Tonto & Flike

I added the 1952 film, Umberto D, to my Youtube TV watch list months ago, and finally watched it last weekend, commercial-free thanks to TCM. The title character was a retired public servant trying to maintain a precarious life for himself and his little dog, Flike, as the lire in his fixed pension were rapidly devaluing. Afterwards I tweeted, “Boy, things haven’t changed much.”

The film is in Italian with subtitles, and I didn’t realize that neorealist director Vittorio de Sica regularly cast non-actors in all the roles until reading reviews. Reportedly de Sica searched for months to find just the right man to play the lead.

A few days later, TCM was showing 1973’s Harry and Tonto, which I had seen years ago. But this time, the opening scenes of an old man living with and talking to his cat, Tonto, couldn’t help but remind me of my own father who lived with and talked to his white cat, Mu. The cat lived a very long life, but passed away several years ago. My Dad followed him a year or so later.

Mazursky and Greenfeld wrote a fantastically touching road movie, but even though he was evicted from his apartment, retired teacher and widower Harry was wealthy and successful compared to Umberto. Even though 1973 was the beginning of a period of stagflation, Harry (Art Carney) had benefited enough from the post-FDR period of prosperity that he could travel across the country, buy a used car and eventually loan one thousand dollars to his son struggling in LA.

Yet, if they made a similar film today, I suspect it would play more like de Sica’s. Some old man, or woman, would have lost everything in the Great Recession, and would be fighting a losing battle against opioids and homelessness.

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