Director: Paul Mazursky
Cast: Art Carney, Ellen Burstyn, Larry Hagman, Geraldine Fitzgerald
Released: August 12, 1974
Best Actor - Art Carney (won)
Best Original Screenplay - Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield (lost to Robert Towne for Chinatown)
I discovered this movie through a podcast I listen to called Battleship Pretension where two hosts in their early thirties discuss a topic involving movies. They both went to film school so they seem to be reputable in discussing film...much more than I am, anyway. On this particular episode, they were discussing movies with animals as the main focal point. As you can imagine, there were many movies with dogs brought up, but only a few with cats and Harry and Tonto was one of them. They both praised the movie so I typed it down on my "Notes" section of my iPod Touch under a list of movies to watch. (Otherwise if I didn't, I would probably forget about it!)
The movie is about a seventy something man, Harry (Art Carney) who travels from New York to Los Angeles with his cat, an orange tabby named Tonto. His building is being torn down so he is forced to move. At first he stays with his oldest son, but decides to travel cross country. At first, he plans to fly but when he learns that Tonto will have to be separated from him on the flight, he refuses and takes a taxi to a bus stop and will travel that way. But after he realizes that Tonto needs to use the bathroom (and won't use the toilet when Harry holds him over it...pretty sure NOBODY likes being touched when they need to use the restroom!) and asks the driver to pull over so his cat can relieve himself. Tonto ends up running away and Harry tells the bus driver to go on without him and the driver tells him he has to go so he won't be late to the next destination. He tells Harry there's another bus coming in another hour. Tonto does come back to Harry, but instead of getting on the next bus, he rents a car. Keep in mind this is 1974 and his license expired in 1958, haha!
Along the way, as you do while on a roadtrip, he meets new people and reconnects with some familiar ones. His daughter, Shirley (Ellen Burstyn) lives in Chicago and he finds out his old girlfriend, Jessie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who he dated long before he married his wife is still alive and living in an assisted care facility with Alzheimer's. He picks up two hitchhikers, which is never a good idea, but it seems even worse considering it's the '70s! There were some shady people in the '70s! He picked up a teenaged girl and a guy in his twenties. The guy kept sprouting off verses from the Bible. He was a little freaky. I've no doubt Harry was relieved when the Bible-thumper said he was going to get a ride with someone else who was heading his way. Harry thought the girl, Ginger, was going with him but she told him they had just met on the car before his. Harry doesn't seemed concerned that a sixteen year old (and later we actually learned she's fifteen!) is running away and they stay in a hotel together and she's standing around in her underwear in front of him! I don't think she was trying to seduce him; I think she was just clueless. She later meets Harry's grandson and they seem to hit it off.
Harry also meets a hooker on the way. He tells her she's too beautiful to be a hooker and she says she's a high-price one. She also says she's been with men older than him! I think it was implied that they had sex...I'm not sure though. Maybe this was why the movie was rated R even though we don't see anything. There is no nudity or violence and maybe there was a couple of curse words, but I don't really recall. There was some sex talk, so maybe that's why it was rated R? I feel like if this movie was made today, it would be rated PG. Speaking of the time it came out in, everything must have been cheap in the '70s...I know about inflation, but there's a scene where a homeless man asks Harry for thirty five cents so he can buy a coat. What the what? Did coats seriously costs 35 cents in the NINETEEN seventies? That cannot be right!
Even though Tonto is with Harry throughout the movie, I wish there was more of him. Half the time, he feels just like a background character. I was wondering if we were ever going to get the story behind the name and we do when Harry is arrested for peeing in a potted plant on a street in L.A. (and in front of a window so I'm sure the people inside the building got a pleasant view!) His cell mate is a Native American man and he explains that Tonto is named after the character from The Lone Ranger, the radio show. I knew I was familiar with that name and when he said that I realized I knew it from the Johnny Depp remake (never saw it though, looked awful!) Interesting that it was a Native American man he told it to. Makes me wonder if he had a cat named Schindler, would his cell mate have been a Jewish man? I also wish we had gotten backstory on how Harry acquired Tonto. The one scene where Tonto is really a focal point is the one I mentioned earlier when Harry takes him off the bus to relieve himself and he gets lost and Harry is really worried that his cat has ran away.
Harry walks Tonto on a leash and if you know anything about cats, they do NOT like to be on leashes. I know because I've had experience with a cat and a leash before. Let's just say he did not want to be led around by me and wanted to do his own thing and explore the shrubs and pounce on bugs. When he didn't have Tonto on a leash, Harry was carrying him around in the most awkward way: one hand under the front legs of the cat with his back legs dangling down. I felt bad for the cat cuz it didn't look too comfortable. I did love it when Tonto would curl up on the dashboard when Harry was driving his car...totally something a cat would do, though it seems dangerous to let a cat roam a car since they might get down by the gas and brake pedals. I also love the scene where Harry is on the bus next to a fat man eating a sandwich. He is holding Tonto and you can tell he's trying to hold him back because that cat wants that sandwich! He ain't acting! It cracked me up when he took his paw and swatted at the sandwich. That's something my own cat, Milo, would do.
At the end of the movie, as you would expect, Tonto dies of "old age". I put that in quotes because Tonto, according to Harry in a voiceover, was eleven years old when he died. What the what? Since when is eleven old for a cat? That's more "mature", but not "senior". Unless, like people who are living longer these days than forty years ago, maybe that's true for animals too? Then he says in the voiceover that Tonto was 77 in people years. That is so wrong! Because I had a cat, McKenzie (the one who hated the leash....he was a very independent cat! (Well, that's all cats!)), who died when he was 18 and on the cat conversion chart I looked at, said he was 80 something in human years. Obviously, Harry must have been going by the dog chart where you multiply the age by 7. I don't even know if that dog conversion is even accurate anymore, but it most certainly isn't for a cat! McKenzie would have been 126 years old when he died if we went by his cat conversion chart. I checked a cat age conversion chart and it said an eleven year old cat is 61. My cat, at age 18, was 89! A little more believable than 126! Milo is 49 going on 54...poor thing! They age so fast.
I do wish there was more backstory and interaction with Tonto, but I do understand that the latter probably wasn't alway the easiest. There's a scene where Harry puts down some water for Tonto after they come back from their walk and you know the director wants the cat to drink the water, but he just sniffs it and walks away. Ha! This is the reason there are tons more movies with dogs...you can train a dog, you can't train a cat. They're gonna do what they wanna do!
Art Carney won Best Actor for this movie, which is a bit surprising considering he was against Jack Nicholson for Chinatown and Al Pacino for The Godfather Part II. I hoped at least he thanked the cat! Or cats, I should say since I read they had two playing Tonto.