Harry and Walter Go to New York Reviews
(When Adam Worth is discovered by the police in a tunnel leading to the vault of the Commercial Bank & Trust Co. of Lowell, Mass)
Adam Worth: But you see, old fellow, I'm on my way IN, not OUT....
Chatsworth: Adam, where'd you find those two oafs?
Adam Worth: Oh, they're not oafs, Jack. They would require practice to become oafs.
Harry Dighby: [singing] He's not the real Prince Herbert. I am!
Adam Worth: I need a favor, Mr. Durgom. I want these two clods assigned to the nitro detail, as soon as possible.
Warden Durgom: You mean permanently, sir?
Adam Worth: No, Mr. Durgom. Not permanently. Just until they die!
Director Mark Rydell, who made "The Reivers," "The Rose," "The River," "For the Boys," "On Golden Pond," and "The Cowboys," may regret having ever helmed "Harry and Walter Go to New York," but he shouldn't because the Columbia Pictures release qualifies as an entertaining, big dumb, stooge comedy that casts a likable James Caan and Elliot Gould as a couple of Keystone Criminals. The authorities arrest two woebegone vaudeville comics, Harry Dighby (James Caan of "The Killer Elite") and Walter Hill (Elliot Gould of "The Long Goodbye"), during a carnival act when Harry pinches money from the wallets of spectators participating in a routine where Harry quizzes a veiled Walter what he holds in his hand. These two cretinous clowns are shipped off to Concord Prison where they meet wealthy, urbane,debonair criminal genius Adam Worth (Michael Caine of "The Eagle Has Landed") and become his personal servants. Worth got sent up the river by a duplicitous banker, Rufus T. Crisp (Charles Durning of "Sharkey's Machine") who had been his cohort in a robbery. Cooling his elegant heels in a Massachusetts Prison, Worth obtains the plans to a new Mosler safe from one of his confederates and schemes at striking back at Crisp's bank again in revenge for Crisp selling Worth out and landing him in prison. Meantime, a crusading but small-time New York City newspaper editor, Lissa Chestnut (Diane Keaton of "Annie Hall") visits the prison to interview Worth and expose his regally appointed jailhouse living quarters to the outside world. At the same time, Worth has concealed the plans to the new safe behind a framed picture. Somehow, Harry discovers the blueprints, and Walter and he try to take a photograph of the plans. During the shooting process, Harry puts too much powder in the flash-burn tray to illuminate the plans. As a result, a fire breaks out and the plans are destroyed, much to Worth's horror. Furious at this sudden reversal of events, Worth demands that Warden Durgom (Burt Young of "Rocky") assign hapless Harry to the nitroglycerine detail where prisoners handle the unstable, volatile explosives to clear a rock quarry. Guard O'Meara (Bert Remsen of "Thieves Like Us"), who laughs at Harry's misfortune, demonstrates to our knuckle-headed hero how to handle the stuff. Of course, Harry shrewdly exploits his newfound talent to escape from prison with his partner-in-crime Walter and flee to New York City, obtain the photo of the plans and rob the bank before Worth's men can loot it. Our goofball heroes show up in New York and hoodwink Lissa, telling her about how they are out on parole before they learn that Walter's photograph of the plans survived intact. Worth shows up not long afterward and forces Harry to hand over the plans to the safe. The scene where Worth locks poor Walter in an airtight safe until Harry coughs up the plans establishes the antagonist's dastardly villainy. Angry at both Worth as well as Harry and Walter, Lissa dedicates herself along with Harry and Walter to beating Worth to the punch and cracking the toughest bank in America. Lissa, Harry and Walter are going into the bank from the top, while Worth and his henchmen are tunneling in from the bottom in a race to see who can get to the goods first. Never wasting a moment in advancing the action, Rydell generates some genuine suspense and hilarity when our heroes radically alter their plans and decide to blow the safe during a stage performance of Worth's mistress Gloria Fontaine (Lesley Ann Warren) before the gentleman thief can descend on the bank himself. Harry and Walter's antics to make enough time for themselves and their cohorts to stall the end of the play so that their accomplices can get into the vault are very amusing. "Harry and Walter Go to New York" doesn't miss a beat during its 111-minute running time.
Although it flopped miserably during its short-lived theatrical release, "Harry and Walter Go to New York" qualifies as superficial, low-brow, but side-splitting merriment that recaptures the nostalgic era of the Gay 90s, back when 'gay' and homosexuality weren't synonymous. People remember this era for its ubiquitous handle-bar mustaches, long sideburns, derby hats, arm garters, and cravats. Sumptuously produced with exacting attention to detail, boasting a stellar cast which included Carol Kane, Jack Gilford, Lesley Ann Warren, Ted Cassidy, Brion James, and Burt Young, this heavy-handed but hilarious comedy of errors has been gorgeously lensed by ace cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, whose credits include "Blood of Dracula's Castle," "What's Up, Doc," and "New York, New York." Clearly, Columbia Pictures spared no expense on these period hi-jinks, while Rydell must have allowed Caan and Gould a free hand at improvising their antics. The song and dance number "Nobody's Perfect" that they perform at the beginning epitomizes their hopeless numb-skullduggery. Gould and Caan conjure up more than enough chemistry to pull this caper off. Caan spouts crazy ideas and Gould constantly reprimands his partner's temerity. They look like they belong in the 1890s, too. Michael Caine is a revelation as the straight-man/villain who runs afoul of our heroic buffoons. "Harry and Walter Go to New York" constantly refers to the haves and have-nots of society and aligns our sympathy with the low-class underdogs against the imperious upper-class.