The most memorable aspect of "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" is its title, which still resonates with people of a certain age even though most probably never saw the film itself. "Harry" was a speed bump in Dustin Hoffman's meteoric rise to success that began with "The Graduate" in 1967 and continued with such diverse hits as "Midnight Cowboy", "Little Big Man" and "Straw Dogs" (which would be released a few months after "Harry"). Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who would direct Hoffman in the drama "Straight Time" seven years later, "Harry" is a bizarre comedy with an anti-Establishment social message. Hoffman, almost unrecognizable behind a mustache and curly hair, plays Georgie Soloway, a "Boy Wonder" in the music business for his ability to almost instantly write hit rock and folk songs, along with memorable advertising jingos. He has fame and fortune and resides in luxurious penthouse apartment in Manhattan that is a virtual museum to his own accomplishments. However, the affable Georgie is desperately lacking something in his life: genuine friendships and a loving, significant other. The film doesn't follow a linear path and bounces around between various stages of Georgie's life. We see him growing up in Brooklyn, the only child of two stereotypical, overbearing Jewish parents. As a teenager, Georgie goes through the customary stages of trying to deal with raging hormones. He and a friendly but air-headed girl become lovers but he cruelly ditches her when she becomes pregnant, which was an even greater dilemma for women in the era before abortions were legal. Later we see he had married when he impregnated another woman who bore him two children. Georgie ended up deserting them as well because he couldn't deal with the adult responsibilities that fatherhood demands. We see present-day Georgie having no problems finding bedmates but he realizes he only attracts women because of his fame and fortune. Every time he seems to enter a promising relationship it is compromised when the woman is contacted by a mysterious man who calls himself Harry Kellerman and who seems to know all the intimate aspects of Georgie's life. Kellerman routinely unveils to these women the sordid ways Georgie has treated previous lovers and inevitably, his new relationships fail. When we first see Georgie, he is a psychological basket case. He fantasizes about suicide as though it will be a charming and pleasant experience. He also desperately tries to forge genuine friendships with those in his life. For years he has been paying a psychiatrist (Jack Warden) to hear his problems and act as a surrogate father figure to him but it becomes clear the man only sees Georgie as another client. Similarly, Georgie's outreach to his business manager (Gabriel Dell) and his harried accountant (Dom DeLuise) fails to result in establishing anything but business relationships. Georgie is the ultimate poor little rich boy. Much of the story line finds Georgie increasingly infuriated by Kellerman's interference in his love life and becoming obsessed with finding out who he is and how he knows so much about him.
The film was written by Herb Gardner, best known for his play "A Thousand Clowns", which was also about a dysfunctional New York man, who- like Georgie- was superficially charming but not very admirable. Gardner's screenplay drifts back and forth through time at a dizzying pace and sometimes it's hard to know whether we are viewing Georgie in the past or present. He also includes sequences that are genuinely bizarre but are later revealed to be dreams or fantasies. The end result is a rather unsatisfying mix of comedy and pathos despite fine performances by everyone involved. Director Grosbard makes scant use of the New York locations, other than some earlier scenes representing Coney Island in the 1950s and one fantasy scene that finds Georgie inside either the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, which is totally deserted (trying filming that today). There are also some wonderful aerial shots of the city as we watch the bored Georgie pilot his personal jet for joy rides. But Grosbard never captures the flavor of New York and film could just have easily been set in any major city. The movie is primarily shot in dark interiors with grim lighting, making for a suitably depressing experience. The message of the movie seems to be that money can't buy happiness and that personal virtues are more important than a large bank account. This may be true but it wasn't exactly a unique theory even in 1971. The film comes alive mostly in its final phase when Georgie meets an untalented aspiring singer (Barbara Harris, superb in an Oscar-nominated performance) who is ditzy but lovable. She brings out the kind of genuine human emotion that Georgie had been suppressing for most of his life- but is it too late to save him from his own demons? The final scene of the movie sees Georgie finally seeming to find happiness as he soars above the boroughs of New York City in a wonderfully-filmed sequence that comes to an unexpected conclusion, even as it provides an answer to the question "Who is Harry Kellerman?"
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray sans any special features other than a trailer for Ulu Grosbard's 1981 drama "True Confessions". The transfer is very good indeed but can't overcome the deficiencies in the film itself. "Harry Kellerman" isn't a bad film and it does provide the joy of seeing another fine performance by young Dustin Hoffman. But it is a movie that falls far short of its aspirations and at times comes across as merely pretentious.