Gene Wilder’s a Polish rabbi who needs to cross an ocean & a continent to reach his new position in San Francisco; Harrison Ford’s the cowboy bandit who reluctantly helps get him there after they cross paths: let the misadventures & mismatched friendship begin. A nice set-up, and a nice film. And if Ford’s still a bit raw, Wilder brings a sort of blissed-out contentment to his stranger-in-a-strange-land shtick that’s both touching & authentic. If only the script were less of a hit-and-miss affair; or if director Robert Aldrich had more of a light touch to go along with the action staging; or if lenser Robert Hauser’s soundstage lighting wasn’t as bright & unattractive as a Mel Brooks comedy (good out on location though); or if the Native American segment weren’t cringe-inducing. Ah well, sometimes you takes what you gets. And what does work here, mostly Wilder holding to his faith and taking just as much delight in misfortune as in good luck, is pretty special.
DOUBLE-BILL: Going a little left of field, there’s the French slapstick of THE MAD ADVENTURES OF ‘RABBI’ JACOB/’73. Too bad that film’s writer/director (Gérard Oury) wasn’t in charge here.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: There’s a lovely gag in here, a nice bit of real Americana, when Wilder loses all to a trio of con-men and is rescued by a community of what he thinks are fellow Jews. Turns out, the lookalike tribe is Amish and speak a German his Polish-inflected Yiddish can’t quite handle. Still, they manage to figure it out.