Harry and Tonto (1974) New York Old Man And His Cat Go On A Road Trip

Harry and Tonto (1974) poster record cover Bill Conti vinyl soundtrack art carney

Coming of age films are usually for that life transition of teenager becomes a young adult or those pre-teens losing their innocence and growing through puberty hell. Usually they are of a feel good nature that can be looked back with either fond memories or terrifying angst! Films like The Breakfast Club (1985) Stand By Me (1986) The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) are a few in this genre.

Then there’s that other coming of age film that unfortunately is a dreaded time that comes to all of us, there’s no escaping. You know the type, Cocoon (1985) The Straight Story (1999) Nebraska (2013) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989) fit that category. Films that touch you with deep meaning, humor and in more ways than one, depict a genuinely moving viewing experience. The frailty of life. As time ticks on these types of “coming of age” films look back on treasured memories, missed opportunities, loves, loss and a bittersweet sadness. But they can be funny and extremely heartwarming. The story of Harry and his cat Tonto is one of those.

Harry and Tonto (1974) art carney and cat tonto sat on their director chairs

Harry and Tonto plays out like a pilgrimage of sorts. A forced road trip that becomes an epic odyssey across the States of America. Harry lost his wife you see. Now it’s just him and his ginger tom cat Tonto. They are happy. Living in their New York apartment block. With Tonto on a lead, they both venture off onto the streets of Manhattan visiting friends. Whether it’s playing chess, listening to someone rant about the “capitol bastards” or revisiting last night’s episode of Ironside. Harry is a native New Yorker, part of the soul and infrastructure of NYC. Until that is we find the City is tearing down his block of flats. Harry and Tonto are homeless.

Harry and Tonto (1974) art carney and cat tonto Josh Mostel ginger Melanie Mayron

Harry – “I got mugged 4 times this year?”
Lady – “You must live in a good neighborhood?”

Harry (Art Carney) reluctantly but gratefully shacks up with his son and family until he feels his welcome has come to end. A plane trip to see his daughter Shirley (Ellen Burstyn) in Chicago doesn’t go as planned. There’s no way they splitting up Harry and his best friend, Tonto. So the plane gets replaced with a coach and the journey begins. A series of meetings with all manner of people. Each with a different story to tell. A collection of vignettes as Harry and his beloved Tonto move through the different characters that make up the human race.

Harry and Tonto (1974) art carney and cat tonto greyhound bus coach man eating sandwich

Come follow Harry and Tonto adventures as they meet old girlfriends, pick up hitchhikers, chat with prostitutes, car salesmen, mute grandsons, make new friends, chat with a Native American Chief and visit JR Ewing. It’s hard not to like this road movie.

Harry –You know, the strangest thing about being old is… all your friends are dead.
Shirley –Well, all your old friends, maybe. You could make new friends, you know?

Harry and Tonto (1974) art carney feeding the pidgeons nyc

Few Things I Learnt

  • Written and directed by Paul Mazursky. Looking at his work, I see he did bit of everything. Screenwriting, acting, producing, probably his best know film is Down and Out in Beverly Hills? Maybe. But I guess it all depends on your age.
  • Hehe director Paul Mazursky gives himself a tiny part as a rather camp prostitute that gives Harry a wink.
  • I see Art Carney was the kings of US television entertainment. I know him for his Santa in The Twilight Zone episode The Night Of The Meek and the good companion piece to Harry and Tonto, Going In Style. Where he starred alongside George Burns and Lee Strasberg.

Harry and Tonto (1974) art carney and cat tonto sat road trip dashboard car

  • Now check this out. Art Carney took on and won an Oscar in 1975 for Best Actor in a Leading Role against this hardcore bunch of actors. Al Pacino (Godfather Part II), Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny) and Jack Nicholson (Chinatown). Wow way to go Art!
  • Lookout for Harry’s Grandson, Norman, who taking a vow of silence. He’s played by Zero Mostel son Josh. He looks so like his father.

Harry and Tonto (1974) 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

It’s a lovely little melancholy film filled to the brim with sweet touches of drama and humour. Even in the sad moments it feels warm hearted and good natured. I knew I was going to enjoy this right from the opening scenes focusing on the old folk of NYC.

Sure lots have seen this one. Do you have fond memories of Harry and Tonto?

And to play us out here is composer Bill Conti’s whimsical and easy listening ode to Harry and Tonto.

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9 thoughts on “Harry and Tonto (1974) New York Old Man And His Cat Go On A Road Trip

  1. Before ‘Harry and Tonto’, Art was best known as Jackie Gleason’s sidekick on TV’s ‘The Honeymooners’. Waht a revelation to learn he could act with the best of ’em! (The cat ain’t bad, either!)

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  2. Because I’m a cat person, I’ve wanted to see this one for decades, but for whatever reason never have! But now that I know it’s worth a watch, I need to get off the horse I rode in on and get to watching it. I know for a fact the cat I owned for 17 years would NEVER have made such a journey without freaking out or hiding at every opportunity, so I’m curious to see a cat who actually CAN handle it. And I don’t remember Carney getting an Oscar for his work…not bad against such powerhouse opponents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha yeah I can imagine most cats just freaking out. Those bad boys go into pure freeform spasmodic movements tooled up with an arsenal of razor sharp ripping daggers. If they don’t wanna do something they don’t. 17 years that’s a grand age for your feline friend. …. I have a sneaky feeling that the cat was bribed with fishy treats for many of the parts. …. I’m sure you will really enjoy it Todd. It’s a chilled back two hours and never boring as there’s a new character on the screen every 5 minutes.

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  3. Fantastic, Mikey! I haven’t seen this film but I love Art Carney. I loved him in The Honeymooners! That warm up that he did, before he did anything…Before he drank his coffee he would mime drinking his coffee, that weird little thing…It was so brilliant. I almost revere him because he is at heart a stage actor of the finest order, like Laurence Olivier was. I’m ashamed I haven’t seen this film. I must. Wonderful review.

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  4. Good write-up! You mention Jack Nicholson in your review and when I saw Harry and Tonto it kind of reminded me of Nicholson’s film About Schmidt. About an old guy who goes on a trip and is a fish out of water. I think I heard on the dvd for Sideways that Alexander Payne liked the sun drenched images in 70s movies such as this one and he would use that type of cinematography in his own films.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes About Schmidt fits in nicely with the “coming of old age” genre. Great film that too.
      Nice bit of titbit info on Alexander Payne getting influenced by these 70’s films. I can see that. Sideways was so good when it came out. In much need for a rewatch as it’s been long enough to not remember much. Nice one Chris. Thanks

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  5. Great post 🙂 I do not know If it is just me, but the orange cat reminds me (for some odd reason) of the one in Joel and Ethan Coen’s music drama Inside Llewyn Davis? 🙂 I do not know If you ever saw that, but it is a great one 🙂 It came out earlier in the decade 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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