Running Time: 91 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
If the sixties were celebrating peace and love then the seventies were all about rebellion and breaking down barriers. Harold and Maude was released in 1971 and a perfect example of how filmmakers in this decade dared take the cinemagoer to unchartered ground. In this instance, the taboo subject matter (i.e. a physical love affair between a young man and elderly woman) seemed too much for the critics and audiences with the release being tagged a commercial disaster. Over the years the tale has amassed a massive cult following and has regular showings at art house cinemas around the globe.
The dark humoured, romantic drama tells the story of Harold Chasen (Bud Cort), a young man with an unhealthy obsession with death after a traumatic incident in his childhood. His rich and interfering mother (Vivian Pickles) is determined on marrying her son off while the young bachelor stages fake suicides and recites morbid monologues to scare off any potential suitors. While Harold is indulging in his favourite hobby of attending funeral services, he meets an elderly widower called Maude (Ruth Gordon – Every Which Way but Loose) who actively celebrates every second of her life and is willing to break any laws that inhibit her ability to do so. Harold has never met anyone like Maude before and is emotionally drawn to her energy and spirit. She teaches him how to play the banjo, to paint and enjoy his life. The two become inseparable and Harold plans to propose to Maude on her birthday. However Maude has already decided on where her destiny lies.
Harold and Maude is a must for anyone that loves the offbeat, bitter sweet nature of cinema offerings of the 1970’s. The first half of the movie is quirky, warm and charming with engrossing performances from the leads Cort and Gordon. Ruth Gordon in particular is brilliant as the older but younger at heart of the couple. We follow them as they stumble into one mishap after another. One sequence features the couple convince Harold’s war hungry uncle (Charles Tyner) that a future in the army is not for him and another involves a young policeman (Tom Skerritt) being tormented by the law breaking granny. The best scene is early on where Maude guides her young guest through the eccentric furniture and mad devices around her ramshackle trailer home. The story shifts to a more serious and sombre tone in the final quarter when Harold discovers the reasons behind his soul mate’s outlook in life and worries as to how he might go on living should Maude not be a part of it. With a wonderful soundtrack consisting of tracks from Cat Stevens and a sprinkling of classical pieces, Harold and Maude is a true cult movie gem and one that should be in everyone’s ‘ films to see before they die’ list.