Februrary 15, 2013

Harold and Maude (1971)
Starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon

Comments:   Harold and Maude is one of those special little beloved movies like Frequency.  Not everyone has seen it, but the people who have seen it absolutely LOVE it.  In fact, I am guessing that the feedback I get about this entry is going to be particularly fun to read.  This is one of those quirky little movies that people just sort of latch on to and rewatch a billion times over the course of their lives.  And what is funny is that I didn't used to be like that, but I just started to be like that fairly recently.  

I saw Harold and Maude for the first time about eight years ago and I instantly fell in love with it.

What is funny about this movie is the way that I first came around to knowing about it.

Most people who are fans of Harold and Maude are fans of it because they grew up with it in the 70's.  Or because they just randomly stumbled onto it one day in a video store because of its reputation as an odd, weird, and quirky little love story.  Or they are fans of it because their parents liked it, and one day their mom or dad sat them down and showed it to them.  This is one of those movies that has never really been a big mainstream hit (it never actually turned a profit until sometime in the mid 80's.)  And I don't think I have ever actually seen it on TV.  You will really only know about it if somebody recommends it to you.

Naturally, the way that I first discovered Harold and Maude was because it was mentioned in a movie.  That's right.  In the movie There's Something About Mary (one of my favorites), Cameron Diaz's character Mary mentions that her all time favorite movie is Harold and Maude.  And the reason she loves it so much is because, in her words, "it is the greatest love story of our time."

Hmm, that's interesting.  

Now I know enough about the Farrelly Brothers (who wrote TSAM) to know that they don't just randomly throw in movie references like that unless there is a reason for it.  Harold and Maude must have obviously been one of their favorite movies.  And this was driven home even further when Harold and Maude is mentioned AGAIN later in There's Something About Mary.  The second time it is mentioned, it is when Matt Dillon says something along the lines of "I only wish they made good movies these days.  Like they did in the old days.  Like The Karate Kid.  Or Harold and Maude."

Wait, what?

Anyone who knows me can tell you that The Karate Kid is my all time favorite movie.  So now the Farrelly Brothers aren't just mentioning Harold and Maude twice, but they are also comparing it to my all time favorite movie??  In the middle of another movie that I am a huge fan of?  Well at this point I figured that now I had to see it.

So yes.  It is safe to say that I only know about Harold and Maude because of the Farrelly Brothers.

Wants in on Seven Minute Abs

If you have never seen Harold and Maude before, it is basically a love story.  Some would call it a quirky love story.  Some would call it a gross love story.  People who have a restraining order against Woogie would call it the single greatest love story of our time.

It is the love story between Harold and Maude

Yes this is the infamous movie where a young man falls in love with an old lady.  And as you can imagine, it is different than pretty much any other love story that has ever been made.  It is also a little difficult to describe to someone.

It is difficult because gross

First off, I have to say three things about Harold and Maude.  Before we get to the rest of the review I need to point these three things out right away.

1.  Lots of people call this movie a comedy.  Well I wouldn't call it a comedy at all.  Harold and Maude is one of the sweetest and most inspirational movies I have ever seen in my life.  I mean, this is a movie that is so good that it actually changed the way that I look at the world.  I can think of dozens of times in my life where I once cynically looked at the world in one way, and then I eventually changed my opinion and opened my mind because of something that I remembered Maude said in Harold and Maude.  So to call this movie a comedy is sort of short changing it.  This movie is WAY more than just a comedy.  Yes, the funny parts are funny, but to go into this movie expecting a comedy is not the best way to approach it.  

If you have never seen it before, the way to approach Harold and Maude for the first time is to expect it to be wise advice from an old person on the way you are supposed to experience life.  It is basically Maude handing down some very wise life advice.  Go into the movie that way, look at it as a philosophical movie instead of a comedy movie, and you will be quite blown away with how effective it is.

