The 1970s in Film

I Finally Watched HAROLD AND MAUDE

“I haven’t lived. I’ve died a few times.”

This is one of those movies that had fallen under the category of “I really want to see this movie” for a good while.

Harold and Maude (1971) was the first movie I ever watched at the TCM Classic Film Festival. My friend Jeremy and I lined up for the screening on Thursday night (the first official day of the festival). We stood next to a woman whose name I recognized from the “Going to TCM Classic Film Festival!” Facebook group. She has attended the festival for several years and comes from Canada each spring to indulge in the delights of TCMFF. Before we even set foot in the theater, she assured me that Harold and Maude is an incredible movie. I had no reason to doubt her.

From the moment Harold (Bud Cort) appeared onscreen, I knew I was going to fall in love with it. It also opens up with a Cat Stevens song (the whole film is filled with his music, actually) and a perfect moment of dark comedy, setting the tone for the rest of the flick.

Although I greatly enjoy many movies, there are just a handful of them that really have a profound impact on my life and Harold and Maude is one of them.

If you haven’t seen the film before, you probably at least know its general plot: it’s a love story between a young man and an old woman. Don’t be fooled; it’s so much more than that.

Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a nineteen-year-old obsessed with death. To amuse himself, he simulates committing suicide in order to get attention from his mother. Every time he does it, his uptight and emotionally detached mother (Vivian Pickles) either ignores it or throws a fit. (Finally, she decides that Harold needs to get married in order to grow out of his “shenanigans”, so she sets out to find the perfect girl for him.)

Her reactions make every situation so funny.

Oh, Harold also drives a wicked Jaguar hearse.

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(courtesy of imcdb.org)

Harold’s hobby is attending random funerals for fun. During one particular funeral, he first spots 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon) who also happens to attend funerals in her spare time. They became fast friends despite their totally opposite outlooks on life. Whereas Harold sees through a scope of darkness, Maude sees light all around. They realize that they’re a good match and begin spending all of their time together. Harold begins to see life as something not terrible, but beautiful. Then, they become more than friends.

A note about the performances and reception at the time of the film’s release: Did you know that Harold and Maude was actually a flop when it was released into theaters in 1971? Looking back, I think it was a flop on the part of the Academy to give it a total of zero Oscar nominations. How was it not at least nominated for Best Picture? How did Ruth Gordon not get the recognition she deserved? And did they even see Bud Cort’s performance? Wow. Back then, I think a lot of people were too weirded out by the movie’s portrayal of Harold and Maude’s romance and overlooked its brilliance. Too bad for them!

The movie sat around – unloved – for several years, then people actually started watching it and loving it. Now, forty-five years after it was released, Harold and Maude is one of the quintessential cult classics.

As much as I adore Ruth Gordon’s performance (seriously, old age goals), Bud Cort has been the one who has stuck the most in my mind since viewing the movie. I was so touched to see his character transform from a miserable teenager into a man who embraced life. Because of her, Harold steps outside of his “comfort zone”. He learns how to play the banjo, he smiles, he goes out… I was touched when he declared his love to Maude because, despite it being unorthodox for those two people to fall in love, it was pure.

In real life, Bud Cort is someone who I hope to meet someday. I’ve heard he’s a nice guy and he seems like such an interesting person and I’d like think we’d make good friends. He’s held bitter feelings toward Harold and Maude for years because he makes almost nothing off of residuals from the last forty-six years. What a shame that is. 

To top it off, the soundtrack is made up of Cat Stevens tunes and it’s just about perfect.


Harold and Maude will be airing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on June 21, 2017 at 8:00 PM (EST). If you’re active on Twitter and like to live-tweet movies, be sure to join the #TCMParty hashtag for lots of extra fun.

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(courtesy of all-that-is-interesting.com)
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The 1970s in Film

“The Goodbye Girl” (1977) Had Me at Hello

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(courtesy of latimes.com)

I officially love The Goodbye Girl (1977). If you don’t believe me yet, I’ll inform you that I recently received a print of the official poster in the mail and I’ve hung it up on my bedroom wall right next to my Top Hat poster. They make a great team. But enough about me. Let’s talk movies.

