The movie starts out by showing old people walking down the streets in New York accompanied by piano music ending up showing Harry and Tonto on their way to the groceries. This introduction is great for setting the pace and mood of the whole piece. The exposition of the character basically consists of Harry’s monologue with Tonto as listener narrating little anecdotes, things of the past, leading up to the eviction of Harry Coombes as he is carried out of the building sitting in his chair he fell asleep in with Tonto on his lap, sprouting out curses (quotes from Lear) at the top of his voice.
Here the road trip begins. Harry first stays with his son Burt in New Jersey (Philip Bruns) and his family but the stay is short lived as Harry knows he is just a burden and living together with his grandson Norman, who made a vow of silence, in the same room does not help either. Harry plans to visit his daughter Shirley (Ellen Burstyn) in Chicago and runs into some trouble at the airport as he does not want to let go of the cat cage, so he takes the bus. Tonto proves to be a difficult traveling companion once again and Harry has to get off the bus to let Tonto do its business. As the bus driver cannot wait for the old man and his cat, Harry decides to continue his travels by car (without valid license).
This is where the real road movie begins. Throughout the whole journey Harry never really is alone, he meets new people, visits an old girl friend and even hitches a ride with a beautiful young high priced hooker. Most of the road trip Harry is accompanied by Norman (Josh Mostel) – sent by Burt to check up on Harry – and Ginger (Melanie Mayron) who are on their way to a commune in Boulder Colorado. Harry’s comment on that is “Do you know what it’s like in those communes? Drugs? Sex? Orgies?” but he does not judge her, he has a healthy discussion with Ginger and when the question of age comes up she says she is 16 and Harry replies: “Well I guess I don’t know what it’s like to be 16 these days” and Ginger says: “Neither do I” and that’s that then.
After meeting up with his young love Jessie whom he saw last 50 years ago he continues on to Chicago to his daughter. This is where Norman get’s on board. Norman and Ginger immediately connect and Norman decides to go with her to that commune. Harry gives them the car and continues his journey with a traveling salesman who at one time also sold cats (even a Rex). The rest of the way to Vegas is spent with the aforementioned high priced hooker Stephanie (Barbara Rhoades). Good thing Harry ate that banana in scene one! What a crescendo.
Harry in Vegas is the darker chapter in the whole trip where he promptly gets arrested for public lewdness (a bush needed watering). In prison he meets Sam Two Feathers (Chief Dan George) who happens to know the traveling salesman Harry met earlier and also happens to have the cure for Harry’s bad shoulder. He does his magic and Harry is cured for the price of a pair of pants.
Finally Harry arrives in L.A. and meets up with his immature son Eddie (Larry Hagman, pre Dallas!). Harry soon realizes that the only advice he can give his son is to try and make a living on his own and moves on alone. Harry’s trip has come to an end and he has to say his last good-bye to Tonto.
The movie ends with Harry reading a letter he wrote to his friend Leeroy back in New York while sitting on a bench making friends with Celia (Sally Marr) who is feeding the stray cats of which one looks just like Tonto and as in the beginning piano music sets in and Harry runs after the cat, realizing that it is not Tonto after all. He lets the cat go and watches a little girl playing in the sand at the beach as the sun sets.