[Last Film I Saw] Harold and Maude (1971)

Harold and Maude poster

Title: Harold and Maude
Year: 1971
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Hal Ashby
Writer: Colin Higgins
Music: Cat Stevens
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
Bud Cort
Ruth Gordon
Vivian Pickles
Cyril Cusack
Charles Tyner
G. Wood
Ellen Geer
Shari Summers
Judy Engles
Tom Skerritt
Eric Christmas
Rating: 7.4/10

Harold and Maude 1

Harold's suicide pranks

Harold’s suicide pranks

It is a quaint and quirky May-December romance between a 20-some morbid rich kid Harold (Cort) with a holocaust-surviver Maude (Gordon), who is approaching her 80-year-old birthday. Harold is a torpid and pasty boy possessed with death, he frequently plays suicide pranks at home so much so that his mother (Pickles) doesn’t take it seriously at all, which is designed as a peculiar opening gambit sets the black comedy tone of the film directed by Hal Ashby (BEING THERE 1979 and SHAMPOO 1975).

Ruth Gordon as Maude

Ruth Gordon as Maude

Both are enthusiastic funeral-crashers, Harold and Maude meet at someone else’s funeral, as opposed by their sex and age, so is their personae, compared with the hearse-riding Harold, Maude is a live-in-the-moment embracer, living inside a disused trunk which she has transformed into a cozy and exotic harbour, she is an adroit car thief and a reckless driver, her devil-may-care spirits diffuse Harold’s unwholesome disobedience towards the bourgeois hollowness, and she opens a new world for him, they enjoy olfactory memorabilia, rescue dying tree, open up to each other, and sex is well-hinted too.

Charles Tyner as the uncle of Harold, a proxy father figure

Charles Tyner as the uncle of Harold, a proxy father figure

Decidedly uplifting vignettes are the three blind-dates organised by Harold’s mother, during which Harold scare off his dates by self-immolation, cutting off his arm and hara-kiri respectively, the last one Sunshine Doré (Geer) is a dilettante actress, her histrionic improv of Romeo and Juliet strikes as a potential match for Harold’s temperament. Another wacky scheme is pulled off by Harold and Maude together, to dissuade Harold’s war hawk uncle (Tyner) from enrolling him in the army, a manifest derision in the face of militant blind-faith.

Harold and his rich mother

Harold and his rich mother

Clearly, Maude is the saviour of the young Harold with her insightful wisdom and attitude, however, for Maude herself, she is beyond any salvation, her covertly suggested background subtly indicates that it is a hard-earned priviledge to decide when to leave solely on her own volition, it is determined long before she meets Harold, which is a bit pejorative towards senility because she is so energetic and life-loving, and for christ’s sake, she has just met her soulmate! It would be wiser to inflict some ailment (e.g. dementia) on her to justify her self-serving resolution.

Ellen Geer as blind date no. 3

Ellen Geer as blind date no. 3

Still, it is a wondrous comedy anchored by two outstanding performances, Bud Cort’s man-child ambiguity is redolent with indelible marks as a spoiled child from the beat generation while Ruth Gordon unleashes her infectious vitality unremittingly, and the tricky part is their liaison never falls into self-consciousness or over-contrivance, it can smoothly strike viewers’ emotional core near the end.

the ending, goodbye hearse

the ending, goodbye hearse

It will be a vital remiss if I don’t mention Cat Stevens’ omnipresent soundtrack, a tuneful product of its time, but the theme song IF YOU WANT TO SING OUT, SING OUT is stressed at least three times, thus during the end credits, it sadly overkills.


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