and the cool titles and I dove right in. They were a little racy for a ten year old, but the reading level was fine because, well frankly I was an advanced reader. The more sophisticated might say that my reading level would be retarded by spending time with these novel. Anyone who believes that, has not shared a meal with James Bond in an exotic hotel, or played a high stakes game of cards with a desperate villain. I saw my first Bond films before I read the books and was pleased as punch that I did not have to wait another two years to get the next story. Moonraker the film shares almost nothing with the book. The villain’s name is just about all they have in common. This movie was moved up after the success of Star Wars, and the 007 franchise decided to cash in on the space craze. The seventies Bond films seemed to be more locked into film trends then a dozen other media put together. Blaxsplotation films led to Live and Let Die, Kung Fu epics featuring Bruce Lee meant that The Man with the Golden Gun would be set in Asia and feature martial arts as a subplot, and then Moonraker jumps on the Science Fiction bandwagon. Many have criticized Moonraker as the worst 007 movie ever. It’s not the worst but it did pander the most. There is a set of three musical cues used in the movie for a joke. The opening strains of Also Sprach Zarthura, the Close Encounters communication theme and the Theme from the Magnificent Seven are all used as punchlines. That seems a little excessive.

There are some big set pieces in the movie that work very well on their own, even if they are not essential to the story telling. The pre-credit sequence features a great parachute stunt and looks pretty good. There was only one Bond film in the seventies that did not have a boat chase of some type, that was the last one with Sean Connery. I guess the producers decided Roger Moore looked great on the water. In fact, Moonraker features two boat chase sequences, both are spectacular. In Venice Bond has a gondola that tuns into a speedboat and he maneuvers around the canals until he runs out of room, then it turns into a hovercraft that allows him to float across the piazza and get double takes and slapstick reactions from the crowd. In the Amazon, his vehicle is equipped with counter measures that allow him to destroy most of the enemy speedboats chasing him, and again he has a slick exit when he runs out of room. The writers might be accused of dipping into the same well in this one movie, but I doubt most people noticed because it was so fun.

There are a few technical glitches in the story telling that get glossed over. The hijacking of the Moonraker is a good looking sequence but it makes no sense since the Shuttle that is stolen only flies in free fall, and the engines on it would not allow someone to hijack it like a car on the streets. The explosions in space have to look spectacular, the the film makers ignore that in the absence of oxygen, there would be no huge flames to look at against the black background of space. Even if you have more money than Bill Gates, you could not restore a glass factory in a few hours and replace a laboratory with a renaissance library, complete with art work by the masters, overnight. I don’t know anyone who wants to get too wrapped up in that, but it is an illustration of how the series was becoming dislodged from reality. The space marines in the American shuttle that battles Drax’s forces, seem to come out of nowhere. I will say that the execution of the launch sequences of the six Moonraker shuttles, closely resemble the real shuttle takeoffs, which would not occur for two years after this movie was released.

This was the very first movie I recorded with the $1100 VCR we bought in 1981. Bond films up through the seventies were lucrative films in re-releases, but cable programming was making all kinds of movies available. It was a huge event when the Bond Films came to TV in the late seventies, and Moonraker was one of the new 007 adventures that would not get a second chance to get an audience in the theaters but would be embraced by those with a good color TV. I suspect that is one reason that Roger Moore’s Bond portrayals were widely embraced, they were seen by more people more quickly because of the different TV windows of the day. I am not saying Moore wasn’t deserving of praise, but it always surprised me that there were people that preferred his Bond to Sean Connery. At the end of this movie, is the promise that James Bond would return in “For Your Eyes Only”. I liked it when we got that promise and there was a particular title to look forward too. Now a days, the promise seems more hollow because they don’t really know what the next Bond will consist of and there is uncertainty in the studio. The death of United Artists in 1981, meant that the franchise would be in the hands of the producers but not always backed by a reliable studio. This is why we may not get another Daniel Craig Bond film, and maybe no Bond film for years to come.

There is an interesting personal story about our first screening of this movie. We went with Kathy and Art, a year before they got married and we got married. We saw this at a theater in Westwood, which was the only place it was playing when it first opened (those days were disappearing rapidly). We got there a couple hours before or screening and lined up in front of the theater to wait. While we were waiting, some incident occurred that led me to make a joke about Art being henpecked. Kathy got a bit irritated, but we shrugged it off, it was just an innocuous smart ass comment. While Dolores and I waited in line, holding our place, Art and Kathy walked off to get a drink or some ice cream. They were gone nearly an hour and we got a bit worried. Right before the doors opened to let us in they came back and we all went in and had what I thought was a nice time. It was only later that we found out that Kathy was infuriated about the joke and wanted Art to go with her and take her home. We had ridden with them in Art’s little yellow Opal sedan, out to see the movie. Kathy had wanted to abandon us there, she was so mad. We would have been stranded in Westwood, forty miles from my house and without any way of knowing what had happened, remember, no cell phones. It turns out that most of that hour they were gone was spent by Art trying to convince her not to do that. My best friend Art passed away in 1993. He and Kathy were close friends for the length of their marriage. Kathy moved on and seemed uninterested in staying a part of our lives. It hurt a great deal but for five years after his death we basically only got a Christmas card a couple of times. We reconnected in 2000, and actually had a pretty close friendship again, but in 2001, with her kids in tow, she bailed out on us at another movie.We have not seen or heard from her at all in nine years. We sat watching the first Harry Potter movie, wondering what the hell had happened. The answer was simple, Art wasn’t there to talk her out of it that time.