Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Harry and Tonto" with Art Carney (1974)

In this 1974 film, Art Carney; universally known as Ed Norton on the TV sitcom “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason; finally got to show off his dramatic skills, as well as win the 1974 Oscar for Best Actor. And with a script by Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield, this is one story that is timeless in its dealing with the subject of aging.

When Harry, a retired Professor who is widowed and lives alone, learns that he must vacate his Manhattan apartment; after decades of living there with his wife; he decides to stay. With only his cat Tonto for company, he remains in the building until forcibly evicted by the Police and his landlord. His apartment building is being torn down to make way for a parking garage.
With nowhere to go, he lives with his son Bert, played by Philip Burns, and his family for a bit, before deciding to head out for Chicago, by bus, where he has a daughter, Shirley, played by Ellen Burstyn, who is divorced and owns a bookstore.
Traveling by bus proves to be a non-starter, as Tonto will not use the rest room as a litter box, which forces Harry to buy a used car in order to continue their journey. Along the way he meets, and befriends Ginger, a 15 year old hitchhiker, played by Melanie Mayron. She has no plans, or destination, and becomes a companion for Harry and Tonto. Together, they arrive in Chicago to visit Shirley.
From Shirley’s they decide to take a side trip and see one of Harry’s old flames from 50 years ago, a woman named Jesse Stone, played with great tenderness by Geraldine Fitzgerald. When they arrive at her old home they discover that she is now in a nursing home, which they  decide to visit. As the journey progresses, they are joined by Harry’s grandson, Norman, played by Josh Mostel, and they continue on their quest to find Harry’s “place” in an ever changing world. 
Ultimately, he leaves Josh and Ginger to find their own lives, while he decides to visit his playboy son, Eddie, played by Larry Hagman, who lives in Los Angeles. Along the way Harry and Tonto  visit Las Vegas, where they encounter an old Indian Chief, played by Chief Dan George, as well as spend a night in jail.
A beautifully paced and nuanced film, with much to say about our changing roles in life as we age, gave Art Carney the chance to prove that he could hold his own against the other Oscar nominees that year, which included Al Pacino in “The Godfather”, Dustin Hoffman in “Lenny”, and even Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown.” If you have never seen this film before; or, have not seen it for some time; you really owe it to yourself to watch this very poignant tale which still holds true, almost 40 years after its release.  

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