When I first saw The Frisco Kid in the theater in 1979, I had never seen an Orthodox Jew before. I was 8, we were Reform. My rabbi wore Nikes and Izod shirts.
But I cried when I saw Gene Wilder — playing a Polish rabbi dispatched to San Francisco during the Gold Rush of 1849 and wandering down the road in his long johns after some bandits threw all of possessions out of a covered wagon — fall to his knees when he came upon his lost Torah lying in the dirt road.
What can I say, I was a sensitive child. The tears soon turned to laughter when he encountered a group of Amish farmers and started yakking in Yiddish (here in this clip at 1:55):
Somehow, this cute buddy film (a young and handsome Harrison Ford plays Reb Avram’s gonif sidekick) awoke the idea that being Jewish was important and valuable. I didn’t even know what tefillin was called, but I actually remember making a little box and tying it to my head the next day. Weirdest kid in the neighborhood, really.
Anyway, the Yentas watched this jewel last week, and my kids know a lot more about Judaism than I did at their age. We noticed that the mezuzzah was pointed the wrong way on the front door. And when the rabbi’s chosen wife appeared in a very lowcut dress, Yenta Boy snorted and said, “No Jewish father would let his daughter wear THAT.”
A good one for Family Movie Night, for sure.