Harry and Tonto (1974)

Harry and Tonto (1974)

“I will not leave without my cat.”

A widower (Art Carney) whose New York City apartment is being torn down embarks on a cross-country trip with his cat Tonto, staying briefly with each of his grown kids — Burt (Philip Bruns), Shirley (Ellen Burstyn), and Eddie (Larry Hagman) — while also meeting a variety of new friends and acquaintances.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Art Carney Films
  • Ellen Burstyn Films
  • Elderly People
  • Geraldine Fitzgerald Films
  • Grown Children
  • Paul Mazursky Films
  • Pets
  • Road Trip

Peary doesn’t review this Paul Makursky-directed film in his GFTFF, but he does briefly mention it in Alternate Oscars given Carney’s surprise win that year as Best Actor. He refers to it as “the sweetest road movie to come down the pike,” noting that Carney “gave a fine performance, revealing unsuspected dramatic skills and proving that he could command our attention on the big screen as a leading man just as surely as when he charmed us as Ed Norton on the small screen’s The Honeymooners.” However, “in hindsight [Carney’s Oscar] victory is of little satisfaction for movie fans because with the exception of The Late Show, opposite Lily Tomlin, Carney’s later contributions to movies were negligible” and “he remains a television star.”

I would agree — but meanwhile, this does remain a surprisingly affecting slice-of-life from the mid-1970s, showcasing numerous cities and roadscapes across the nation, and always authentically holding our attention. While Harry raises a ruckus near the beginning by refusing to leave his home:

… we quickly see evidence of his shift towards going with the flow, as he makes his way across various settings and pays attention to the state and wishes of others around him. He understands, for instance, that staying with his oldest son Burt (Bruns) isn’t a long-term solution:

… so he gets going from there sooner rather than later (it’s refreshing to see that their father-son relationship is rooted in authentic care). An early scene at an airport luggage checkpoint provides a quaint reminder of how such things used to go (Harry refuses to let Tonto’s bag be looked at):

… and we see further evidence of Harry’s concern for his cat on his next mode of transportation (which ultimately doesn’t work because Tonto needs to pee and bus schedules can’t wait).

Harry otherwise gets around by purchasing a used car (and picking up a couple of hitchhikers), then hitching rides himself until he’s finally on the west coast. Along the way, he befriends young Melanie Mayron:

… who is on her way to a commune in Boulder and ends up accompanied by Harry’s nephew Norman (Josh Mostel, Zero’s son). Harry very briefly visits his daughter (Burstyn) in Chicago, but their relationship clearly has some tensions given that she refers to him by his name (rather than Dad) and there is no consideration of him staying long.

Geraldine Fitzgerald has a nice little cameo as a former lover with dementia:

… and Oscar-nominated Chief Dan George is fine in a small bit as a fellow prisoner who bonds with Harry over his purchase of a blender, sold to them both by a traveling natural foods salesman (Arthur Hunnicutt).

Be forewarned that the ending may have you choked up a bit.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Art Carney as Harry
  • Good performances by the supporting cast

  • Excellent use of location shooting across the nation

Must See?
Yes, for Carney’s performance and as a Good Show. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


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