Harry and Tonto (1974)

R | 115-117 mins | Comedy-drama | 1974

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HISTORY

The onscreen credit of “Tonto’s” owners reads: “Animal trainers Lou and Betty Schumacher." Arthur Hunnicutt’s name was misspelled as "Hunnicut" in the onscreen credits. Throughout the film are references to the play, King Lear , by William Shakespeare, which also deals with an elderly man and his children. Various brief themes from well-known songs are incorporated into the soundtrack, among them “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” by Fred Fisher, as “Harry Coombs” and “Ginger” arrive in Chicago; “Give My Regards to Broadway,” by George M. Cohan, played during a New York a sequence; and “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, to announce Harry’s off-camera interlude with the prostitute.
       The director of photography of the film, Michael Butler, also played the part of the Bible-spouting hitchhiker. Harry and Tonto marked the motion picture debut of Melanie Mayron as Ginger, an actor and director best known for her role in the television series, thirtysomething . Several actors in the film had affiliations with New York theater. Joshua Mostel, who portrayed “Norman Coombs,” was the son of actor-comedian Zero Mostel. Sally Marr, who appeared at the end of the film as “Celia,” was the mother of comedian Lenny Bruce. The role of “Jacob Rivetowski” was played by Herbert Burghof, a noted New York acting teacher in New York. Rashel Novikoff (who played Harry’s New York landlady “Mrs. Rothman”) was a veteran of New York’s Yiddish theater and Dolly Johnah (“Elaine Coombs”) was a former acting student in classes director Paul Mazursky taught.
       As noted in HR production charts and news items, portions of the film were shot in New ... More Less

