Harold and Maude

Next up in the movies that are way too old to be talking about, yet I am doing so anyway because it’s my damn website, category is Harold and Maude.

This is a movie that came out before I was born, so not something that I had ever really heard of prior to meeting my wife. Her mother, Michelle, made references to this movie fairly frequently, or at least frequently enough that I remember it even though said references were made during that decade of my life when I spent more time drunk than sober. Unfortunately Michelle passed away several years ago, so I couldn’t be certain if this movie held a particular meaning for her or if she just thought it was a good movie. At any rate, once I saw it available through Netflix, I figured I may as well watch it to see what it was all about.

As is the case with pretty much every movie that finds its way into type here, I knew nothing about the movie going in. In this one I knew nothing more than what can be gleaned from viewing the cover to the left. …Which is very little… Harold is played by Bud Cort and Maude is played by Ruth Gordon, both of whom have impressive lists of credits after this movie -although a quick scroll through the list shows that aside from a couple of cameo appearances, I have only seen a few of the tv episodes that they were in -which explains why I didn’t recognize either of them by sight. According to IMDB, this movie was actually nominated for a number of awards when it came out, but again, well before my birth.

The first thing that I have to say about the movie is that I found it difficult to watch for the soundtrack alone. The soundtrack is done by Cat Stevens, and includes about a dozen songs (full listing here). There is nothing bad about the songs, and I don’t dislike them in any way; they are just your typical, early-70s, pop music, but in this movie they are just so loud it is almost unbearable. Perhaps this is just a result of watching it without surround sound? I dunno, but I found myself getting all gameboy with my remote to try to adjust the volume down when the songs were playing and up when the dialogue was happening. A petty bitch to be sure, especially so since if you have been to a movie theater in the last decade you know that you pretty much need to wear ear plugs to get the audio to a reasonable volume.

Now to my spoiler-ridden plot breakdown.

Harold is a well-to-do, 20-ish kid, at least his mother would like him to be, but he doesn’t take the well-to-do lifestyle well. His mother (according to Harold) has never really showed any real emotion towards him. Partly to try to get his mother to show some emotion for him, but also, I think, partly just to irritate her, he likes to stage ever more elaborate suicides. The first such suicide caught me completely by surprise and made me wonder what I was getting myself into. But when he got up and walked away it left me with a big smile on my face wondering why I hadn’t done that when I was a kid. Be it a further attempt to irriatate his mother, or a fascination with death, Harold is using an old hearse as his daily driver at the start of the movie, and he also likes to go to funerals for people he doesn’t know (easy to pull off if you are driving a hearse, I expect).

Harold meets Maude (a woman who must be 79, according to later events) at one such funeral. Maude is the exact opposite of Harold’s mother; she is a free spirit, seemingly unfettered by rules. Harold and Maude start up a friendship that we see grow into a love affair. The movie was released in 1971, and I would be curious to see just how well this relationship was received back then. The late 60s was all about free love, but I’m sure there were still a lot of the parents of those free lovers that were none too happy about a movie depicting such a relationship. There were several times when I started to think that perhaps I had read too much into it and they weren’t having a sexual relationship, but then it showed them in bed together, and not even a fast-talking, cologne-drenched used car salesman can talk his way out of that.

I’ll not go into any more detail about the plot, since I actually intend to recommend that you watch this one if you haven’t already (perhaps a first for me), but I simply must share the image to the right. When Harold’s mother gets rid of his hearse and replaces it with a car that is “more suitable for a man of his stature”. Harold takes the Jaguar into the garage and creates what has got to be in the top 10 of coolest movie cars ever.

All in all this was a really good movie. It is theoretically a comedy (perhaps a cross between a dark comedy and a romantic comedy?), but the characters have a lot of depth to them that you simply don’t see in most comedy films that are released today. The acting is quite good, which is why I was surprised to not recognize either of the primary actors or any of their characters from subsequent films. Aside from the overwhelming loud soundtrack, I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.

As I said going in, I watched this one just because my mother-in-law had mentioned it a few times. Having now seen it, I can say that her sense of humor must have been fairly similar to mine. Which further leads me to think that our parents’ generation is really just us +20 years. The only difference is that now I am the one that makes references to the movie (which no one I know has ever heard of), and every time I do I can’t help but think of her.

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