Art Carney, who played Ralph Kramden’s buffoon friend in the television show “The Honeymooners,” proved his versatility in taking on the title role in “Harry and Tonto.” The film is adapted from a novel written by Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield which was published in 1974. Art Carney won an Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his work. He is a multi-talented entertainer as seen by his singing and playing the piano in this film. It was obvious that Carney was actually playing the piano. He is truly a show business legend.
Art Carney - Wikimedia Introduction
Harry Combes was 72 years old, a widower and a retired school teacher, who lived in the same apartment building for most of his life. Even though he had been mugged four times in the past year, Harry loved the neighborhood and hoped to remain there for the rest of his life. When the building was condemned, the residents had to scramble to find new living quarters. Harry refused to leave, that is, until the police came and carried him in his favorite chair out onto the street.
Orange Cat - Wikimedia
His Son Burt Takes Him In
Harry’s son Burt (Philip Bruns) and his wife Elaine (Dolly Jonah) offered him a place to stay. Harry had to share a bedroom with one of their sons, Norman (Josh Mostel) who had recently taken a vow of silence and only communicated by writing notes. He also had tried a series of drugs to improve his outlook. When the family argued at the dinner table, Harry decided he had enough of them and decided to visit his other daughter Shirley (Ellen Burstyn) who lived in Chicago and ran a book store.
Of course, his beloved cat, Tonto accompanied him. His son Burt had bought him the airline ticket to Chicago. The airline refused to take Tonto on the plane so Harry was forced to leave and take a bus with Tonto in tow. Harry had to convince the bus driver to stop the bus so that Tonto could relieve himself. The bus driver waited, but when Harry took too long for the task, the bus took off.
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Wikimedia
Harry Buys a Car
Harry stopped at a Used Car lot, his only option, and picked up a nice car for $250. The only problem was that Harry had allowed his driver’s license to expire fifteen year ago, so he had to be extra careful not to get caught. He picked up two teenagers who were looking for a ride. The boy had a driver’s license so Harry asked him to drive. The girl, Ginger (Melanie Mayron), admitted to be a 16-year-old runaway. At a gas station, Harry’s male passenger went with another driver who was going his way. Ginger said they had only met when they picked up the last ride. Harry talked to Ginger about his life, and mentioned that when he was very young, his first love was a girl named Jessie who was a dancer with the famous Isadora Duncan troupe. She did not want to marry Harry, and he had not seen her in 50 years. Ginger talked him into trying to locate her at her home in Indiana which took them somewhat out of their way. The first Jessie Stone they found was a black lady whose husband laughed when Harry said that Jessie had been his girlfriend. When Jessie arrived home, she told Harry another Jessie Stone lived in a nearby nursing home. Jessie knew of her because she often received the other Jessie’s mail by mistake.
Jessie is Located
Harry and Ginger went to the nursing home and sure enough, his Jessie was there. Ginger stayed in the lobby and Harry was taken to a Crafts Room where Jessie was surrounded by several of her companions. It was apparent that Jessie suffered from dementia and she thought that Harry was someone named Alex. But she remembered slightly that she and Harry had danced together, so she danced with him to the admiration of the other patients in the room.
Ellyn Burstyn - Wikimedia
Harry Visits Shirley in Chicago
The next stop for Harry and Ginger, and of course Tonto, was a visit to the book store of his daughter Shirley. It was apparent that Harry and Shirley did not get along very well. Shirley had already had four bad marriages and was somewhat soured on life. Harry’s grandson Norman arrived at the bookstore with the order from his father to bring Harry back home. Norman had broken his vow of silence and seemed like a normal teenager. He and Ginger were attracted to each other, and when Ginger told him that she was heading for a commune in Colorado, Norman decided to go to the commune with Ginger.
Harry and Tonto Go to Las Vegas
Harry offered to give Norman his car and he and Tonto set out for Las Vegas. He hitchhiked a ride with a health food salesman who convinced Harry to buy a blender from him. His next ride was with a very attractive woman named Stephanie who said she was a hooker and actually tried to seduce Norman. He visited some night spots in Las Vegas and at one point tried to relieve himself behind a plant in a hotel lobby. He was arrested for the first time in his life and shared a cell with an old Indian (Chief Dan George) who had been arrested for practicing medicine without a license. When Harry told the Indian about his aching shoulder, the Indian had a remedy for it and cured Harry of his ailment. In return, Harry gave him the blender which he had just purchased, which the Indian appreciated having.
Larry Hagman - Wikimedia
Harry Goes to California
Harry continued on his journey with Tonto and headed for Los Angeles where his son Eddie (Larry Hagman) lived. Eddie had always made good money and lived in a place with all the amenities. However, he began to cry and told his father that his business had failed and he was broke. Harry told him he would have his son Burt send him $1000 from Harry’s account, which he would give to Eddie. Eddie wanted Harry to stay at his place, but Harry decided it would be better if they lived separately. Harry liked California and found a place on the beach which he loved. Unfortunately, Tonto became ill and died. Harry found a job tutoring high school kids three afternoons a week. He had found a place which he loved even more than his old neighborhood in New York City.
Many of us would want to take a trip cross-country just as Harry did. I know it was on my bucket list for a while. It was fun to live that experience vicariously through the escapades of Harry and Tonto. I loved this movie!