The onscreen credit of “Tonto’s” owners reads: “Animal trainers Lou and Betty Schumacher." Arthur Hunnicutt’s name was misspelled as "Hunnicut" in the onscreen credits. Throughout the film are references to the play, King Lear , by William Shakespeare, which also deals with an elderly man and his children. Various brief themes from well-known songs are incorporated into the soundtrack, among them “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” by Fred Fisher, as “Harry Coombs” and “Ginger” arrive in Chicago; “Give My Regards to Broadway,” by George M. Cohan, played during a New York a sequence; and “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, to announce Harry’s off-camera interlude with the prostitute.
       The director of photography of the film, Michael Butler, also played the part of the Bible-spouting hitchhiker. Harry and Tonto marked the motion picture debut of Melanie Mayron as Ginger, an actor and director best known for her role in the television series, thirtysomething . Several actors in the film had affiliations with New York theater. Joshua Mostel, who portrayed “Norman Coombs,” was the son of actor-comedian Zero Mostel. Sally Marr, who appeared at the end of the film as “Celia,” was the mother of comedian Lenny Bruce. The role of “Jacob Rivetowski” was played by Herbert Burghof, a noted New York acting teacher in New York. Rashel Novikoff (who played Harry’s New York landlady “Mrs. Rothman”) was a veteran of New York’s Yiddish theater and Dolly Johnah (“Elaine Coombs”) was a former acting student in classes director Paul Mazursky taught.
       As noted in HR production charts and news items, portions of the film were shot in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon. Specific locations include Venice Beach and Palisades Park, near the Santa Monica Pier, and Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The German American home for the aged was a real institution and some of its residents played extras in the sequence depicting Harry and “Jessie Stone.” “Shirley Mallard’s” bookstore was a real bookshop in Chicago, the city which also provided a neighborhood that was used to depict the town in Indiana. Mazursky in his commentary on the DVD release of the film also mentioned that he shot at an airport in Newark, NJ, and that the locations of the cemetery, gas station and old age home were in the outskirts of Chicago. Harry and Tonto was produced at the cost of $980,000, according to Mazursky’s DVD commentary, and was shot mostly in sequence.
       The DVD commentary also provided the following information: Mazursky first met co-writer Josh Greenfeld at Brooklyn College, and they renewed their friendship when Greenfeld was assigned to write an article about Mazursky for Look magazine. It took two years to find a studio for the film, as most companies shied away from stories about old age. However, Alan Ladd, Jr., who had been an agent and later an executive at Twentieth Century-Fox, offered to pick up the project if Mazursky could make the film for less than a million dollars. Mazursky had James Cagney in mind for the role of Harry, but the actor declined, citing his retirement.
       Mazursky asked Laurence Olivier, and also Cary Grant, who was in retirement. Mazursky still wanted someone with Cagney's qualities and, in case the film was unsuccessful theatrically, the studio wanted someone who had television appeal, so that they could recoup losses by selling the film to a network. While in Maine attending a play by Neil Simon, Mazursky saw Art Carney, who at first declined the role for various reasons, one being that he was then in his late fifties and about fifteen years too young for Harry, but who eventually agreed. For the role of “Burt Coombs,” Mazursky asked Vic Morrow, who acted with him in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle (See Entry), but Morrow felt the part, which enters the story late in the film, was too small.
       According to the Var review and a 8 Jun 1974 LAT news item, Mazursky had expected that Harry and Tonto would receive a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association, but it received an R rating, because of one four-letter word in the script. Carney won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy. Mazursky and Greenfeld were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Writers Guild Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen. A 12 Mar 1977 LAT news items reported that the film was given special recognition by the Veteran's Administration Hospital's Clinical and Research Center on Aging, which screened it for staff members to "increase knowledge of the specific psycho-social problems of the elderly." Tonto, the cat, won a Patsy Award for best animal performer in a feature picture. According to studio notes, Tonto, who was born in Los Angeles, had two cats as standbys, but he was so good they were rarely used in the film. A 17 Jun 1974 Box news item reported that a novel based on the film was being published. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Jun 1974.
---
Box Office
12 Aug 1974
p. 4712.
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1973
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1973
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1974
p. 3, 7.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
30 Aug 1974
Section B, p. 2.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
15 Sep 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
8 Jun 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Aug 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Jun 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Mar 1977.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Sep 1974
p. 26.
New York Times
13 Aug 1974
p. 24.
Newsweek
2 Sep 1974
pp. 60-61.
Time
9 Sep 1974
p. 4.
Variety
31 Jul 1974
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Film by Paul Mazursky
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir, New York
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam tech
Key grip
Dolly grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward
MUSIC
SOUND
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom op
Sd, New York
Sd, Los Angeles
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Addl casting
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Animal trainer
Animal trainer
Prod secy
Transportation capt
Loc auditor
SOURCES
SONGS
"Long Train Runnin'," music and lyrics by Charles Thomas Johnson.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 12 August 1974
Los Angeles opening: 30 August 1974
Production Date:
19 October--mid December 1973
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
20 October 1974
Copyright Number:
LP44036
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
115-117
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23891
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Septuagenarian Harry Coombs lives with his orange tabby cat, Tonto, in a deteriorating neighborhood in New York City’s upper west side, where Harry often walks and does errands with Tonto happily leashed beside him. Although he has been mugged four times in the last year, Harry, a retired teacher, has many friends and is satisfied living with his memories in the comfortable apartment he and his deceased wife Annie once shared. When plans are made to tear down his building, Harry resists eviction and refuses to leave. He politely declines offers to share a home with his good friend Jacob Rivetowski, a Polish immigrant, and also from his landlady, Mrs. Rothman, who will be moving to Florida. When the wrecking crew arrives, policemen resort to carrying Harry from the apartment in his armchair, as he cries out to the crowd, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks,” a passage from William Shakespeare’s King Lear . His oldest offspring, middle-aged Burt, comes for Harry and Tonto, and extends a sincere invitation for them to live with his family in the suburbs. However, Harry is uncomfortable in the little house because of his passively resentful daughter-in-law Elaine and his two bickering grandsons. Harry shares a room with one grandson, Norman, who has taken a vow of silence in an immature attempt at trendy spirituality that annoys his brother, Burt, Jr. During the middle of the night, when Harry gets up to use the bathroom, Burt mistakes him for a robber and confronts him with a gun. Despite these problems, the family sincerely wants the new living arrangement to work and is hospitable when ... +


