Gene Wilder in The Frisco Kid and other Films that Got Away


Gene Wilder was unique in his temperament and physical appearance. By that I mean he was uniquely suited for the role of his life in Young Frankenstein and equally up to the task for his classic performances in The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

Screening this month on Turner Classic are some Gene Wilder gems. Some of these are on my short list of Films that Got Away. One is the 1970’s film, Start the Revolution without me. Wilder began to perfect his controlled manic style of comedy in this piece with Donald Sutherland. It’s a spoof on the classic tale of The Corsican Brothers, with the two brothers played by Wilder & Sutherland- one set of royal birth and the other of peasant extraction, and the ensuing comedy in the dual roles is comic fodder for both Wilder and Sutherland.

The Frisco Kid was a one-off type of comedy where you might “get it” or perhaps not. But there were plenty of gems for the taking in this Western, where Wilder plays a Rabbi traveling West with his cowboy companion, played by Harrison Ford. A couple of moments are priceless: Wilder as the Jewish Rabbi is trying to eat breakfast with monks who have taken a vow of silence. This proves to be nearly impossible for the amiable Jewish persona that was Wilder. And when the pair find themselves in an Indian camp, Wilder is at his comic best when he is describing how the Jewish people celebrate in similar fashion to the Indians. “Watch that Lady! I think that lady is a Jewish Indian!“… Priceless

Speaking of cult classics, Turner Classic Movies is also showing the ever-popular Strange Brew this week. Oddly enough, this 1983 film was loosely (very loosely) based on the story of Hamlet-complete with ghosts and the Elsinore tableau thrown in for good measure. The two Second City alumni, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters fame, are perfectly cast as two hapless Laurel & Hardy-esque screwballs who are trying to make the connections and discover the secrets of the mysterious brewery. A Canadian classic, this is not for everyone, but some of the funniest bits occur when the two are seemingly just playing it loose with the off-the-cuff remarks that have been a staple for years in our household.

Start the Revolution without me, Strange Brew, and The Frisco Kid are all playing this week on Turner Classic Movies. Check your listings for the times, as most are middle of the night showings.

On the subject of Casablanca

Six Degrees of Film

Editor’s Note: Casablanca is playing this Sunday, September 18th at TampaTheatre as part of the Summer Film Series. The film begins at 3:00 pm.


Casablanca is one of the best B movies ever made. The local paper here in Tampa had a dispute over whether it should be designated as a “Chick Flick” or simply a classic film. In my role as a film critic, I’m moving away from the term “Chick Flick” in describing movies. There are Fem flicks-defined as films for women, by women and about women…I would not put Casablanca in this genre.

Casablanca is much more than just a chick flick. It was a film written with quite a convoluted history of authorship, as you can tell in the following excerpt. No one really knew how it was going to turn out even when they were shooting it!

The following is an excerpt…

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6 Degrees Fall Film Newsletter

6 Degrees of Film

The familiar refrain when recalling the Summer Movie Season is to begin with either the phrase: What happened? or Why are Movies so Bad? The Hollywood moguls, tucked away in their nouveau chic towers for some reason seem out of touch with the rest of America. They aren’t getting the message that we, the people, don’t like what they’re selling.

Most of the movies are terrible. Basically, they’re just plain bad. So…it should be back to the drawing board. They should go back to basics and find out what has worked, by turning out meaningful stories and using a mix of reliable actors in some romantic comedies, some heavy hitters in big productions, with a smattering of smaller budget films that utilize great writers and up and coming actors and directors to give the people what they want.

But that is too simple. We are now treated to explosively expensive high-budget films that bomb (Ben-Hur), ever endless streams of knock-offs re-hashing basically the same super-hero/action plot over and over again, and the ever-present “Cinematic Universe” of Comic book characters. There are some independent and foreign films and even more gifted actors and directors out there still plugging away. But that’s not enough to stem the tide of flotsam that hits the theatres on a weekly basis. It’s even harder for someone who reviews films on a regular basis to be suddenly confronted with the reality-for the first time-that it’s not fun to go to the movies anymore…

They need to make it fun again. That’s the reality. Before they begin to reinvent the wheel, they need to talk to the most creative minds and come up with ways to make it fun to go see a movie again.

