A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Paul Mazursky’s “Harry and Tonto” tells the story of a feisty seventy-two-year-old who is carried forcibly from his New York apartment one step ahead of the wrecker’s ball. He was happy with his life in the city (apart from the four muggings so far this year) and content to talk to his old cronies and to his cat, Tonto.
But life without a home isn’t easy. He goes for a while to live with his son on Long Island, where he’s welcomed, sort of, into a household on the edge of insanity. One of his grandsons thinks the other one is crazy. The other won’t respond because, you see, he has taken a vow of silence. Harry sizes up the situation, packs Tonto in a carrying case, and hits the road.
The road becomes a strange and wonderful place for Harry, mostly because of his own resilient personality. He’s played by Art Carney as a man of calm philosophy, gentle humor, and an acceptance of the ways people can be. He is also not a man in a hurry. When he can’t carry Tonto onto an airplane, he takes the bus. When the bus can’t wait for Tonto to relieve himself, he buys a used car and picks up hitchhikers.
One of them is a young girl who becomes his friend. She talks of her life, and he talks of his, including his long-ago romance with a member of the Isadora Duncan troupe. The last he’d heard of her, she was living in Peru, Indiana, as the wife of a pharmacist. The girl talks him into stopping in Indiana and looking the old woman up. And he does so, in a scene of rare warmth and tenderness. The woman, Jessie (played by Geraldine Fitzgerald), has a very shaky memory, but she does recall being a dancer, and in the calm of the recreation room at her nursing home, the old couple dances together one last time.