Harry and Tonto
Art Carney pulled off an incredible feat by winning the Oscar for Best Actor. He had to have been the darkest of dark horses that year. Just look at his competition: Dustin Hoffman in Lenny, Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part II, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, and Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express. Fantastic, fantastic performances, all of them. And I am happy for you, Art, really I am, but I have to say that Jack was the best that incredible year. But hell, Jack’s got three of them, and this one must have meant so much to Carney, who’s complaining? You know what I can complain about, though? Look at that list of movies and tell me how long it’s been since there have been that many absolutely unforgettable, classic masterpieces in one year? Add in The Conversation, and that’s just the films that were nominated for the Oscar. These days we’re lucky to get one, maybe two. Some years we don’t get any at all. The 1970s truly were the last golden age of great movies.
This is a damn good one, too. Harry Coombes is a crotchety old fart and a sometime pain in the ass, but you learn to love him pretty quickly. He’s evicted from his apartment in New York and goes to live with his son and the son’s family in Jersey or some damn place. It’s not working out. His son really wants to do good by Harry, but he’s just not fitting in. He decides to visit his daughter (Ellen Burstyn) in Chicago. But he can’t take his beloved cat on the plane, and the bus doesn’t work out, so pretty soon he’s pootling along in Ohio or some damn place in a blue Chevy he bought for $250. He meets a lot of interesting people, gives the car to a hitchhiking couple he meets, and soon has his own thumb out. You keep expected big trouble, but it never happens. You keep expecting him to get sick and/or die, and it never happens. He’s having the time of his life. He gets laid by a hooker on her way to Vegas, using up the last of his cash money. He gets drunk and thrown in jail, meets an Indian (good old Chief Dan George!) who heals his bursitis. He finds his other son (Larry Hagman) in Hollywood, a man with big dreams who has been a failure all his life, can’t even pay the rent. He winds up in Santa Monica … and that’s the end. Tonto dies, but you’re left with the impression that Harry still has a lot of living to do out there on the beach. A thoroughly enjoyable movie.