Sunday, January 16, 2011

Harold and Maude - The First Time Is Still Memorable - UPDATED

[If you read the original post, skip down to the updated part below.]

Sometime in 1972 (August, see updated below) we went to the movies. I don't remember what we went to see, but we were unsatisfied when it was over. Back then they still had double features. So we stayed for the second feature, which we knew absolutely nothing about.

At the end we looked at each other and I think I asked, "Are we sick? Why were we laughing so hard?"  And other people in the theater, which wasn't very crowded, weren't responding as we were.  So we invited a friend and went back the next night with him to see if he was as 'sick' as we were in thinking this was so hysterically funny. 

Seeing a great movie without knowing anything about it before you go is one of the great joys of watching movies. The same thing happened when I saw The Graduate. I was in Bangkok and just wanted to get out of the heat and went to see this movie I'd never heard of. A common feature between the two is the great music.

Anyway, the Bear Tooth is showing Harold and Maude Monday at 5:30 and 7:45. It's a great chance to see it on a big screen with other people. I don't know how it will hold up over all these years, but if you haven't seen it and you like surprises, irreverence, love, and Cat Stevens, you should go.

And if you know nothing about this movie - DON'T READ ANYTHING BEFORE YOU GO. JUST GO. If someone tries to tell you about it, close your ears and leave.

Meanwhile Cyrano's is doing a stage version. [There's a spoiler in their announcement so don't read it if you haven't seen it.] Not sure how this would translate. Harold and Maude as a movie was perfect. Not sure anyone could improve on it.

UPDATE: 12:45 pm - I wasn't sure if it was 1971 or 72, but the first Harold and Maude website I looked out said it came out in 1972.  But this morning I looked at others and some say 1971 (and the Bear Tooth is showing this on the 40th Anniversary).  So I went looking for my journal from back then and found this page in the back where I tried to keep track of all the books and movies (have * before them) I read and watched.  It was August 1972.  (5th from the top)

The  Harold and Maude Homepage on its very dense trivia page says:
Release Date of Harold and Maude: 20 December 1971 (USA) -
So, we saw it, in LA, seven months later.  But believe me, no one knew anything about it at the time.  As I said, it was the second bill (and it seems the first movie, the one we went to see, was so unforgettable that I didn't even note it in my journal.)

The H&M Homepage also has this note from someone:
In 1973, I did a report for a U.S.C film class wherein I described how Paramount had mishandled the promotion of "Harold And Maude," one of my favorite films. Imagine my happiness when I was able to be one of the Music Editors of "Foul Play" and finally got to meet this hero of mine on the dubb stage on a daily basis. I presented Higgins a copy of my "Harold and Maude" report and asked if he could sign my "Harold and Maude" hardback book. He said with a smile, "Sure, if you autograph your report." .  .  . Another favorite is Harold saying he enjoys being dead. Maude then cheers, "...They're just backing away from life. Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E, Live! Otherwise, you'll have nothing to talk about in the locker room." This scene is the one Higgins was given as an test audition at Paramount when he was trying to become the director of "Harold And Maude." [NOTE: He was the writer, Hal Ashby was the director.] Higgins later said that, in trying to impress Paramount, he felt he kind of rushed directing the scene and should have taken longer. I went to Colin Higgins' memorial after his death from aids and was terribly sad over the loss of such a young talented writer/director. I sometimes think that Higgins, being gay, perhaps could relate to the oppression that both Harold and Maude endured. I still remember his face...amazingly handsome. But, of course, Higgins' true beauty was within his soul. His memory lives on in a Colin Higgins Foundation which gives grants to people who have faced or fought bigotry. I often wonder what he might be writing in our times today.
 I tried to email wolfwail, but it came back undeliverable.  But his report on poor promotion may explain why eight months after the release, we saw it as the second feature of the double bill and knew nothing about it until we saw it.   And why it was originally a commercial flop.

The most informative piece (and it clarifies my understanding that this started out as a student project) I've found on the film comes from TCM:
It all began as a thesis film for UCLA film student Colin Higgins who first developed the idea for Harold and Maude as a twenty-minute short. When he showed the script to his landlady, Mildred Lewis, the wife of a Hollywood producer, she suggested they form their own production company and shop it around to studios. Eventually the script found a home at Paramount where Howard Jaffe was first slated to be the producer but later passed the project on to Charles B. Mulvehill. Peter Bart, the vice president of production at Paramount then, had seen Hal Ashby's The Landlord (1970) and was impressed by the way the director had handled the movie's complex racial issues in the context of a satire. On the basis of that, he asked Ashby to direct Higgins' fledging effort as screenwriter and associate producer. "To me, Harold and Maude was a symbol of that era. It would have been unthinkable in the '80s or '90s. In those days...people would walk in, wacked out, with the most mind-bending, innovative and brilliant ideas for movies. Harold and Maude was written by a pool cleaner." (from Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind). . .

