A Film Review: Harold and Maude
An eccentric cult classic. Sort of Rocky Horror meets, Marilyn Manson meets Love Story
If you think you are an outsider, strange, bizarre, etc. then this is the film you have been waiting for. Harold and Maude is a 1971 American coming-of-age Existentialist, Romantic, Black Comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby and released by Paramount Pictures. The plot revolves around the exploits of a young man named Harold Chasen who is intrigued with death and connects to a very old woman who may be stranger than he is. They are a match made in heaven, or maybe hell?
Starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort, as mentioned the plot revolves around Harold Chasen. Harold stages elaborate fake suicides, attends funerals, and drives a hearse, all to the chagrin of his socialite mother. She sets him up appointments with a psychoanalyst, but the analyst is befuddled by the case and fails to get Harold to talk about his real emotions.
At another stranger’s funeral service, Harold meets Maude a 79-year-old woman who shares Harold’s hobby of attending funerals. He is entranced by her quirky outlook on life, which is bright and excessively carefree in contrast with his morbidity. The pair form a bond and Maude shows Harold the pleasures of art and music (including how to play banjo), and teaches him how to “[make] the most of his time on earth”. Meanwhile, Harold’s mother is determined, against Harold’s wishes, to find him a wife. One by one, Harold frightens and horrifies each of his appointed dates, by appearing to commit gruesome acts such as self-immolation, self-mutilation, and seppuku.
She tries enlisting him in the military instead, but he deters his recruiting officer uncle by staging a scene in which Maude poses as a pacifist protester and Harold seemingly murders her out of militaristic fanaticism.
When Harold and Maude are talking at her home he tells her, without prompting, the motive for his fake suicides: When he was at boarding school, he accidentally caused an explosion in his chemistry lab, leading police to assume his death. Harold returned home just in time to witness his mother react to the news of his death with a ludicrously dramatized faint. As he reaches this part of the story, Harold bursts into tears and says, “I decided then I enjoyed being dead.”
As they become closer, their friendship soon blossoms into romance and Harold announces that he will marry Maude, resulting in disgusting outbursts from his family, analyst, and priest.
The plot gets much stranger and fulfilling as Maude’s 80th birthday arrives and Harold decides to marry Maude but I’m not gonna spoil it for you… I actually met Ruth Gordin in NYC on Central Park West. She waved good-bye to me and yelled “so-long sweetie”.
Here is the film trailer.
Running time 91 minutes
Personal Comments: UCLA student Colin Higgins wrote Harold and Maude as his master’s thesis. While working as producer Edward Lewis’s pool boy, Higgins showed the script to Lewis’s wife, Mildred. Mildred was so impressed that she got Edward to give it to Stanley Jaffe at Paramount. Higgins sold the script with the understanding that he would direct the film but he was told he wasn’t ready, after tests he shot proved unsatisfactory to the studio heads. Ashby would only commit to directing the film after getting Higgins’ blessing and then, so Higgins could watch and learn from him on the set, Ashby made Higgins a co-producer. Higgins says he originally thought of the story as a play. It then became a 20-minute thesis while at film school. After the film came out, the script was turned into a novel then a play, which ran for several years in Paris.
The film got such bad reviews on it’s opening that I am forced to print some just for the entertainment value.
Roger Ebert in a review dated January 1, 1972, gave the film one-and-a-half out of four stars. He wrote, “And so what we get, finally, is a movie of attitudes. Harold is death, Maude's life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life’s hardly worth the extra bother. The visual style makes everyone look fresh from the Wax Museum, and all the movie lacks is a lot of day-old gardenias and lilies and roses in the lobby, filling the place with a cloying sweet smell. Nothing more to report today. Harold doesn’t even make pallbearer. Vincent Canby also panned the film, stating that the actors “are so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting, that Harold and Maude are obviously made for each other, a point the movie itself refuses to recognize with a twist ending that betrays, I think, its life-affirming pretensions.”
Harold and Maude was critically and commercially unsuccessful when originally released. Over the years the film has developed a cult following and in 1983 began making a profit. The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
Over the years Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #4 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films.”
In June 2008, American Film Institute revealed its “Ten Top Ten” — the best ten films in ten “classic” American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Harold and Maude was acknowledged as the ninth-best film in the romantic comedy genre.
Author: Lewis Harrison was a former radio talk show host at NPR affiliated WIOX FM. He is a former voting member of The National Board of Review for Motion Pictures.
Author: Lewis Harrison was a former radio talk show host at NPR affiliated WIOX FM. He is a former voting member of The National Board of Review for Motion Pictures. An Independent Scholar and a Results-Oriented Success Coach Lewis has a passion for film, knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.
You can read all of his Medium stories at Lewis.firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I am always exploring trends, areas of interest, and solutions to build new stories upon. Again, if you have any ideas you would like me to write about just email me at LewisCoaches@gmail.com” or check out my courses and website at www.asklewisgametheory.com
My passion is offering advice on the arts, innovation, self-improvement, life lessons, mental health, game theory strategies, and love. LewisCoaches.Medium.com