Movies A-Go-Go: Harold and Maude

1971 romantic comedy

Rating: 20/20

Plot: I already wrote about this movie here, and I'm happy with the plot synopsis I wrote there.

My brother loaned me the Criterion blu-ray of this which gave enough of an excuse to watch it again. It's firmly in my top five favorite movies, and if you ask me on the right day, I'd probably tell you that it is my favorite movie. I agree with everything that I wrote previously (although I do probably like Cat Stevens more as I get older), but I didn't give this movie nearly enough love. So it gets the increasingly popular Movies-A-Go-Go treatment.

Hanging, self-slashing in Mom’s bathroom, Sunset Boulevarding himself, shooting himself in the head, burning himself alive as a first impression, hari-kari-ing himself on a first date. I've always thought that if I were more clever, I could have been Harold in high school--intrigued with death, gawky, sexually attracted to the elderly. I think part of me wanted to be Harold during my freshman year at the Bible college.

Now I'm more like Maude--saggy and attracted to younger men. [I should have just edited this out.]

Opening starts us in darkness...dark banister, dark suit, dark shoes, dark wood...very little natural lighting here. I know the last shot is all natural lighting, one with lots of sky.

Why would any kid whose family owns a harp not want to embrace life?

That hanging, if you haven’t seen this movie or know its basics, would have to be shocking. More shocking: Mom’s complete apathy. I remember first seeing this scene with mouth agape.

"Mouth agape"--that's the kind of thing you get with Movies-A-Go-Go.

Still love that opening line so much: “I suppose you think that’s very funny, Harold.”

One’s love for this movie can only go as far as their tolerance for Cat Stevens. I never really cared, but I’ve learned to appreciate his repertoire.

First thing Harold needs to do when he climbs down: clean up that stream of slobber. Maybe it's the blu-ray edition, but I'm not sure I'd ever noticed that before. It adds to the grotesquery.

Eat your beets...and watching him devour those beats is the first clue that Bud Cort’s work here is one of the finest acting performances ever.

Mom’s reaction to the second faux-suicide is a little more appropriate, although she’s really more upset at the mess, I think.

The dramatic pause before the “I go to funerals” answer to the “What gives you satisfaction?” question from his psychologist reminds me of Wes Anderson. This might actually be the first Wes Anderson movie actually.

First impression of Maude--a gigantic sneeze.

Divertissements? I guess that's language you can expect from a person who owns a harp.

That “right-hand man” gag is simultaneously the worst thing ever and the best thing ever.

What’s the Nathan Hale connection? That can’t be random as most generals wouldn’t have a Nathan Hale picture in their office. Is that the “Give me liberty or give me death” guy? [I looked this up, and my knowledge of American history is sound. I guess it makes sense since a lot of what this movie is about is freedom.]

That smile when he answers “15” to the psychologist's question about how many suicides he's performed is so perfect. I'd be proud of it too, Harold.

I like that there’s nothing more than a cold homelife and a slightly oppressive mother to explain why Harold is the Harold he is. If this was made now, we’d have scenes where he’s getting bullied in school and stuff, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well.

Maude--psst, a flamboyant wink, and a finger twirl. It would have to be love at first sight, no?

Look up "sex appeal" in the dictionary, and let me know if this picture is there. If not, you need a new dictionary.

Juxtaposition of the parade as the pall bearers…that's a little of what this movie's all about in that one quick image.


“The National Computer Dating Service. They screen out the fat and ugly.” Man, this scene where Mom’s filling out the dating form for him while he’s sitting there tells you everything you need to know about their relationship, doesn't it? 

If Vivian Pickles' character is a MILF here, it's only because she's in one of my favorite movies or because her last name is Pickles.

Bud Cort is so pale.

The first time I watched this, I was sure it was a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” type situation and would end with a devastated mother. I also don’t think I knew it was a comedy.

Rainbow in the sky as Maude drives Harold’s hearse around a corner. I don't think it's a CGI rainbow, but I've seen enough movies to know that it's impossible to trust images anymore.

I love Maude's justification for stealing cars--that it helps people not get too attached to stuff.

Maude’s “free as a bird,” just like Nathan Hale wanted to be.

“Harold does have his little eccentric moments” warning as he’s pouring gasoline on himself in the background. That is so perfect.

I have no idea how Harold accomplished the burning suicide, but it’s my favorite one. And his breaking of the fourth wall as Cat Stevens starts up is also perfect. This is such a perfect performance.

I’d forgotten how flirtatious Maude was from the get-go, like a slutty cartoon cat.

How much for Rainbow with Egg Underneath and an Elephant? I don't collect art, but I'd love to have that in my living room.

Odorifics, to “give the nose a treat.” And suddenly, we enter a science fiction realm.

Maude’s walk...had to have been a conscious decision, something practiced and refined. She’s always doing something with her hands, and walks like she’s on a fast-motion catwalk. Again, everything she does is flirtatious here.

“Try something new each day.”
“Greet the dawn with a breath of fire.”
Harold is to Daniel-San as Maude is to Mr. Miyagi.

That transition from being surrounded to flowers after the “allow themselves to be treated like that” speech to that shot in the cemetery is as profound as movie visuals can get.

