When writer Colin Higgins (Foul Play) and director Hal Ashby (Shampoo) got together in 1971, they made magic, magic in the form of the classic comedy drama, Harold & Maude. A dark, witty and hysterical creation that sees a young man form a wonderful bond with a much older woman. A tale of love, friendship and individuality, this film is rightfully labelled as a classic in cinema 43 years after its initial release.
Harold, played by the brilliant Bud Cort, is a gloomy and self-destructive teenage boy who comes from a well-off family. His mother, refusing to rise to Harold’s acts of faux-suicide and bizarre behaviour, wants him to settle down with a girl and grow up. One of Harold’s favourite things to do is to go to funerals of strangers, and this is where he first meets Maude, played with such a gust of infectious energy by the wonderful Ruth Gordon. The two form a friendship and Maude tells Harold about life, and all the things she’s experienced. Their relationship grows, all the while Harold’s mother is arranging dates for him which he is opposed to, and Maude approaches her eightieth birthday.
Cort and Gordon, as Harold and Maude, have such a rich chemistry on the screen, their relationship is so unusual, and so genuine that you can’t help but be taken away by the scenes that they share together. With the despair and solemn Harold and the spirited and creative Maude, there is a big contrast that provides some hilarious moments, while also allowing both of the characters to grow and learn new things, especially Harold whose naivety is tested throughout the movie. Vivian Pickles, as Harold’s mother, rich, cold and over-bearing, is an absolute joy to watch too, her character is so different to the free-thinking and good-natured Maude, that it gives us more insight into why Harold is the person he is, and why he is drawn to Maude in the first place.
Poignant and sad in moments, while funny, quirky and surreal in others, this is surely a film that gets better with age. From bong-hits, police-chases and bathtub-gore, to severed-hands, artwork-caressing and terrible-tasting-ginger-cake, there is not a moment in this film that is wasted air, and not a moment worth missing. It’s one of those occasions, rare and beautiful, where the entire film works entirely.
The writing is fantastic, with subtle jokes being reeled off in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Ashby’s direction is so strong and his dark and delightful vision is realised beautifully with this film. Apparently not very well received on its release, a shame in itself, this is one that should be seen by any fans of film. The music from Cat Stevens works well, and the songs are as breezy as the way in which the story unfolds. Organic sounding, like a forest or a meadow, Stevens’ voice is a perfect choice for the soundtrack of this film.
It just all goes to creating a work of art, on film, that has now been given even more respect with it now being added to the “Masters of Cinema” line from Eureka. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and the booklet, something we’ve come to expect from all Masters of Cinema releases, provides insight and a fantastic bit of reading. A must-buy, in my view, this film blew me away, as did this specific release.