Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Harold and Maude


Here is the very definition of a cult movie. When it was released neither the reviews nor the box office were very good. But the people who did like the film, loved the film. Its reputation grew over the years and now it has made many lists of the 100 Best Comedies, or best romances, or even best movies of all time. I guess it’s also a great example of movies the world was just not ready for yet, like Bonnie and Clyde or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The idea of a teenager (Bud Cort was 23, but he has never looked much older than a teen) falling in love and going to bed with a 79-year-old woman was repulsive to some people. Probably still is, to some, but I think most of us are a lot more accepting now. Even though the scene of the two of them in bed was about as tame as it could possibly be—if they had been any further apart they would not have both been in her railroad car—it was startling.

Before this and her Oscar-winning performance in Rosemary’s Baby Ruth Gordon was a fairly obscure actress with huge gaps in her career. Those movies really put her on the map. But I didn’t know that she was mostly a writer. She was nominated for Best Screenplay, along with her husband, Garson Kanin, three times!

As for myself, while I really like it I can’t say I’m one of those who goes gaga over it. I found that on a recent viewing I didn’t like Maude quite as much as I did in the past. I applaud her determination to live life to the fullest, and her ability to bring death-obsessed Harold out of his shell. But she also felt that no rules applied to her. I wonder how she made it to age 79, since she seems to have no regard for her own safety or that of others.

I liked Harold quite a lot, though. His phony suicides were hilarious. And Vivian Pickles was the perfect overbearing mother. I really enjoyed the Bay Area settings, places I knew and loved when this film was made, like the Sutro Baths ruins, and the anarchic junk sculptures that used to exist on the Berkeley salt flats. And Harold had what was one of the coolest cars ever built: A Jaguar XK-E squared off in the back to look like a hearse. Too bad it was destroyed. It ought to be in a place like the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles.