Director: Paul Mazursky
Writer: Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld
Cinematographer: Michael C. Butler
by Jon Cvack
Here’s a film I’ve never heard of and came across during a random burst of trusting the Netflix suggested rating. The story is very much inspired by John Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley", which was a personal memoir of Steinbeck traveling around the country in a trailer with his dog Charley. Counter to Steinbeck’s success, this story involves 70-something retired Harry (Art Caney) as he carries out his daily routines - walking his cat Tonto, singing him songs, stopping at the local market for a few groceries, meeting with his friends in the park (in this case, a Polish Socialist who spouts anti-capitalist rhetoric, pontificating about the demise of America, leaving you wondering why he's living in the States). Harry nods his heads during the political tangents, simply enjoying watching the streets and living his remaining years in the city; that is, until he’s evicted from his rent controlled apartment in order to make way for a new parking lot.
Harry moves in with his son’s family, but the house is small - with both sons still living at home, one having taken a vow of silence after a few bad acid trips, and the other soon getting married and completely resentful of his brother. Everyone bickers with everyone, and with Harry sharing a room with the silenced son, it’s only moments before he’s back out the street, searching for another apartment. But things have changed - New York is wildly expensive, and to get an apartment for what he was paying means he’ll be living in a run down part of town that accepts no cats. It’s the latter that’s not possible. Thus begins a trip across the country, heading to Santa Monica to see his other son.
When Harry’s about to get on a plane, he argues with security over having to put his cat through the x-ray machine, taken aside by a cop and refusing to board. He switches gears to a bus, and it’s fine until Harry refuses to go to the onboard bathroom, forcing the driver to stop and let him out to piss in a graveyard. Tonto then runs off and the bus leaves, unable to wait any longer. Harry’s picked up by a traveling blender salesman who makes the sale; later shacking up with a few teenagers who’re making their way to a hippie commune; with a prostitute who gives Harry the hitch of his life; getting arrested in Vegas after having a few too many drinks and taking a public piss; getting massaged by a Native American who fixes Harry’s bum shoulder; ending up in Santa Monica, where his son is doing poorly, crying on Harry’s shoulder, with Harry realizing that the loneliness he’s experiencing pales in comparison to most others. Harry stays in Santa Monica, which is particularly funny, as given what happened to New York, is now one of the most expensive cities in the country. You’d have to journey an hour out to find an affordable place to live. Forget living by the beach, you’re lucky to get a studio apartment for what social security pays out.
Stay tune for Part 2...
BELOW: Art Carnie winning Best Actor, against some of the stiffest competition in the history of the category
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Thoughts on films, old and new
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