Also, learn how to play the banjo

The second thing that I would like to point out about this movie is, despite the fact that I wrote "gross" under the picture of Harold and Maude kissing above, this movie is NOT gross.  And it is NOT creepy.  In fact I would pretty much call it the opposite of gross and creepy.  Harold and Maude celebrates life and celebrates the concept of being alive better than just about any other movie I have ever seen.  Again, if you go into it with the right frame of mind you will just be blown away with how much it changes the way that you look at the world.  Especially when you listen to Maude.

In other words, if you see the pictures of Harold and Maude hanging out together and it makes you not want to see the movie, you gotta get past that.  This movie is fantastic.  It isn't creepy or disturbing in the slightest.  The reason that Harold and Maude are a couple is, well, because they are supposed to be a couple.  The movie is so good and the story is so strong that it just kind of works.

Oh, and the third thing I have to point out?  Well I have to point out that Ruth Gordon (as Maude) is just adorable.  She is easily one of my favorite female characters in any movie ever.  You watch this movie, and you listen to the words that come out of her mouth, and you experience life the way that she experiences it, and you can see why someone like Harold would fall in love with her.  I don't see how -anyone- could watch this movie for the first time and not at least be somewhat touched by the way that Maude approaches life.  

Ruth Gordon was never nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Maude, but I have always thought that she should have been.  This is one of those special little iconic movie roles that you see once and you will never forget.

I have watched Harold and Maude about a dozen times over the past ten years, and every time I watch it I am more and more impressed by it.  And that is almost entirely because of Maude.  She is quite the inspirational little philosopher.

Ruth Gordon, the most adorable 80 year old ever

By the way, this won't spoil the movie or anything, but there is something I would like to point out about Maude that I don't think most people remember about this movie.  In fact a lot of people might not have actually even caught it in the first place.

To me, the most important scene in this movie is the one where Harold is looking at Maude's hand, and she pulls it away.  If you look closely, you will see that she has a number tattooed on her wrist.  As in, thirty years ago, she was once a prisoner in a concentration camp.

They don't really spell it out in the movie, but just imagine what Maude went through as a Jew in Germany in the 1930's, and imagine how close she came to death so many times way back when she was a girl.  There is a reason she appreciates life the way that she does.  Her whole character makes sense when you catch that she was once a prisoner in a Nazi death camp.

And also, fuck the police

Okay, I have talked enough about Maude.  It is time to move on to the other memorable character in the movie, Harold.

Presently single

If there is one thing that most people remember about Harold and Maude (aside from the storyline of a kid poking an 80 year old), it is Harold.   More specifically, it is the eccentricities of Harold.  Simply put, Harold Chasen is a strange young man with a strange little fascination with death.

Oh, and how does he like to show off this strange little fascination with death?


He is constantly pretending to kill himself just to get a reaction out of people.

Harold pretending to hang himself just to get his mother's attention

Harold trying to shock his mother with a fake wrist slitting in the bathtub

This one is great.  Harold fakes drowning and his mother doesn't even bat an eye.  She just swims right by him.

Yes, if you thought that the romance between Harold and Maude was weird, just wait until you get a load of Harold himself.  And his death fetish.  This is the storyline that most people think of when they think of this movie.  They think of Harold constantly pretending to kill himself just to get a reaction out of everyone.

Like the time he cuts off his hand just to freak out a girl on a date

Or the time he pretends to set himself on fire out in the yard

Or this one

Oh, and did I mention that Harold drives a hearse??

Chicks dig it.  It's the shaggin' wagon.

So anyway, there you have it.  Harold and Maude.   I'm not entirely sure I would agree with Mary and call it the greatest love story of our time.  But it sure is one of the more memorable ones.  Featuring a young man who is morbid and obsessed with death, and an old woman who is vibrant and obsessed with life.  Without question it is one of the quirkiest movies I have ever seen.  It also happens to be one of the better ones.

Get a room, granny

This is one of those movies that everyone needs to see at least once in their life.  You just sort of have to.  It is way too good to be stuck in the status of a seldom seen little cult favorite.  I mean, just look at some of the IMDB reviews that I included below.  Check out all the teenagers who watched it for the first time in the 2010's, and they immediately fell in love with it.  That is the power of this movie.  

