Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Comedy, Romance
  • 1971
  • 92 mins

Harold And Maude

Harold And Maude

Synopsis

The unlikely story of the love affair between a death-obsessed adolescent and a septuagenarian free spirit is a cult movie par excellence

About

Director Hal Ashby (The Last Detail, Being There, Shampoo) was perhaps the most opaque of the movie brats - never one to take the easy route in his life, career or in his storytelling. Certainly Harold And Maude would be an obtuse choice by most directors' standards. Despite or because of this, many connoisseurs of the era's cinema rank Ashby's film up there with The Graduate and M*A*S*H for its brilliant black humour, absurdist, anti-authoritarian intelligence and counterculture whimsical wit.

Harold (Cort) is a hearse-driving 19-year-old introvert rich kid, dominated by his overbearing mother (Pickles) and with a penchant for serial fake suicides. "Tell me Harold, how many of these, er, suicides have you performed?" asks his therapist. Maude (Gordon), by contrast, is a car-thieving 79-year-old free spirit and anarchist, with a joie de vivre that borders on the implausible, but which is incredibly infectious - even contagious. The two meet up at the funerals each habitually attends: Maude in the spirit of life affirmation, Harold presumably to nurture his deathwish.

They form an unlikely but visceral friendship, while Harold deters the girls his mother sets up for him with ever-more-grisly suicide scenarios - which culminate in a spectacular hari-kiri at his palatial house. Maude meanwhile, introduces him to the banjo and takes him on car theft sprees. Together they bait traffic cops and liberate saplings from local towns for transplant back in the countryside.

If on first appearance this is a hippie movie, with noses thumbed at the usual bogey figures - clergy, cops, the military (Harold has a possibly insane one-armed soldier uncle) - before long it becomes apparent the film is something else. Maude is clearly Harold's 'therapist' - and her soulful, devil-may-care regimen gradually loosens his joints and breathes life into him. But the two are also soulmates, and eventually even, erm, lovers.

This too-cute collocation may irritate some, but the film is intelligent, hilarious and finally very touching. It's beautifully put together by Ashby, shot in muted, autumnal colours, and with hardly another soul to be seen along the blustery Californian vistas where Harold and Maude conduct their courtship and his spiritual awakening. Its off-kilter humanity and deftness of touch makes it a spiritual ancestor to The Royal Tenenbaums - and you can bet Wes Anderson is an Ashby fan in general, and a Harold And Maude fan in particular.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Charles Tyner, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Ruth Gordon, Ellen Geers, Cyril Cusack
  • Director: Hal Ashby
  • Writer: Colin Higgins
  • Producer: Charles B Mulvehill, Colin Higgins
  • Photographer: John A Alonzo
  • Composer: C at Stevens

In a nutshell

Insane and whimsical by turn, and very much a product of its time. But Harold And Maude's black humour and absurdist, life-affirming credo make it a joy to watch. Not to be missed.

by Charlie Jackson

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 The Sitter

    The Sitter

    Jonah Hill stars as a slacker who's forced to fill in as a babysitter for a night, but the kids he's looking after prove more than he can handle when he takes them on a crime-filled trip through NYC

  • Film4 Amy

    Amy

    Senna director Asif Kapadia tells the story of Amy Winehouse in her own words with the use of unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks

  • Film4 Evil Dead

    Saturday Night Shocks on Film4

    Horror, mystery and suspense stake its claim on the weekend. A new season of Saturday Night Shocks comes to Film4.

  • Film4 Bridesmaids

    Comedy Season 2015 on Film4

    Eight nights of contemporary comedy hits, including first plays of Cuban Fury, American Reunion, The Sitter, and the network premiere of 21 & Over, on Film4

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Cannes 2015: Love at the movies

    Film4 Channel Editor David Cox reports on the closing days of Cannes 2015... We're down to the last few days of the festival now, with crowds thinning out and the amount of films still to premiere co

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Top pop moments from Cannes 2015

    Cannes is always a great place to see and hear brilliant pop music, often divorced from its usual context, and 2015 has been no different. Here's my personal playlist of top pop moments from the Compe

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share