So late last night I found myself stayeing up late glued to the TV. A Channel on cable was playing Paul Mazursky's HARRY AND TONTO, and in HD no less. I haven't seen this film in years and when I last did it was on my old crumbling VHS that had a pretty awful transfer.
Watching this film last night was with practically new eyes and I was totally caught up in every moment of it and I was completely in love. Art Carney gives a brilliant, and what ended up being a Oscar Winning performance as Harry. He plays a retired school teacher who is literally forced out of his New York apartment where he had lived for a half a century as it was being demolished. He embarks on a road trip with his cat Tonto to see his daughter in Chicago and he ends up going cross country. And in totally awesome road trip fashion, meeting some interesting characters along the way.
Mazursky's picture is one that is both funny and sad. What he does so well as a writer-director is that even when he allows things to sometimes get a little broad, he always manages to brings it back and find many subtlties and nuances you don't see in the casual picture. He dubbed his style the "serious-comedy" and that's a good way to look at his films. Most of them aren't outright comedies, but they also aren't completely serious dramas, either. He respects the human condition enough to not merely define his films belonging to one category.
Harry's trip is one that I plan on revisiting again. There are just so many great little details and performances (the scene in particular with Chief Dan George is one of both understatement and hilariousness that I just have to repeat) Harry's the kind of guy we can only hope we end up being like as we get on with age. He's stubborn, especially with the things he cares about so deeply, but he has ideals and always remains true to himself. And when a problem presents itself, he adjusts and makes it work. Tonto has himself a truly great friend.
It's films like HARRY AND TONTO that make me so in awe of films of the seventies. It was a time when filmmakers could actually get away with expressing themselves and make films that can be so honest and entertaining all the same. The DVD may be out of print now (but you can still find some online at Amazon--I urge you to grab a copy!) but the spirit of HARRY AND TONTO will live forever.