Saturday, May 19, 2012


Like I have said in other posts, I am not an animal lover. I would never hurt an animal, but I shy away from movies like "Marley And Me", "National Velvet" and even "Lassie". However, I have always loved Art Carney. Carney was a much better actor than he was ever given credit. He was so much more than "Ed Norton". I recently caught Carney's Oscar winning performance in HARRY AND TONTO from 1974, and I have to admit I enjoyed the quirky movie.

A wonderful movie experience that speaks volumes with its quiet, methodical pace. The film is about a retired school teacher in his 70s, although Carney was only in his 50s at the time, who is forced to leave the only home he has ever known when his apartment in New York is demolished to make way for a parking garage. Possibly this will be no big deal as he and Tonto (his faithful cat) decide to go live with his son (Philip Burns). Quickly it is apparent though that the arrangement will not work and Carney decides that maybe it is time to see the nation he has never gotten a chance to see before by heading west (with a little luggage and his cat of course).

Along the way he meets back up with his daughter (Ellen Burstyn), has his grandson (Josh Mostel) follow him from New York, encounters a strange hitchhiker (Melanie Mayron) and even has a short jail stay with Chief Dan George. As the trip continues a fine line is developed between Carney's old ties and his new ones. Carney is one of those people who instantly appears to be everyone's life-long friend. The trip is an opportunity to meet new friends and sometimes, very sadly, say goodbye to old ones.

In the end Carney's journey does not only take him cross-country, it also takes him to new and sometimes forgotten emotional experiences that he desperately needed to have. HARRY AND TONTO is a simple film that did not rely on a big budget or trivial situations to tell its story. This is a human tale that speaks to anyone who is willing and able to listen.

Carney is a revelation. He is basically only known for his silly turn on television's "The Honeymooners", and he was always overshadowed by another genius Jackie Gleason. Carney was never known for his acting ability and in the end, Carney did win Oscar gold over such other names as Al Pacino ("The Godfather, Part II"), Jack Nicholson ("Chinatown"), Dustin Hoffman ("Lenny") and Albert Finney ("Murder on the Orient Express"). 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.

Even though this movie is about a man and his cat, as a non-pet owner, I feel the movie is more about an older man's emotional journey and learning to live his remaining years to the fullest. The movie does not make me want to buy a cat all of a sudden, but it does make me want to see more Art Carney roles than just Ed Norton...



  1. It's possible that the amazing field of nominees in 1974 split the vote and let dark horse Carney slip in and nab the prize (the way Cliff Robertson did in '68 for Charly, or Marisa Tomei in '92 for My Cousin Vinny). Even so, in Carney's case I think the Academy made the right call; it's so seldom that a truly underrated actor gets his due that when it happens you just want to stand up and shout "Hooray!" -- and in 1975, if memory serves, just about everybody did.

    I'd also urge you to check out The Late Show ('77) with Lily Tomlin, and (if you can find it) his 1957 turn on Playhouse 90 as Lord Fancourt Babberly in Charley's Aunt. He also did another live-TV turn in '58 as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, and I'm still searching for that one; I hope it has survived.

  2. Carney is very good in this, but I can't say that he deserved to win the Oscar. The film depressed me.

  3. It was kind of a depressing film but still better than I thought it would be.

    Regarding Carney, I loved his appearance as a drunk Santa Claus in an episode of The Twilight Zone too.