Art Carney won his only Oscar from his only Oscar nomination for playing an elderly man Harry Coombes who travels across country with his cat.
Harry and Tonto is one of those dramatic comedies that follows an aging man through his travels, as he meets his relatives old friends, and strangers along the always side by side with his Cat. This is not a great film, but it serves its purpose well and it has a great performance in it.
Art Carney probably best known for playing Ed Norton in the Honeymooners shows in Harry and Tonto that he was as good of a dramatic actor as he was a comedic actor. First of all he fulfills that technical aspects of the parts perfectly. Carney seems like the exact age of the over 70 years old man despite the fact that Carney was only in his fifties at this time. Carney though completely seems to be the age, and never once looks or acts younger than he is suppose to be.
Art Carney is brilliant throughout the film from beginning to end. Harry starts out as an old man who lives with only with his Cat in New York City. Carney gives a very subtle portrait of a man who is not lonely even though he lives alone and has energy despite being old. Harry has not been forced in submission by his age, and Carney shows this without ever going over the top. After being taken out of his old apartment building he goes to live with one of his sons for a while. Again Carney is perfect here to interacting with his semi dysfunctional family. He shows his frustrations perfectly. A great scene in these early moments is where he goes to identify the body of a Russian friend of his at the Morgue. Carney's face and reaction to seeing his deceased friend is brilliant, and perfectly subtle.
Later Harry leaves his son to go out west. His last scene with his son is again perfect, and properly heartfelt. He goes out west and comes across different people and different places. Particular scenes are stronger than others but Carney is great in all of the scenes. He is especially brilliant in the superior scenes. One example being when he meets with his daughter (Ellen Burstyn). Both actors handle this scene especially well, showing a long troubled relationship with only this single scene. A big challenge but the actors pull it off.
Three other moments really exemplify the power of his performance. The scene where he meets his old girlfriend strikes the perfect emotional chord, which is achieved through Carney pitch perfect expressions, and emotions. The other scene where he meets his other son, and he tells his son that he can't live with him. Carney handles this talk so perfectly that it makes one memorable scene. Carney perfectly channels his caring for his son, but also his wish for his son to grow as a man. Then the final scenes where Tonto become sick might be the best. His final expression he gives to the kid and the cat, is incomparable. Carney is just absolutely perfect. He fully and perfectly creates a sympathetic portrait of the aged man. Carney gives a performance that no one could really imitate and he easily earns: