Harry and Walter Go to New York
Harry and Walter Go to New York is a 1976 American period comedy film written by John Byrum and Robert Kaufman, directed by Mark Rydell, and starring James Caan, Elliott Gould, Michael Caine, Diane Keaton, Charles Durning and Lesley Ann Warren. In the film, two down-on-their-luck con men try to pull off the biggest heist ever seen in late nineteenth century New York. They are opposed by the greatest bank robber of the day, and by a crusading newspaper editor.
|Harry and Walter Go to New York|
|Directed by||Mark Rydell|
|Produced by||Don Devlin|
|Written by||John Byrum|
|Music by||David Shire|
|Edited by||David Bretherton|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|June 17, 1976|
|Budget||under $7 million|
Harry Dighby (Caan) and Walter Hill (Gould) are struggling vaudevillians who are sent to jail when Dighby is caught robbing audience members. They become roommates to a cultured, wealthy, and charming bank robber named Adam Worth (Caine). Worth plans to rob the Lowell Bank and Trust, both to avenge himself on the bank manager who had arranged his capture and because his ego cannot resist the temptation of robbing a bank reputed to be perfectly secure. Though in jail, he procures detailed diagrams of the bank's security systems.
A reforming newspaperwoman named Lissa Chestnut (Keaton) visits their cell. During her visit Dighby and Hill manage to photograph the bank plans with her camera, then burn the originals. They break out of prison the next day at the same time as Worth is paroled. They meet in New York City; and, by force, Worth manages to extract a copy of the photographed plans from them. Dighby, Hill, and Chestnut then band with Chestnut's team of do-gooders to race against Worth and his professional bank robbing squad to see who can rob the Lowell Bank and Trust first.
The film was the idea of producers Don Devlin and Harry Gittes. They thought the setting of 1890s New York might make an interesting arena for a film. They researched the period and decided to focus on the activities of safe crackers. John Byrum was hired to write a script. They decided to make Harry and Walter vaudevillians after watching a TV special on Scott Joplin.
Mark Rydell signed to direct the film in December 1974. Columbia present David Begelman was hoping the film would be another The Sting and wanted Jack Nicholson to play a lead. Michael Caine, Elliott Gould and James Caan signed to play the leads. Diane Keaton then signed to play the female lead.
"When you're dealing with a big budget film two major actors are almost a requirement," said producer Devlin.
Caan later said he did not want to make the film or The Killer Elite but he did because he was told "they were commercial."
The budget of the film was set to be "under $7 million". Filming took place in October 1975.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that "the movie never quite fulfills its promise. It has inspired moments, it's well photographed, Miss Keaton has some wonderfully fiery dialog as the radical editor, but somehow the direction and tone are just a little too muted. Maybe events should have been played more broadly." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "so implacably cute that you might suspect that it was based on a coloring book based on 'The Sting.' It's big and blank and so faux naif that you want to hit it over the head in the way that used to bring people to their senses in true farce, of which this is no example." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded two stars out of four and wrote that the film "evokes neither its period nor the adventure of safecracking. All that we get is 110 minutes of Gould and Caan mugging in front of the camera, stepping in front of each other, begging for applause." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety stated, "In a season of general mediocrity, this is the prize turkey." He added, "Every single creative person has previously accumulated some meritable work. The odds must be a million to one that, in a given project ensemble, they would all emerge at their worst. But it happened here." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the screenplay "silly and puerile" and added, "Caine, delightfully poised and witty, steals the show—only it really isn't worth having." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post praised the film as "a pleasant surprise" and "[a] personable and amusing variation on the caper comedy outline of 'The Sting.'"
James Caan later dubbed the film "Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet" and sacked his management after making the movie. "The director sacrificed jokes to tell a story no one cared about," he said, marking it "3 out of 10".
Robert Kaufman said he wrote the film after "I got married again. I finished five years of analysis. I stopped hating. Even though it's against my nature I wrote a funny big piece of lemon meringue pie. But nobody wants to go see a funny, optimistic picture."
Lesley Ann Warren says she was unable to get a job for years after the film.
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