Do trees really get asthma?

“It’s alright. It’s organic.”

I just love how this relationship develops. Harold so desperately wanting to sing along to that goofy “Be Free” song, Maude turning away to cry and realizing that she can cry in front of Harold after he’s asked the right question. This relationship, unlike most movie relationships, is also organic.

“Everybody should be able to make some music. That’s the cosmic dance.” This movie's got more wisdom than most Hollywood movies from any one year put together. Except for the year that The Karate Kid came out, of course.

Shot with Harold in his yard with the banjo. It’s a good one.

“The earth is my body. My head is in the stars. Who said that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I suppose I did.”

“Possession of a stolen shovel.” And the fact that Maude tells Harold to grab the shovel before stealing the cop’s motorcycle. Comedy hijinks, right until the cop poses to fire his pistol. I've always considered myself to be a funny person, but I have no idea how something as funny as this scene can be written.

“Aim above morality.” More Miyagi-esque words of wisdom.

This story Harold tells about the chemistry lab. This is by far the most he’s talked in this movie. And it just seems odd.

“I understand. A lot of people enjoy being dead.” I know I made a list of movie characters that I'd want to have a dinner party with. I think if I could choose one character to spend an entire day with, it might be Maude. [And yes, I'm bringing a condom.]

Slug bug...yellow.

“She supplies the whole southwest with chicken feed.” How could one not be attracted to that?

Hatchet to the hand scene--Mom’s reaction with her teacup and saucer is fantastic.

Veteran with crutches falling into a pile of leaves…it looks like something that's supposed to happen in the background of Airplane 2.

If I could lose any scene, it’s the get-out-of-the-army scene. It’s just a little too silly.

“Everyone has the right to make an ass of themselves. You can’t let the world judge you too much.”

Hey, wait a second. Now Cat Stevens is ripping off Maude. This is her song!

Of course, the first time I saw this, I didn’t get the Holocaust decision. It’s so quick, and I never studied the Holocaust in school anyway. I can't decide if it's a little cheap or if it's a great visual clue to help in Maude's characterization.

That look they exchange when Maude’s going on about seagulls, always glorious birds. At that moment, you know these two are in love. And you just hope it leads to sex.

Sunshine Dore...maybe it’s just the hat, but this might be the one.

After this write-up and the Eyes Wide Shut, I'm starting to wonder if I have a hat fetish.

Wait a second! This is a different room. Are there two harps in Harold’s house? Harold's mom is a two-harp owner?

The Sunshine as Juliet thing is a little silly, too, but the “Harold, that was your last date!” payoff makes it all worth it.

I want an entire movie based on the experiences of the guy with the beard who’s watching the toy trains while standing between the title characters. [As I suspected, that's director Hal Ashby.]

One of my favorite scenes, and since it’s one of my favorite scenes in this movie, it’s probably one of my favorite scenes in any movie: “This is the nicest present I’ve received in years” declaration before she tosses it into the lake. 

Fireworks! Sex!

Where’s Harold’s dad? He’s got father figures--Uncle General, psychologist, the priest. But I wonder what happened to his father. No, I'm not asking for a prequel. 

That priest who has trouble saying “intercourse” and “commingling” and “sagging breasts” and especially “flabby buttocks.” That dude shines in that too-small role.

Such a bittersweet ending...


Anonymous said...

a-go-go comment
you know what hal ashby's next film was suppose to be after this? the ill-fated "the hawkline monster". it's too bad that never got made. it may have been the only movie to equal this.
the mother filling out the dating service questionnaire is maybe the funniest thing ever. the reaction to harold shooting himself, "Harold! Please...." she deserved an oscar. none of the humor is laugh out loud funny but oohhh too clever. also a lot of the jokes only work with a second viewing as i have pointed out before some of the punchlines are delivered before the setups, like the "right hand man" joke.
love harold and mothers subtlety in the "what child is this" scene which you screen shoted.
you're going to have to fight me for "Rainbow with Egg Underneath, and a Rainbow" i want that painting, actually i want to live with Sunshine Dore in maude's train car with that badass jag out front. poor badass jag : ( that was a hiccup in the filming that produced the pause before the car falls. they couldnt reshoot it as they only had the one car.
one of the greatest soundtracks ever. a couple of these cat stevens songs only exist on this soundtrack.
one of the greatest lines ever... "everyone has the right to make an ass of themselves"
never understood the sunshine dore scene. she seemed to be having a good time.
you mention wes anderson... i still say if there was every to be a remake, i would want him to do it.

Shane said...

It makes me sad when I get a comment on these A-Go-Go write-ups and then see that my spacing is all jacked-up because I typed it in a Google doc and copy-pasted it into these. Sigh...

Ok, because I love you, I'll let you have the painting that neither of us will ever have. You're the owning-art guy between us anyway.

Yeah, Vivian Pickles is great! Oscar? Sure, why not? Best supporting actress. Ruth Gordon, best actress. Bud, best actor. I wouldn't argue with that, but that's without doing any research whatsoever and seeing who actually was nominated, who won, etc. I just don't have the memory to be a movie history buff.

No remake!! I double-exclamation-pointed that one. That's how strongly I feel about it.