Harold and Maude might be old, but some of the themes and the lines and the quotes are just timeless.  Like I said at the start of my review, there is a reason that so many people for so many years have been a fan of this movie.  If you are in the right frame of mine the first time you see it, it just grabs ahold of you and you will never forget it.

If you aren't interested in seeing Harold and Maude for the romance, see it for the comedy.  If you aren't interested in seeing it for the comedy, see it for the philosophy.  If you couldn't care less about philosophy or romance or comedy, see it for the music.  Because Harold and Maude also happens to feature one of the best movie soundtracks ever made.  Featuring a bunch of really good (and really perfect) Cat Stevens songs.  It is almost impossible to talk about this movie without talking about the Cat Stevens soundtrack.

There are very few movies out there that I could recommend any more highly than I recommend Harold and Maude.  Like I said before, it is a movie that is so good that it actually changed the way that I look at the world.  I could watch Maude's speeches about life and about freedom and about being happy with who you are and what it means to be alive a hundred times, and I will never get tired of them.  And I could watch Harold hacking off his hand to freak out Edith Phern a hundred times, and it will never not be funny.  What an odd, endearing, beautiful, quirky little gem of a movie.

Like I said before, you gotta see Harold and Maude at least once on your life.  And then after you have seen it once, tell a friend about it.  

This is one of those timeless little masterpieces that will still be awesome fifty years from now.  

Most people's reaction the first time they see Harold and Maude

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Harold and Maude:

The reason movies exist! - 29 June 2004
I only saw this film quite recently but it hopped straight to my number one film of all time. It is beautiful. Bud Cort is charming as Harold and Ruth Gordon - dare I say cute? - is Maude. If I look like her when I'm eighty I'll be out there nicking cars and fluttering my eyelashes at policemen too! Maude wrenches Harold free from his morbid and lonely existence to show him how lush and amazing the world can be and he emerges from his experiences a happy man. This is definitely one of the films that (along with say, Fight Club, American Beauty and The Rocky Horror Picture Show) show you can be who you want to be, and you needn't let anyone oppress you. It's brilliant. Everyone should know a Maude. It has inspired me to buy a banjo and play Cat Stevens songs.

One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen - 13 August 2010
Harold and Maude has been one of my favorite films for a very, very long time. Everything about this movie is just so wonderful and uplifting that I have not one bad word to say about it. It is a beautiful film on so many levels that I cannot even use words to describe how much it has touched my life.

Bud Cort is amazing in the role of Harold Chasen, a bored and wealthy young man who spends his time driving around in a hearse, attending numerous funerals, and committing fake suicides in front of his overbearing mother (hilariously played by Vivian Pickles). One day, Harold meets an eccentric yet sweet older woman by the name of Maude. She expresses a very rich and powerful passion for life and living things. Soon, they become very friendly and begin to escort each other on small adventures such as transplanting a tree into the forest and playing a trick to get Harold out of being forced to join the army. By the end of the film, Harold's obsession with death has slowly faded away and blossomed into a beautiful love for life, just like Maude. Ruth Gordon is my absolute favorite actress and she is simply brilliant as Maude. Her words of wisdom and her zest for different kinds of things never cease to make me smile. Everyone should know a Maude in real life. Hal Ashby (who could very well be the most underrated and forgotten director of all time) does an incredible job of bringing Colin Higgins' story to the screen. Cat Stevens provides an outstanding soundtrack that goes along excellently with the overall flavor of the film. Harold and Maude is the movie that first introduced me to his music, and I am now a big fan of his songs.

Harold and Maude is definitely not a film for everyone. It requires an open mind and a certain taste for films with a peculiar way about them. Dark, zany, yet lovable humor abounds in this film. There are certain scenes that always have me howling with laughter, regardless of how many times I've seen them. It is a very touching and romantic love story about two unlikely people falling for each other.

