Harry and Tonto

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 Oscar-winning performance. Tonto is his pet cat.

Harry and Tonto
Early theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Mazursky
Written byPaul Mazursky
Josh Greenfeld
Produced byPaul Mazursky
StarringArt Carney
Herbert Berghof
Philip Bruns
Ellen Burstyn
Geraldine Fitzgerald
Larry Hagman
Chief Dan George
Melanie Mayron
Joshua Mostel
Arthur Hunnicutt
Barbara Rhoades
Cliff DeYoung
Avon Long
Tonto (cat)
CinematographyMichael Butler
Edited byRichard Halsey
Music byBill Conti
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 12, 1974 (1974-08-12)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.6 million (rentals)[1]


Harry Coombes (Art Carney) is an elderly widower and retired teacher who is evicted 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 in the countryside, annoying the driver, so Tonto can urinate, and is left there. He buys a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air[2] from a used car salesman, although his driver's license is expired. 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; she 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 take him back to New York) end up going off to a commune in Colorado 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, and spends a night in jail with a friendly Native American (Chief Dan George). He eventually arrives in 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 dies, Harry is living alone, making new friends, enjoying the climate. He sees a young cat who looks exactly like Tonto, and follows it to the beach, where a child is building a sand castle.


Also appearing toward the end of the film as Celia is Sally Marr, mother of Lenny Bruce.


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.[3]

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.[4]


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."[5] Variety called it "pleasant, if commercially unexciting," with an "excellent" performance by Carney.[6] 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."[7] 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."[8] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "eventful, sentimental, enjoyable and firmly optimistic."[9] 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.'"[10] 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."[11]

The film holds a score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews, with an average grade of 7.3 out of 10.[12]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[13] Best Actor Art Carney Won
Best Original Screenplay Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[14] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Art Carney Won
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Language Film Paul Mazursky Won
National Board of Review Awards[15] Top Ten Films 5th Place
PATSY Awards[3] Best Animal Performer in a Motion Picture Tonto the Cat Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[16] Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld Nominated

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-03-08. Retrieved 2018-03-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b "Harry and Tonto - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  4. ^ "Show Business: Art Who?". Time. April 21, 1975. Archived from the original on January 22, 2011. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  5. ^ Sayre, Nora (August 13, 1974). "' Harry and Tonto,' Film Of Independence at 72". The New York Times: 24.
  6. ^ "Harry And Tonto". Variety: 18. July 31, 1974.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Harry and Tonto". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 21, 1974). "Harry and Tonto". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 17.
  9. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 30, 1974). "The Odyssey of 'Harry and Tonto'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  10. ^ Arnold, Gary (September 25, 1974). "Harry and Tonto and ...". The Washington Post: D1.
  11. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (January 1975). "Harry and Tonto". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 42 (492): 10.
  12. ^ "Harry and Tonto". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on May 2, 2019. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  13. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  14. ^ "Golden Globe Winners for the year 1974 held in 1975". Golden Globe Award. United States: Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  15. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures: Awards for 1974". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29.
  16. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.

External linksEdit