The Goodbye Girl was written by Neil Simon (The Odd CoupleBarefoot in the Park), directed by Herbert Ross, and it starred Richard Dreyfuss (JawsAmerican Graffiti) and Marsha Mason.

One question: Why isn’t this movie more well known? It isn’t extremely well-known, at least compared to films like When Harry Met Sally and Casablanca. Sometimes, though, I think it’s even more fun to enjoy something that’s not well-known. But gosh dang it, let’s talk about it. Let’s party like it’s 1985 – like it’s time to sit down for a Thursday Night Movie on ABC:

 

The Goodbye Girl tells the story of a single mother named Paula McFadden whose married boyfriend, Tony, has just left her with no warning. She finds a letter on the mantle in the apartment they shared together with Paula’s ten year old daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings) in Manhattan. Devastated by this, Paula is then informed by her landlady that Tony had subleased the apartment before his departure, another move that was unbeknownst to Paula. She becomes furious and declares that she will not be giving up the apartment.

Later that night, a strange rain-soaked man knocks on the door and informs Paula that he is a friend of Tony’s and that he is now a resident of the apartment. Paula becomes furious once again and tells him that he is not welcome in the apartment, but the man is persistent enough that she finally caves in and lets him in to discuss the matter.

The strange man in question: Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss) is a stage actor from Chicago who acts in off-off Broadway plays. When he tells Paula his profession, she’s angered: After Tony ran out, she sees all male actors on the same level.

She finally relents and allows him to stay but on (unfairly) strict conditions. Their relationship from the start is rocky at best: There is seldom a moment of peace or agreement between Paula and Elliot.

Exhibit A: (Also, haha @ the title of this video)

“And I DON’T. LIKE. THE. PANTIES. DRYING. ON. THE. ROD.”


Exhibit B:


Paula works hard to get into shape so that she can hopefully return to the stage as a dancer, like she once was. Later on, she gets a gig modeling/selling cars.

Throughout the film, Elliot and Paula slowly come to admire each other. Elliot shows that he’s a compassionate guy and he begins to adopt a sweet fatherly role for Lucy.

Then, things begin to get complicated. Sparks begin to fly between Elliot and Paula, which makes Lucy upset. When things become obviously more-than-platonic, Lucy becomes convinced that Elliot is just another Tony; that she and her mother will be, once again, deserted and heartbroken. For those of you who haven’t watched the film, I invite you to give it a view and fill in the blanks (and the ending) for yourselves.


So, what was it about The Goodbye Girl that captivated me? 

  • The fact that Paula has classic movie star posters hung up on some of the apartment walls. When she shows Elliot his room, we are treated to the sight of a big Jean Harlow poster hanging up above the bed. Later on, we can (briefly) see classic film star photos posted in Elliot’s dressing room. I spotted a James Cagney one, specifically. Where can I find one of those?
  • Elliot’s Richard III performance: I lost it. The director of the show forces Elliot to portray the titular character as a highly, highly hiiiiighly flamboyant gay man and although Elliot hates it, the results for the movie watcher are astounding. I’d pay big money to see that performance live.
  • Richard Dreyfuss’s performance/The quirkiness of Elliot: Dreyfuss rightfully won an Oscar for this role. At first, Elliot seems arrogant and comes off as annoyingly pretentious…at least through they eyes of Paula. But I love that he’s so quirky: Among other things, he plays his guitar in the nude when he can’t sleep, meditates each  morning (always with incense, of course), and he’s extremely cautious about what kind of food goes into his body. We, the audience, get to see that he’s actually a great guy who has a romantic side. I mean, holy…… Which leads me to:
  • The bathroom scene: Out of context, that probably sounds weird. But if you know what I’m talking about, I hope you agree with me here. I melted during this scene. HOLY DREYFUSS.goodbyegirl2
  • The rooftop scene: For those of you who have yet to see this movie, I won’t say much. Geez, I melted once again during this scene. I know I’m not the only one.