This film is timeless, and so is it's heartwarming message. I will never grow tired of this movie, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

harold and maude where have you been all my life. - 23 August 2007
can you believe i am 21 years old and only recently saw this film. i had heard chatters about it but never followed through...until a few days ago! and wow! how can this film have been made in 1971, it makes no sense, and i know that the 70s was a particularly strong period for American cinema but this film feels like it could have come from last week! perfect performances, the music by the former cat stevens was great, and the quirk of the storyline and dialogue was likable without being alienating. there were just little hidden things that one could take for face value but if you looked further you'd see a greater substance. i loved this film. i loved this film. i loved this film.

Wonderfully quirky without over doing it - 14 June 2012
I am a teenager and my mother sat me down to watch this movie. I loved it. It was strange and ever so slightly outdated but its message and storyline was incredible. I feel in love with both characters and was intrigued by their relationship.

It was definitely worth watching and it should be more popular than it is.

This will always be one of my favorites.

An original timeless wonderful film - 7 January 2010
I first saw this in an English class a few years ago having heard it was a film I would enjoy and boy were they correct! I bought it a couple of weeks after. It's quite timeless, my dad said how he'd seen it 20 years ago and loved it just the same.

It's such a different quirky original movie that is hard to get tired of. From Harold's unexpected antics - "sucide attempts," his mother's ignorance towards a son who would love nothing more than some attention from her, some bad blind dates and then there's Maude.

It involves a lonely rich different type young man with too much apparent time on his hands and lacking a purposeful life. After meeting Maude at funerals where he goes for fun, his life is opened up by this free spirited older women who shows him love in its true form (not in any cheesy way at all) and a well-lived life.

It's so classic and quite funny - thoroughly enjoyable.

"A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life" Maude says so many perfect quotes that define humanity and in fact Harold's life up until then.

And the Cat Stevens soundtrack, so perfect, complete with feel-good catchy songs you can't help singing for days. <3 "zoos are full, prisons are overflowing. ah, my. how the world still dearly loves a cage" A Fantastically unforgettable loving comedy with a great message - a must see for everyone!

This is the movie The Graduate should have been - 29 March 2000
Harold and Maude is a perfect movie. It's extremely well written and well acted. It reminded me a lot of The Graduate, a movie which I liked but felt was not all that special. Harold is much like Benjamin from that movie, but he's such a jerk. And Mrs. Robinson is also completely unlikable. Harold and Maude has to be the most uplifting film I have ever seen. It is one of those rare films which makes you re-examine your life in a positive way. I beg you to see it. One rarely sees films of this caliber.

Overrated? I think not. - 19 January 2003
I fell in love with this movie and its music within 5 minutes of its start. The characters and their development was rather endearing, I found myself accepting of a romantic relationship that would normally make me ill, and as it ended, I was in tears. I was highly moved by the story and intrigued by its depth. It is apparent that Maude enbodies many Buddhist philosophies and Harold represents the search for meaning in our lives we all face in different ways. To truly appreciate this movie, you must view it several times to catch all the depth and subtle messages it holds. Cat Stevens' songs also are filled with deep meaning and intertwine Maude's outlook and approach in life. The movie and lyrics succeed not only to amuse and touch our hearts, but also to help us think in a different way and approach life with arms open. I highly recommend that you see this if you haven't. It is known as a cult classic, but should be remembered as so much more. If anything, this movie is not given the credit it deserves to be remembered as one of the best written, casted, and acted motion pictures of our time. Out of 5 stars, I'd give it 5.

A wonderful coming-of-age film that everyone needs to see - 26 September 2005
Harold and Maude is one of those obscure movies that not many people see, but almost every one who does loves it. I saw the DVD cover with the bubble letters and goofy font on the title, and I thought that this would be some worthless screwball cheese fest. Boy, was I wrong. Rith Gordon and Bud Cort give A+ performances, and the secondary characters are a hoot. The end of the film is very bittersweet, and it sends across a powerful message on life and how it's worth living for every waking and beautiful moment. Cat Stevens provides an incredible soundtrack. See this film, folks. It's one of the best and most touching, funny, and lovable films you'll ever see.