Some of the films coming this Fall look promising. That is always the case, as we roll into a new season. We start off with a boatload full of potential “contenders” and end up with…not so much. Star Trek fans will note that the new documentary entitled, “For the Love of Spock” opens this weekend. That could be a fun one…


One of the most gifted actors working today, Tom Hardy, is due out with a strange film this September: “London Road”, in which he sings a bit in this mystery thriller based on a real-life serial murder. Ron Howard has done a documentary about the Beatles: “Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years”. The Bridget Jones series is back with Renee Zelwegger reprising the starring role and Colin Firth returning as Mr. Darcy.


There’s a live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast”  due out in September. Also, Denzel Washington stars in the remake of the classic western, “The Magnificent Seven”. Also out is the comedy, “Masterminds”, starring Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig, which had been held up by the film company’s financial difficulties.


The controversial film, “The Birth of a Nation” is due in October. The film is controversial because the star, Nate Parker, has been plagued by past allegations of rape and has been battling the media and public perception for several months. Other films out in October include the trademark “mockumentary” Mascots from veteran comic Christopher Guest. And the continuation of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code series features Tom Hanks returning as Robert Langdon in “Inferno”, with Ron Howard directing (again).


Another comic book entry, this time with superior acting chops, is provided by Benedict (Sherlock) Cumberbatch as  “Doctor Strange”. This film is due out in November. Brad Pitt also returns in November with a romantic thriller called “Allied”, which also stars Marion Cotillard. And after a notably long absence from the screen, Warren Beatty fittingly plays the eccentric recluse Howard Hughes in “Rules Don’t Apply”.


For Christmas of 2016, Michael Keaton stars in “The Founder”, the story of Ray Kroc, who started the McDonald’s restaurant chain. “Rogue One: A Star Wars” story is due to be released the week before Christmas, which will suck all the oxygen out of the room. And the Sci Fi film “Passengers”, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, is also due to drop at Christmas time.


Ladies and Gentleman, these are just a few of the upcoming choices in the Fall Film Season. Chances are there are some hits and misses along the way, but we haven’t been surprised by a “sleeper” hit in quite a while. Hopefully there are a few winners in this crop (I accidentally wrote “Crap”….Freudian slip?)

Capsule Review: Ben-Hur-Rated JPB for Just Plain Boring

Ben Hur 2016

This film is Rated JPB = Just Plain Boring. How could it be this boring, I wondered? The plot of Ben Hur was well-known, and the actors were for the most part, unknowns-it turns out for good reason. The one known actor, Morgan Freeman, did the walk-through of his life to pick up a paycheck. He put more emotion into the commercials I’ve seen him in than what was on display in this film.

The story line leads Judah Ben-Hur to a slave galley and then back to his hometown of Jerusalem, where he miraculously feels compelled to produce this special sword which was given to him by his nemesis, Messala, who is also his adopted brother. The problem with this is that Judah has been a slave for the past five years, with no sign of that sword tucked away. One cannot help but wonder if these small details escaped the notice of the writers and producers of this production?

The problem, I would put forth, is mostly with the shoddy writing. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only is the screenplay badly written, but the film is also sloppily edited and poorly acted to boot. Even the CGI (Computer Graphic Imaging) and Special Effects during the Climactic Chariot Race come across as looking stilted and phony.

In short, give this updated version of Ben-Hur a miss and rent the fifties classic with Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd. That one may be corny but it’s imminently more watchable than this boring thing.

The Wizard of Oz showing Sunday at 3:00 pm at Tampa Theatre

Here’s the Wizard of Oz post from last summer about one of my favorite films-The Wizard of Oz. If you’ve never seen it on the big screen, tomorrow at Tampa Theatre you’ll get your chance!

Six Degrees of Film

**The Wizard of Oz will be shown this weekend, Sunday June 4th, at Tampa Theatre. This is a reprint of an earlier post… Here’s the link to another Wizard ofOz post-this one is definitely on my top 10 list of Favorite Films of all time!

Wiz of oz 1

So much has been written about this very special film. And when someone recently asked me, a person that has screened hundreds if not thousands of movies through the years, what my favorite film is, The Wizard of Oz just popped out. It came out in a year, 1939, when so many spectacular films were released, that it could have simply disappeared if it had not been so dynamic and magical.

But the cast and crew were perfectly suited to the material. And the fantasy seemed to work for a world on the verge of a horribly cruel war. The…

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