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  • Quinn Cummings’ performance as Lucy McFadden: She was just ten years old but she played that role like a seasoned veteran. In my head, I have branded her the ’70s Margaret O’Brien. She’s so funny in this movie. Her performance landed her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award and a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award.

The song “Goodbye Girl”, released and performed by David Gates, was introduced at the end of the film and became a hit the following year:


Do yourself a favor and watch (or re-watch) The Goodbye Girl. Some may find it to be way too cheesy, but it’s really cute. I think Dreyfuss really carries it. This was the first film of his that I ever watched; I only discovered Jaws (1975) last week – literally. He’s such a dream. (According to sixteen people on Twitter, I’m not the only one who has a crush on ’70s Dreyfuss.) As mentioned before, Quinn Cummings holds her own, too. She’s fantastic.

Grab a blanket, sit on the couch, dim the lights, and enjoy The Goodbye Girl.

Happy watching!

Fashion in Film, musicals, The 1970s in Film

“Cabaret” (1972)

 “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, hear the music play…Life is a cabaret, old chum…”

Let’s take a trip back to 1931 Berlin. Liza Minnelli stars in Cabaret (1972) as Sally Bowles, an Original_movie_poster_for_CabaretAmerican chanteuse who dreams of fame but performs in a small-time (but lively) nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub. The film opens with a literal ‘welcome’ from the club’s Master of Ceremonies (portrayed by Joel Grey, known today for his notable work in Broadway shows like Anything Goes). In this opening, we get a general sense of the film’s tone. It’s unconventional, daring, and wonderfully bizarre. It also deals with the rise of the Nazi party and the Antisemitism that comes with it in both direct and indirect sequences throughout the film.

If anyone reading this write-up has not seen this movie entirely, be warned: There are some spoilers.

Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles
Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles

During the opening song “Willkommen”, we see an intertwined part of the narrative, which is something that also happens throughout the film. The Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) is kind of the glue that holds the fabric of the film together. A pattern begins with the opening number. Each time one of the cabaret acts happens, a corresponding event is taking place in “the real world”.

During the song, we see cuts to “the real world” outside of the Kit Kat Klub. The film itself welcomes a young Englishman named Brian Roberts (Michael York) who has taken a train to live in Berlin while he finishes his work to earn a PhD. He is a student at Cambridge University and, seeing as he has little money to live on, he begins his stay in Berlin by offering English lessons to anyone who is interested.


Brian moves into an apartment building which Sally Bowles lives in. Just as he comes in to rent a Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles Oscar winner in Cabaret 1972room, he runs into Sally and the two become fast friends. She sort of shows him the ins-and-outs of their living quarters (and what “Divine Decadence” nail polish looks like).

He accompanies her to the Kit Kat Klub shortly after moving in and meets one of her closest friends and a native of Germany, Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), who’s working tirelessly at becoming a gigolo. Brian soon begins giving English lessons to Fritz.

Sally Bowles performs
Sally performs “Mein Herr” – on chair

Sally is a free-spirited bohemian girl who is not shy about talking about her regular (and random) sexual encounters – although not much is explicitly said (on camera, at least). She and Brian give each other a nice balance. He’s reserved while she’s totally flamboyant and outgoing. But there’s a deep level of vulnerability hidden inside of her. Brian becomes successful with his English lessons and Sally continues to dream of fame and perform at the club, masking her self-esteem issues from the world.


The song “Maybe This Time”, which Sally sings at the club, really echoes her real-life situation. For anyone who has ever had trouble with confidence, the song hits hard. It’s wonderful.

“Everybody loves a winner, so nobody loved me”

As you can see in glimpses during the song, Sally and Brian develop romantic feelings for each other and become lovers. Let me note that Liza Minnelli and Michael York had great chemistry. And a second note: York’s voice. Holy golly. Anyway, Sally wants to make sure not to fall in love with the young scholar because she’s bound and determined to marry a rich man. Enter Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), a rich and handsome playboy who entices Sally from the get-go. Oh, did I mention that’s he’s also a baron?