A Movie That Actually Influenced the Way I Think - 10 April 2007
Bud Cort appeared in two of my favorite (and two of the quirkiest) movies from the 1970s: "Harold and Maude" and "Brewster McCloud." He also appeared in a cameo at the tail-end of "Sweet Charity," another of my favorites. Given that little resume of movie roles, he has forever won a place in my heart, as has this movie.

"Harold and Maude" is a modest little masterpiece from Hal Ashby, and deserves to be viewed as more than just an eccentric little cult hit appreciated by an elite few. It's hard to think of another movie whose success relies so entirely upon its pitch-perfect tone. Ashby's film walks a tightrope between black (almost too black) comedy and sentimental (almost too sentimental) pathos, but manages to blend the two perfectly to produce something quite unlike anything else I've ever seen.

Harold is a gloomy misfit with a morbid death obsession, who likes to stage his own fake suicides in order to win the attention of his dithery and oblivious mother (Vivian Pickles, in an uproarious performance). He meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an eccentric old lady with a taste for fast driving and an unparalleled lust for life. Maude teaches Harold how to enjoy the world around him instead of letting it slowly pass him by, while Harold gives Maude someone to share her days with. It's an achingly beautiful movie, in a low-key kind of way. Ashby is the king of understatement, and everything, both the outrageous comedy and the tender, sad moments, are delivered simply and effectively. He's got great actors in a great story, and he trusts both enough to stand back and let them work their magic.

Ruth Gordon gives one of my favorite film performances of all time as Maude. It would be easy to dismiss her role as easy, if it were not for those quiet moments when Maude lets her enthusiastic guard down and we get glimpses of some sadness in her life that she's made a willful decision not to let overcome her. There are moments in this movie that actually made me think differently about the world we live in. Just for an example, there's a scene when Harold and Maude are sitting by a pond, and Harold gives Maude a ring he won for her in a carnival. She clutches it to her chest, thanks him for it, and then throws it into the water. Harold at first looks outraged that she would throw his gift away. But she says, "Now I'll always know where it is," and Harold's hurt look transforms into a smile of understanding. If I could think about life the way the character of Maude does in this movie, I know I would be a happier person.

"Harold and Maude" is a shining gem from the 1970s, and one of those movies I just have to watch every once in a while. Along with the two leads, there's of course Pickles' off-the-wall performance, and very funny support from actors in minor roles, like Harold's therapist ("sagging buttocks") and his war-crazed uncle. Plus, there's the wonderful score comprised of Cat Stevens songs, which caps off the tone of the movie beautifully.

* My favorite trivia about Harold and Maude:

* In all shots of Ruth Gordon (Maude) driving the hearse it is being towed because Ruth Gordon never learned how to drive a car.

* The scenes in which Harold turns to look at the camera after successfully scaring off his first date, and when he does "the finger" behind his mother's back after she sees the Jaguar turned into a Hearse, were not in the script, rather, they were improvised by Bud Cort.

* When considering the role of Harold, Bud Cort asked the opinion of director Robert Altman, his mentor. Altman cautioned that rising star Cort might find himself forever typecast. For this reason, Cort turned down the role of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

* Maude's picture frames are empty. In Colin Higgins's book, Harold asks why she removed the photographs (the scene was not used in the movie). Maude tells him they mocked her by their images remaining sharp even as her memories were fading, implying that she is suffering from Alzheimer's or a similar form of dementia.

* Flamboyant eighties pop star Boy George is a big fan of this movie. When he met Bud Cort on the set of Electric Dreams, his first words to Cort were, "So you're the bloke who kept killing himself!"

* While watching a sunset with Harold, Maude sees a flock of seagulls and refers to Dreyfus. Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), a Jewish officer in the French army, was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894, and sentenced to life in solitary confinement on Devil's Island (a penal colony off the coast of French Guiana). He was pardoned five years later, and ultimately exonerated when the evidence against him was proved false. The incident is seen by most historians as a revelation and indictment of French antisemitism, and its implications for French Jews still reverberate in France. The Dreyfus conversation coincides with Harold seeing Maude's concentration camp tattoo for the first time, which juxtaposes two of the most infamous instances of institutionalized European antisemitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and strongly implies that Maude had been a Jewish concentration camp prisoner during World War II.

