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Harry & Son

Original poster
Directed by Paul Newman
Produced by Ronald Buck
Paul Newman
Written by Ronald Buck
Paul Newman
Starring Paul Newman
Ellen Barkin
Robby Benson
Joanne Woodward
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Editing by Dede Allen
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) March 2, 1984 (1984-03-02)
Running time 120 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Harry & Son is a 1984 American drama film directed by Paul Newman, who also stars. The screenplay by Newman and Ronald Buck focuses on the relationship between a blue-collar worker and his son, who fails at various odd jobs while aspiring to be a writer.



Widower Harry Keach is a construction worker who was raised to appreciate the importance of working for a living. He takes a dim view of his sensitive son Howard's lackadaisical lifestyle, devoted to a dead-end part-time job, surfing and hot-tubbing while he dreams of becoming the next Ernest Hemingway. Harry also has a strained relationship with his daughter Nina because he dislikes her husband, an insurance salesman.

When intense headaches and impaired vision cause Harry to lose control of the wrecking ball on his crane, he loses his job. His unemployment leaves him feeling frustrated, although he refuses to work in his brother Tom's military surplus store. He becomes increasingly angry at Howard for quitting jobs at a car wash and with an auto-repo outfit and threatens to throw his son out of the house.

Harry spends some of his free time visiting his widowed neighbor Lilly, a pet store owner who has loved Harry for years. Her daughter Katie, a former girlfriend of Howard, is now pregnant with another man's child.

After being abandoned by her lover, Katie's relationship with Howard rekindles. He is resisting the advances of a nymphomaniacal older woman, Sally, but eventually introduces him to Harry.

Howard succeeds in selling a short story, much to his father's amazement. He uses some of the money to finance a vacation for Harry, Lilly, Katie and her newborn baby (also called Harry). Harry begins to experience happiness at last, until tragedy strikes.


Critical reception

Vincent Canby of the New York Times called the film "a decently intentioned but rather drab mess of a movie" and added, "Mr. Newman has done creditable work as a director before . . . but Harry and Son looks like a first effort, partly because the screenplay has no focus and no particular tone of voice . . . Though the characters use a lot of words that are still taboo on television, the entire project feels as small and dated as a Studio One show of the 1950s." [1]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film one star and commented, "This movie looks like the aftermath of an explosion in the story department. It's about everything. They give us so many relationships, so many problems, so many emotional hazards, so many colorful characters, we need a battery-lighted ballpoint, so we can take notes in the dark." [2]

Although Time Out London felt the film was "well acted and elegantly photographed," it thought overall "It is nothing more than a constant succession of the kind of emotional peaks actors love to do on screen. Humbler scenes involving background or narrative, which may be immensely tedious to act but help the plot unfold, have in general been left out altogether. The result is a curiously indigestible phenomenon, like being forced to eat five courses of avocado by an overbearing dinner-party host." [3]


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