Herr Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) - via playbuzz.com -
Herr Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem)
– via playbuzz.com –

As Sally is getting her laundry done she meets Maximilian. After a little bit of flirting, Max offers Sally a ride in his limousine and after that, they begin seeing each other. Max begins to pamper Sally by doing things like buying her frivolous things, like a nice fur coat.

In the midst of this love triangle, another love story is brewing. Fritz, who I mentioned earlier, meets a wealthy young Jewish heiress named Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson) and at first falls for her fortune. It doesn’t take long for him to fall for her, regardless of her big bucks. This is the first time he’s fallen in love with someone

Fritz is totally in love with Natalia.
Fritz falls in love with Natalia. – blu-ray.com –

for non-gigolo reasons. He starts seeking advice from his friends. Once Natalia falls in love with Fritz, she seeks advice from Sally. Sally also -indirectly – advises Fritz to “pounce”. And boy, does he pounce, to the shock and – later -excitement of Natalia. Things become serious, although Natalia refuses multiple marriage proposals. Fritz concealed the fact that he was a Jew until he discovered that marriage between Natalia and him would not work because she believed that he was a Christian and she was a Jew. He decides that he has to step up and do the right thing. Although he’s a bit rough around the edges to begin with, I love seeing Fritz’s transformation into a man who no longer cares about money above everything else. I think their romantic subplot is really sweet.

Amidst the love triangle between Sally, Max, and Brian, things become even more complicated. Brian, at first hostile with Max, is eventually attracted to Max. So we get this strange mix of Sally, Brian, and Max all feeling feelings for each other. On top of this, Sally and Brian discover that Max isn’t just some hot bachelor; he’s married. He and his wife live completely separate lives, but do not seek divorce because of the strain that would put on their spending habits. Charming. An all-out argument between Sally and Brian ensues not long after an evening out with Max. It’s a quite revealing argument, where a bombshell of sorts is dropped. How does it all end? Well, if you haven’t seen the film, I urge you to see it for yourself.

Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies
Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies
The Emcee (Joel Grey) with his true love - from the musical number
The Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) with his true love – from the musical number “If You Could See Her”

Among the other accolades it received, Cabaret nabbed a total of eight Oscar wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Liza Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey, and Best Director for Bob Fosse. When it was released in 1972, the film received a positive welcome from its worldwide audience. The film had earned a total of $4.5 million by May 1973 in North America, and it earned another $3.5 in other countries. It received a profit of $2,452.000.

But let’s not just look at the numbers to determine the success and legacy of the film. Cabaret is quite a unique piece of art. When I watch an old musical (which happens often), it’s typically one of the colorful, romantic ones. Although there are fun and carefree moments in Cabaret, they are the exception to the otherwise dark and gritty scenes. When I first watched it on TCM, I didn’t really think that I would like it. How wrong I was.

At the beginning, the Master of Ceremonies invites – even pleads -people to, “Leave your troubles outside! Life is disappointing? Forget it! In here, life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful, even zee orchestra is beautiful.”

At the end, Sally sings the titular song “Cabaret” to the audience after a bittersweet event in her own life. The lyrics themselves beg the audience in the Kit Kat Klub to go out and enjoy life: “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, here the music play…” just as it says at the top of this post – a great life lesson. I love that Sally is nowhere near perfect and by the end of the movie she’s made choices that some people would majorly argue against. But you know what? She’s a human being. And, even with her shortcomings, she rocks so hard. And you have to give it to the girl: Despite it all, she makes some decisions that are totally selfless and by God, she goes out there on stage and gives it her all. I’d argue that she is one of the most interesting characters in film history.

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Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli with their Golden Globe awards, 1973

Cabaret is available for purchase. You can find a copy of it on Amazon (at least on DVD) for around $10. It airs on TCM every so often, so if you get that channel, you can probably catch it in the near future.

This movie is magical. Please enjoy it as I did.