Septuagenarian Harry Coombs lives with his orange tabby cat, Tonto, in a deteriorating neighborhood in New York City’s upper west side, where Harry often walks and does errands with Tonto happily leashed beside him. Although he has been mugged four times in the last year, Harry, a retired teacher, has many friends and is satisfied living with his memories in the comfortable apartment he and his deceased wife Annie once shared. When plans are made to tear down his building, Harry resists eviction and refuses to leave. He politely declines offers to share a home with his good friend Jacob Rivetowski, a Polish immigrant, and also from his landlady, Mrs. Rothman, who will be moving to Florida. When the wrecking crew arrives, policemen resort to carrying Harry from the apartment in his armchair, as he cries out to the crowd, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks,” a passage from William Shakespeare’s King Lear . His oldest offspring, middle-aged Burt, comes for Harry and Tonto, and extends a sincere invitation for them to live with his family in the suburbs. However, Harry is uncomfortable in the little house because of his passively resentful daughter-in-law Elaine and his two bickering grandsons. Harry shares a room with one grandson, Norman, who has taken a vow of silence in an immature attempt at trendy spirituality that annoys his brother, Burt, Jr. During the middle of the night, when Harry gets up to use the bathroom, Burt mistakes him for a robber and confronts him with a gun. Despite these problems, the family sincerely wants the new living arrangement to work and is hospitable when Harry’s friend Leroy comes for dinner. Harry, still wanting independence, looks at an ill-kept residence for rent in his old neighborhood, but is rudely turned away when he mentions his cat. After Jacob dies, Harry identifies him at the morgue, then announces that he will fly to Chicago to see his divorced daughter, Shirley Mallard. While going through the security gate at the airport, Harry is asked to relinquish Tonto’s carrier, then after obstinately refusing and making a scene, Harry takes Tonto in a taxi to the bus station. On a bus going west, Harry introduces himself to his seatmate Dominic, whom he gently persuades to share a bite of his Hero sandwich with Tonto. Later, when Tonto refuses to use the bus toilet, Harry convinces the reluctant bus driver to stop so Tonto can take care of matters in the grass. However, Tonto runs off into a cemetery and, because the driver is anxious about keeping his schedule, Harry, who is unwilling to abandon Tonto, tells the driver to continue without them. After Harry and Tonto are reunited, Harry walks to a used car lot and buys an old car, failing to notice until later that night that his drivers license expired in 1958. The next day, driving on, Harry tells Tonto that before he married he wanted to travel west, then talks lovingly of Annie and the fun they had, before recalling how she suffered from illness before she died. Later, Harry offers a ride to a hitchhiking couple, and after ascertaining that the young man has a valid license, has him drive. The young man quotes the Bible as they drive then at a gas station farther down the road, hitches a ride going south. It is then that Harry realizes that the couple were not traveling together and that the young woman, Ginger, is a runaway, claiming to be sixteen, and heading for a commune in Boulder, Colorado. As Harry and Ginger continue the drive west, he tells her stories, sings old songs and does impressions of old movie stars. In the hotel room they share that evening, Ginger embarrasses Harry when she walks out of the bathroom, half dressed. He tells her she reminds him of the first woman he slept with, a dancer named Jessie, who refused his offer of marriage in order to dance with Isadora Duncan in Paris. When he mentions that Jessie married a druggist named Stone and later lived in Peru, Indiana, Ginger urges him to look her up. They find a listing for Jessie Stone in a telephone directory and proceed to the house in Peru, but discover that a black family lives there. The woman of the house, also named Jessie Stone, directs them to an old age home where Harry’s old flame has been living. There, Harry finds Jessie still beautiful, but suffering memory loss. Although she calls him Alex, Harry dances with Jessie one last time in the recreation room. Later, Harry and Ginger enter Chicago and arrive at the bookstore Shirley runs. There, Norman is waiting, sent by an anxious Burt to fetch Harry back to New York. Having abandoned his vow of silence, Norman soon pairs off with Ginger. Harry and Shirley resume old habits of arguing, but they openly admit affection for each other. Although she suggests that Harry remain and teach at local free schools, he decides that he is not comfortable in Chicago and soon, he and Ginger are driving west, accompanied by Norman, who has decided go with Ginger to the commune. In Sedona, Arizona, Harry gives the young people his car, and as they drive north to Boulder, he and Tonto hitchhike toward Los Angeles, where his younger son Eddie resides. Wade, a natural health salesman in an old Volkswagen bus, gives Harry a lift, plus a massage for the bursitis in his shoulder, and sells him a blender and some vitamins. Harry’s next ride is from Stephanie, an expensive hooker who takes him to Las Vegas, but on the way assertively seduces him for the price of one hundred dollars, brushing aside his doubts that he can “rise to the occasion.” Later, in Las Vegas, with Tonto in his arms, a relaxed Harry places a bet at a crap table near a man who has been having a winning streak. When the man loses, he accuses Harry of giving him bad luck. Outside the casino, Harry gives Tonto some water, but having had a little too much to drink himself, he urinates behind a potted plant. Because his action is observed by a policeman, Harry is arrested and jailed. His cellmate is Sam Two Feathers, an Indian medicine man who gives Harry turquoise beads for the blender, and for the price of one of Harry’s pair of underpants, performs a ceremony to rid Harry of his bursitis. Not long afterward, Harry and Tonto are on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, where Eddie, a seemingly confident and successful broker driving a convertible, picks them up and drives them to his singles condominium in the Valley. After boasting that the condo offers a Jacuzzi, pool table and a twenty-four hour marathon encounter session, where one can count on getting “laid,” Eddie breaks down, weeping, and confides that he is having financial difficulties. Although Eddie desperately wants Harry to move in with him, Harry assures him that the bad time will pass and sends for $1,000 from his savings to help his son. Harry suggests that they help each other find separate places to live. Unwilling to return to New York, Harry later moves to an area near Venice Beach and tutors children three times a week. He attracts new friends, a philosophical chess player, and Anatole, a man in his nineties, but his best friend Tonto, who, in human years is in his seventies, becomes ill and dies. One day, Harry encounters Celia, a lady who feeds stray cats and is eager for him to move in with her. He politely declines and, seeing an orange-striped cat, follows it to the beach. As he knew, the cat could not possibly be Tonto, but nearby a little girl makes a sand castle and Harry is content to watch her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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