Classic Review – Harold and Maude (1971)

harold and maude

Harold and Maude

Directed by Hal Ashby

Starring Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles

Review by Jordan

Often times a cult film, particularly one made in the industrious ‘70’s, fails to live up to its reputation when viewed for the first time now. Hal Ashby’s black-as-night comedic drama Harold and Maude is not such a film. Over 40 years have passed since this odd-couple first graced cinema screens and shocked the audience into either applaud or discomfort, but still there is nothing else like it… these outlandish but wholly relatable characters, the darkly humorous suicide scenarios and the ingenious use of music by Cat Stevens all culminating in a one-of-a-kind work of artistic and thematic brilliance.

Harold (Bud Cort) is born into a rich family he feels no connection to, frequently attempting (or appearing to attempt) suicide in clear view of his mother who finds it to be an utter inconvenience, his strange ways causing her to arrange various dates with nice girls for him in which he of course fakes his death or dismemberment in variously gruesome ways. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is an energetic 79 year old who believes in living life to the fullest whilst it is still in her possession; taking residence in a train cart and uprooting trees from the city to re-plant in the forest. They both meet at a funeral (an event they frequent for differing reasons), and a friendship, leading to a companionship is formed. So it’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but it is touching at times in its own weird way.

Though the destination here is quite transcendent, Harold and Maude appears interested more in the journey these opposites take than their eventual fate, which really is blatantly predictable. Through this, as well as Being There (1979, starring an exceptional Peter Sellers), Ashby showed an enviable tendency to allow his characters time and space to live in their world, as opposed to being vehicles in it for a greater story; Maude in particular having enough enthusiastic views and life experience to warrant a movie of her own, and knowing her she would welcome that. It should be noted however that the abstract tone here and lack of genre definition will certainly not be to everyone’s taste; the beauty of film is that every viewer will have a different experience, and they can be greatly diverse here.

Some would argue that death cannot be funny, I would argue that life for some can be just as bleak. There is a time to live and a time to die, and always time to laugh.

4.5 compact hearses out of 5

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10 responses to “Classic Review – Harold and Maude (1971)

  1. I absolutely love this film. I feel like there’s a little bit of Harold in all of us, particularly at that age when you feel a lack of connection to almost everyone around you. And let’s not forget to mention the Cat Stevens soundtrack!

    • Hey Katharine, that is very true… the moments where he cries are unbelievably touching. I’m sure that I could have just listened to 90 mins of Cat Stevens songs on loop, ha, it really is a genius soundtrack!
      Jordan

  2. I have not seen this for many years, but back when I first watched it, oh how I loved it and oh how I agree with what you’ve written. Great review!

  3. Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Black Comedy Tuesday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Pingback: Black Comedy Tuesday – Watch: ‘Harold and Maude’ (Hal Ashby, 1971) | Seminal Cinema Outfit·

  5. Pingback: 10 Classic Movie Endings: Jordan’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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