“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.
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.