Although Ruth Gordon was always the front runner for the role of Maude, Higgins had initially written the part of Harold for rising actor and aspiring musician John Rubinstein (Zachariah, 1971), the son of conductor Arthur Rubinstein. Character actor (Midnight Cowboy, 1969) and future director (Parents, 1989) Bob Balaban also tested for the part but Ashby favored Bud Cort, a New York stage-trained actor who had recently attracted attention for his unique screen presence in such films as Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970) and Brewster McCloud (1970). When Cort finally did a trial rehearsal with Gordon (the screen tests were filmed by Haskell Wexler), it was immediately obvious he was the right choice.

 Wikipedia  has other interesting points on the movie such as:
The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film was a commercial flop in its original release, but it has since developed a large cult following.

Wikipedia also says Roger Ebert didn't like it:
Critic Roger Ebert, in a review dated January 1, 1972, did not care for the film. He wrote, "And so what we get, finally, is a movie of attitudes. Harold is death, Maude life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life’s hardly worth the extra bother. The visual style makes everyone look fresh from the Wax Museum, and all the movie lacks is a lot of day-old gardenias and lilies and roses in the lobby, filling the place with a cloying sweet smell. Nothing more to report today. Harold doesn’t even make pallbearer."

If you've seen the film before and are going to see it again now, the Harold and Maude Homepage trivia page is full of interesting - and not so interesting - tidbits.  Here are some examples:
In all shots of Ruth Gordon (Maude) driving the hearse it is being towed because she never learned how to drive a car. - Director Cameo: Hal Ashby, the bearded man seen briefly in the amusement park arcade. - Cameo: Cat Stevens, the composer and performer of the original music for the movie can be seen in one of the funeral scenes. He is the person behind which Maude hides after she tries to get Harold's attention by hissing.  
 Cat Stevens originally did not release "If you want to sing out, sing out," or "Don't Be Shy" for public just so that more people would go to the theatres to see the film merely for those two songs! He finally released the songs in 1984. - Cat Stevens' CD, "Footsteps In the Dark," is his only album that features the songs "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out," and "Don't Be Shy," and is also his only album that made a public reference to Harold and Maude.
The freeze frame of the Jaguar hearse in midair in the final sequence is the result of an accident. The single camera capturing the action did not start filming until well after the car had careened off the cliff, and since only one hearse had been prepared for the film, it was impossible to reshoot the shot.
 The Chasen family mansion is actually the Rose Court Mansion in Hillsborough, California, south of San Francisco. The butler in the film (Henry Dieckoff) was the actual butler of the house -- the original script called for him to drop the lemonade tray after "Sunshine" does her Juliet imitation, but the butler thought it unbutler-like, and so Vivian Pickles had to do it!
 In a comment, Anon says (s)he saw it with Play It Again Sam.  As you can see from my journal, I also Play It Again Sam right before seeing Harold and Maude, but I really don't think the main feature that night Play It Again Sam.  If it were, we might not have stayed to see Harold and Maude.


  1. I saw H&M in high school around 1975/76 when our Classical Film Society leader (aka senior English teacher and film buff) Robert Holliday showed it at one of his weekly screenings. He teased it the week before by showing us just the first few minutes of the film. We watched Harold go through the ritual of writing his name tag, lighting the candles, stepping onto the stool.... and stepping off. That's when he killed the projector and said, "Come back next week and see the whole movie. Tell your friends!" All of us loved this movie and especially the music. It was also the very first movie I ever videotaped, back in 1980 or so. Thanks for the write-up!

  2. "Harold and Maude" and "Play It Again" were classic titles in the cheap sessions in near-University theaters in Madrid, when I was studyind. I have the first one at home and I´ll watch it soon. I´ll tell you...

  3. Yesterday I was talking with my friend Tomás in a bar of Salamanca. We were talking about movies (most of the time) and I told him that "Salfón", his relationship with the witch, remembers me to "Harold and Maud", one of my favourite movies. Steve thinks the same!, he told me.
    What a coincidence, thousands of kilometers away ...
    Greetings from the other side of the world!


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.