* The hearse Harold originally drives is a 1959 Cadillac Superior 3-way model that is one of the most sought after hearses among collectors today but at the time was considered nothing more than an undesirable used car which was purchased for a few hundred dollars. The Jaguar hearse was really destroyed at the end and no replica exists because they only constructed one version for filming.

* One of my all time favorite cute "hey whatever happened to her?" actresses is Shari Summers, who a lot of people will remember from The Bad News Bears.  She played the wife of Roy Turner, she was the chick with the halter top who wore the skintight bell bottoms.  Yeah, if you grew up in the 70's you would remember her.  Anyway, aside from her notable role in The Bad News Bears, the only other big movie memorable movie role of her career was right here in Harold and Maude.  She played Edith Phern.  Her picture is the one that I ended the entry on.  Even to this day I wonder whatever happened to her.

* My favorite quotes from Harold and Maude:

Psychiatrist: Tell me, Harold, how many of these, eh, *suicides* have you performed?
Harold: An accurate number would be difficult to gauge.
Psychiatrist: Well, just give me a rough estimate.
Harold: A rough estimate? I'd say
[savoring the thought]
Harold: fifteen.
Psychiatrist: Fifteen?
Harold: That's a rough estimate.
Psychiatrist: Were they all done for your mother's benefit?
Harold: No. No, I would not say "benefit."

Maude: You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing... oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage.

Maude: The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.
Maude: Who said that, Harold?
Harold: I don't know.
Maude: Well, I suppose I did, then.

Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They're so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?
Harold: I don't know. One of these, maybe.
Maude: Why do you say that?
Harold: Because they're all alike.
Maude: Oooh, but they're *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are *this*,
[she points to a daisy]
Maude: yet allow themselves be treated as *that*.
[she gestures to a field of daisies]

Maude: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

Harold: Maude.
Maude: Hmm?
Harold: Do you pray?
Maude: Pray? No. I communicate.
Harold: With God?
Maude: With life.

Maude: Vice, Virtue. It's best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much *life.* Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you're bound to live life fully.

Harold: You hop in any car you want and just drive off?
Maude: Well, not any car - I like to keep a variety. I'm always looking for the new experience.
Harold: [smiling] Maybe.
Harold: [more seriously] Nevertheless, I think you're upsetting people. I don't know if that's right.
Maude: Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I'm merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don't get attached to things *now.* With *that* in mind, I'm not against collecting stuff.

Psychiatrist: That's very interesting, Harold, and I think, very illuminating. There seems to be a definite pattern emerging. And, of course, this pattern, once isolated, can be coped with. Recognize the problem, and you are halfway on the road to its, uh, its solution. Uh, tell me, Harold, what do you do for fun? What activity gives you a different sense of enjoyment from the others?  Uh, what do you find fulfilling?  What gives you that... special satisfaction?
 I go to funerals.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Yeah?
Harold: [pulls the stamped coin from the arcade out of his pocket] Here.
Maude: A gift!
[reads the engraving]
Maude: "Harold loves Maude."... and Maude loves Harold. This is the nicest gift I've received in years.
[she throws the stamped coin into the water]
Harold: [gasps, bemused]
Maude: [smiling]  So I'll always know where it is!

Mrs. Chasen: [after spotting Harold hanging from a noose in the living room] I suppose you think that's very funny, Harold... Oh, dinner at eight, Harold. And do try and be a little more vivacious.

Maude: [watching funeral party] Who sends dead flowers to a funeral? It's absurd.

* My favorite scene in Harold and Maude:

I included a picture of it above, but it is the scene where Harold hacks off his hand and his date (Edith Phern) flees the room in terror.  And then out of exasperation, his mother just shoots him the most disgusted look you can imagine.  Harold then turns to the camera and smiles like he knows a joke and nobody else does, and along with the music this is one of my favorite moments of any movie from the 70's.  Here is the picture again, since I do love this scene so much:

Harold and Maude at the IMDB

Harold and Maude at Wikipedia

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