Harold and Maude, 1971.
Directed by Hal Ashby.
Starring Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner, and Ellen Geer.
Hal Ashby’s cult classic Harold and Maude is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a restored and remastered Blu-ray that has the film looking better than ever. The bonus features are a bit paltry, but this is still a worthwhile pick-up for fans of the film.
Harold and Maude is one of those movies that failed to meet with much critical acclaim, nor set the box office on fire, but it found a small but loyal audience that has grown in the 50 years since its release. Harold is a young man in his early 20s who’s obsessed with death, and he meets, and enters into a romantic relationship with, Maude, a vivacious 79-year-old who endeavors to live life to its fullest. A Cat Stevens soundtrack sets the groovy early 70s mood.
Bud Cort plays Harold as a mostly monotone character in the first half of the movie, only beginning to show sparks of life when he goes on adventures with Maude (Ruth Gordon), who does things like “borrowing” random people’s cars and fleeing from the police when caught. Harold is the one who has something to learn in this story, but Maude is by far the more interesting character, especially when we get a glimpse into her dark past.
In the end, Harold and Maude is notable for the way it challenges our preconceived ideas of what love should be. Sure, their relationship is more like a March-December deal, rather than May-September, but who says you can’t fall in love with someone who’s nearly four times your age? Given Harold’s narcissistic, social ladder climbing mother, it’s not like he had a good role model at home.
My biggest quibble with the story is the decision Maude makes toward the end. It doesn’t make a lot of sense without an underlying reason, and it only seems to be there in order to teach Harold a lesson. Surely Harold could have learned to appreciate life some other way, or at least via a decision that had some weight behind it. I didn’t find that it completely derailed the film, though.
Paramount put some love and care into this film for its anniversary, giving it a spiffy new remaster as part of their Paramount Presents line-up. The slipcover opens to display the original theatrical poster, which tried to portray the movie as a madcap comedy, rather than a funny film of a darker nature. It’s not hard to see why Harold and Maude failed to find a large audience during its initial theatrical run.
Paramount also commissioned a pair of new bonus features for this Blu-ray and included a code for a digital copy. Unfortunately, you’ll want to check out Criterion’s packed 2012 release if you want to dig deeper into the film than what’s provided here. However, if you’re a fan of Harold and Maude, this new Blu-ray is still worth a purchase, especially for its exquisite picture quality.
The main bonus feature is a commentary track with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and writer-director Cameron Crowe. They open by laughing about the fact that they had nothing to do with Harold and Maude “except love it for the last 30 or 40 years of our lives.” That sets the tone for a track that’s purely from a fan perspective, albeit a very informed one that imparts a good amount of insight about the film. However, it would have been nice to have a second track with one or more folks who were involved with the movie, or perhaps one of those scholarly tracks with a film critic.
The other extra runs nearly six minutes and features Yusuf/Cat Stevens looking back on how he got involved with the film. It was filmed new for this release, so it’s not the same featurette included in previous editions, such as the Criterion one.
A pair of trailers round out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★