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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> February 2001 >> Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
February 2001
IMDB Name:
Harold and Maude (1971)
Hal Ashby
comedy, romance
MPAA Rating:

Odd Duck

Harold and Maude is not one of those cookie-cutter romantic comedies. The primaries are among the strangest characters ever to be filmed, and the circumstances of their courtship are correspondingly out there. Ironically, for all the trouble they cause, there's nothing odd or unlikable about Harold or Maude. This is Hal Ashby's second time directing, eight years before Being There, another comedy with absurd characters that made perfect sense within the confines of the movie. It's quite a talent that can make a death-obsessed, suicide-staging, specter-faced teen seem somewhat ordinary. That such a character can seem normal when compared to more traditional types like his socialite mother and military uncle is an even greater accomplishment.

Harold and Maude is loaded with hilarious moments that could almost be short films of their own. Vivian Pickles is largely responsible for the humor in her scenes as Harold's mother. Her accent and her general disdain for Harold's actions, always strained through her ever-proper manners, are a treat. Every second involving her attempts to find Harold a wife, from the survey through the meetings with Ellen Geer, Shari Summers, and Judy Engles, is terrific. Charles Tyner has a similar scene-stealing effect as a military man who could probably be seemlessly integrated into Dr. Strangelove. The one-arm gimmick is mercifully underexploited in favor of giving the character belligerent fervor. Eric Christmas has his fantastic moment as he tries to dissuade Harold from pursuing Maude.

At the movie's core, though, are Harold and Maude. Bud Cort demonstrates just how little an actor needs to do to give a great performance. The progression of expressions after Candy runs away is priceless. Ruth Gordon shows what unbridled enthusiasm can do for a role. Maude is Bugs Bunny made human in terms of getting away with murder in the most charming fashion. Watch the way she handles the motorcycle officer and see if you don't agree. Being wildly unconventional characters, they don't need to generate the typical chemistry to make their time onscreen work. Their wackiness is augmented by a Cat Stevens soundtrack with catchy originals that work far better than anything symphonic.

DVD Comments

The DVD for Harold and Maude is very simple, offering two theatrical trailers, French and English audio, and English captions. The captions are presented in a very legible font. Sometimes they are comprehensive, as when they transcribe Cat Stevens' lyrics. Other times they don't say nearly enough. I was particularly amused to notice that they guessed the wrong composer, listing Rachmaninov when we hear Tchaikovsky's legendary First Piano Concerto. My main quibble with the menu design is the choice of pictures of Maude. For as lighthearted a character, shouldn't she be shown smiling at least once?

See the IMDB information on Harold and Maude's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

Copyright 2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.