Moviedrome Redux: ‘Harry and Walter Go to New York’ (1976)

❉ Nick Clement presents his assessments of cult gems. This week, two con-men attempt to pull off the largest bank heist of the 19th century.

“Michael (Caine) is so goddam bright, he’s a total professional. But the trouble with the film was that we all hit it off too much. Everybody was patting each other on the back. I’ve never heard so many cries of brilliant and bravo! Sometimes a movie gets bumpy when that happens. It loses its way and nobody knows where it’s going. You lose the pits and valleys for just peaks, and in the end your audience.” – Burt Young

Mark Rydell’s odd genre-hybrid Harry and Walter Go To New York isn’t without its own set of peculiar charms, and it’s never not a sight to behold in terms of the physical production, but still, one gets the sense that the overall Sting-esque sense of cinema magic wasn’t quit there. There’s a truly fantastic cast but it doesn’t help that co-leads Elliot Gould and James Caan feel fabulously miscast as a third-rate Vaudeville act prone to slap-stick routines and bumbling song-and-dance. They are both up to trying, and they sing and dance valiantly, but for some reason it didn’t fully click.

Michael Caine is another story – he’s awesome here as the bad-guy and I loved his deadpan responses to the two chuckle heads when the action put all three iconic actors together in the same scene. Diane Keaton has a weird subplot that could’ve been excised completely. But there’s true ambition here, and you have to applaud Rydell and his writers for trying to blend silent-era comedy shenanigans with a truly elaborate con-man plot, even if all of the elements don’t mesh as well as one wants them too. Harry (Caan) and Walter (Gould) wind up in the slammer after a pick-pocketing incident and end up meeting a poised and posh thief named Worth (Caine) who tells them more than he should about a bank that could easily be robbed. After escaping the pen, Harry and Walter attempt to rob the bank before Worth can get there, resulting in a madcap farce of action with multiple parties trying to pull off their own robbery and with Harry and Walter being forced to resort to their prankish antics all the way until the end.

The movie has a burnished, honeyed glow, and was shot by the legendary Laszlo Kovacs, and every single scene is lushly appointed with grand costumes, incredible set design, and eye-filling wide-screen cinematography. The supporting cast is ridiculously stacked — Ted Cassidy, Val Avery, Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Lesley Ann Warren, Burt Young, and Jack Gilford all make notable appearances. It’s just too bad that none of all of these promising ingredients could have been better worked out during the scripting stage, because what one is left with is a movie that while intermittently enjoyable could have been so much more. Caan was famously quoted back in the day as referring to this film as “Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet,” and while that’s a certainly funny zinger, I think he might’ve been being a bit too harsh.


❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.

❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.

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