I was 10 years old the first time I saw the movie that was destined to become my all time favorite film. My older brother, Jack, took me to a revival house, handed me some popcorn and Milk Duds and told me, "It's kind of weird, but you might like it anyway."
He had seen the film when it came out ten years ago in 1971. I sat back as the lights dimmed and the opening scene begins with Cat Stevens’ singing, Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by… while the morbid looking teenager on screen walked around a darkly lit house, preparing to hang himself. At first glance this may not seem like a great movie for Valentine's Day but this smart, unique film with endearing, inspired dialogue is a great movie for Valentine's Day, or any other day for that matter.
Harold and Maude may not be your ordinary romantic comedy but it's uniqueness is only matched by it's heart. Even as a child, I knew that something special was happening on that screen. "He just wants attention," I whispered to my big brother, who promptly shooshed me. I watched the rest of the film in silence, captivated. Bud Cort, as 17 year old Harold, was odd yet sweet. Ruth Gordon, as his 79 year old love interest, was a wisdom spouting, hilarious firecracker. I knew immediately what I wanted to be when I grew up. Maude.
Harold and Maude was a cult classic, not for the faint of heart, I suppose. Seeing that it dealt with a teenager and a senior citizen falling in love. Death and breaking boundaries are additional themes of this classic, smart comedy. Written by Colin Higgins and Directed by Hal Ashby, Harold and Maude did not light the box office on fire when it opened. In fact, It bombed. As time passed, the film did attract a large cult following. I’m guessing that audiences soon found Maude to be impossible to resist. Her car stealing, tree planting, singing and dancing and celebrating life way soon captivated Harold as well. Much to the chagrin of Harold's overbearing mother, he falls fast and hard. Maude's well runs deep though. There's one shot half way throughout the film where the camera holds on her arm for a flash. There's a concentration camp tattoo on her arm. It happens so quickly that it's easy to miss. In fact, I didn't notice it until my 5th viewing of the film years later. Maude never make reference to it, it's just there to give us a deeper sense of who she is and where she comes from. Her passion for life feels all the more necessary and urgent. As well as her desire to end it when she decides.
Cat Steven's original soundtrack perfectly accompanies us on this great adventure telling us that "If we want to be free, be free. If we want to sing out, sing out." Which is exactly what Maude teaches Harold to do. She leads him through song, dance, exploration and of course, love. Unconventional or otherwise. There's no adventure like it.