Harry and Tonto
|Harry and Tonto|
Early theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Mazursky|
|Produced by||Paul Mazursky|
|Written by||Paul Mazursky|
Chief Dan George
|Music by||Bill Conti|
|Edited by||Richard Halsey|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$4.6 million (rentals)|
Harry and Tonto is a 1974 road movie written by Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld and directed by Mazursky. It features Art Carney as Harry in an Academy Award-winning performance. Tonto is his pet cat.
Harry Coombes (Art Carney) is an elderly widower and retired teacher who is forced from his Upper West Side apartment in New York City because his building is going to be razed to build a parking lot. He initially stays with his eldest son Burt's family in the suburbs, but eventually chooses to travel cross country with his pet cat Tonto.
Initially planning to fly to Chicago, Harry has a problem with Airport Security checking his cat carrier. He instead boards a long-distance bus. He gets off so Tonto can urinate, then buys a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air from a used car salesman. During his episodic journey, he befriends a Bible-quoting hitchhiker (Michael Butler) and underage runaway Ginger (Melanie Mayron), with whom he visits an old sweetheart (Geraldine Fitzgerald) in a retirement home, who only half-remembers him. He visits his daughter (Ellen Burstyn), a bookstore owner in Chicago, with whom he shares a prickly but mutually admiring relationship. Ginger and Harry's shy grandson (who was supposed to bring him back to New York) end up going off to the commune together in Harry's car, with his blessing, so he and Tonto are on their own again.
Continuing west, Harry accepts a ride with a health-food salesman (Arthur Hunnicutt), makes the acquaintance of an attractive hooker (Barbara Rhoades) on his way to Las Vegas, then spends a night in jail with a friendly Native American (Chief Dan George). He eventually arrives Los Angeles, where he stays with his youngest son (Larry Hagman), a financially strapped real-estate salesman, before finding a place of his own with Tonto.
After Tonto's death, Harry is living alone, making new friends, enjoying the climate. As the film ends, he sees a young cat who looks exactly like Tonto, and follows him to the beach, where a child is building a sand castle.
- Art Carney as Harry Coombes
- Tonto as Tonto
- Herbert Berghof as Jacob Rivetowski
- Ellen Burstyn as Shirley Mallard
- Geraldine Fitzgerald as Jessie Stone
- Larry Hagman as Eddie Coombes
- Chief Dan George as Sam Two Feathers
- Melanie Mayron as Ginger
- Joshua Mostel as Norman Coombes
- Arthur Hunnicutt as Wade Carlton
- Barbara Rhoades as Stephanie, Hooker
- Cliff DeYoung as Burt Coombes Jr.
- Phil Bruns as Burt Coombes
- Dolly Jonah as Elaine Coombes
- Avon Long as Leroy
- Louis Guss as Dominic Santosi
- Cliff Norton as Nick Lewis, Used Car Dealer
- Rashel Novikoff as Mrs. Rothman
- Michael Butler as Hitchhiker
- René Enríquez as Jesús, Deli Manager
- Michael McCleery as Mugger
Mazursky had James Cagney in mind for the role of Harry, but the actor turned the part down, as did Laurence Olivier and Cary Grant. Mazursky then saw Art Carney in a play and approached him. Carney initially declined as well, in part because he was about fifteen years younger than Harry, but he eventually agreed.
Cast as an elderly man, Carney, born in 1918, was actually only 13 years older than the actors who played his sons, Larry Hagman and Phil Bruns, and 14 years older than Ellen Burstyn, who played his daughter. Thanks to the makeup of Emmy winning artist Bob O'Bradovich, Carney was effectively transformed into the elderly Harry.
At the time, Carney noted that prior to his work in Harry and Tonto, he "never liked cats" but said he wound up getting along well with the cat in the film.
Nora Sayre of The New York Times wrote that the film had been "directed at far too slow a pace, which means that the comic possibilities and the social comment have been diminished. The muted style robs the picture of the point it's meant to make: that imaginative energy transcends the generations." Variety called it "pleasant, if commercially unexciting," with an "excellent" performance by Carney. Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars out of 4, praising Carney for a performance that was "totally original, all his own, and worthy of the Academy Award it received." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling it "an extremely funny movie without a single gag or a Bob Hope punch line. Rather, it's crammed full of believable people who say the kind of screwball things that make your head spin and smile." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "eventful, sentimental, enjoyable and firmly optimistic." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "an unusually mellow and affectionate film comedy, but it might be wise to recommend it with a slight note of caution. It's what's known as a 'good little picture.'" In The Monthly Film Bulletin, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that the film "presumes to say something smart and 'sophisticated' about everything from urban renewal to Carlos Castaneda's medicinal lore, along with a continuous lesson about growing old gracefully that is dished out at every opportunity; yet it winds up telling us virtually nothing at all."
Awards and nominations
Carney beat Albert Finney, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino, for their performances in Murder on the Orient Express, Lenny, Chinatown and The Godfather Part II respectively, for the 1974 Academy Award for Best Actor. The film was nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.
Carney also won the Golden Globe for Best Actor Musical/Comedy, while Greenfeld and Mazursky were nominated for Best Picture Musical/Comedy. The screenplay was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award as Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen. The film was also selected as one of the ten best of 1974 by the National Board of Review.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p174.
- "Harry and Tonto - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
- "Show Business: Art Who?". Time. April 21, 1975. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
- Sayre, Nora (August 13, 1974). "' Harry and Tonto,' Film Of Independence at 72". The New York Times: 24.
- "Harry And Tonto". Variety: 18. July 31, 1974.
- Ebert, Roger. "Harry and Tonto". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
- Siskel, Gene (October 21, 1974). "Harry and Tonto". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 17.
- Champlin, Charles (August 30, 1974). "The Odyssey of 'Harry and Tonto'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (September 25, 1974). "Harry and Tonto and ...". The Washington Post: D1.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (January 1975). "Harry and Tonto". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 42 (492): 10.
- "Harry and Tonto". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 23, 2018.