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Harold and Maude (1971)

tomatometer

86

Average Rating: 7.6/10
Reviews Counted: 42
Fresh: 36 | Rotten: 6

Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart.

33

Average Rating: 3.6/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 2 | Rotten: 4

Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart.

audience

93

liked it
Average Rating: 4.1/5
User Ratings: 54,916

My Rating

Movie Info

A young man with a death wish and a 79-year-old high on life find love in Hal Ashby's cult black comedy. Deadpan rich boy Harold (Bud Cort) keeps staging elaborate suicide tableaux to get the attention of his mother (Vivian Pickles), but she keeps planning his brilliant future for him instead. Obsessed with the trappings of death, Harold freaks out his blind dates, modifies his new sports car to look like a mini-hearse, and attends funerals, where he meets the spirited Maude (Ruth Gordon). An

PG,

Romance, Classics, Comedy

Colin Higgins

Jun 27, 2000

Paramount Home Video

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All Critics (43) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (36) | Rotten (6) | DVD (12)

The fact that [it] isn't very funny and, like its 80-year-old heroic, long outlives its necessary life, is less important than the fact that the characters frequently react gently or like credible human beings to the script's impossible notions.

January 18, 2013 Full Review Source: Village Voice
Village Voice
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Simpleminded, but it's fairly inoffensive, at least until Ashby lingers over the concentration-camp serial number tattooed on Gordon's arm. Some things are beyond the reach of whimsy.

October 24, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (8)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It is most successful when it keeps to the tone of an insane fairystory set up at the beginning of the movie.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon] both are so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting.

New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times | Comments (18)
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Marked by a few good gags, but marred by a greater preponderance of sophomoric, overdone and mocking humor.

February 13, 2001 Full Review Source: Variety | Comments (3)
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

cuts through the superficial surfaces of conventional romance and digs into what actually draws people together

June 28, 2012 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Unlike claustrophobically cute odd-couple movies, bottles some of the flavour of its time. Harold's fake suicides are a pale defiance and reflection of his cloistered, sapped life. The vital counterculture (Maude) helps Harold avoid the army.

May 10, 2012 Full Review Source: Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

This darkly humorous ,romantic comedy between an introvert adolescent and and old spunky woman, is playing it too safe to be considered truly anti-establishment, but it became a cult picture.

June 8, 2011 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

A classic of dark comedy.

January 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

If there's one comedy to represent the woof and warp of the early '70s, "Harold and Maude" is it.

April 12, 2009 Full Review Source: Daily Radar
Daily Radar

A doggedly eccentric film which some will reject out of hand. Others will find it profundly moving and life affirming.

October 24, 2007 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

weird, very very weird

April 3, 2006

It's not quite a romance, not quite a buddy picture. It is, however, one of the '70s quirkiest comedies, and its bleak morbidity is uncommonly matched by its over-the-top hilarity.

August 23, 2005 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

The epitome of a film that you can't believe you're laughing at, but you are. A lot. It hurts. In a good way.

February 11, 2005
Needcoffee.com

Black comedy that's a bit too whimsical

November 22, 2004
Film Journal International

A black comedy cult classic.

October 10, 2004 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

By turns funny, moving and outrageous - sometimes all at once - the film is Hal Ashby's masterpiece.

September 8, 2004 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Certainly a little twisted, but with such a powerfully warm 70's sunflower heart, "Harold and Maude" endears. I think of it as the cinematic equivalent to "The Little Prince"

August 17, 2004 Full Review Source: Hollywood Report Card
Hollywood Report Card

One of those films you just don't want to end.

December 22, 2003 Full Review Source: eFilmCritic.com
eFilmCritic.com

Understatedly hilarious. Cort and Gordon are a truly unique pairing. A must see.

November 11, 2003
Martha's Vineyard Times (Massachusetts)

Audience Reviews for Harold and Maude

An extremely lovable film that resonates for a long time after it is over and which you wish would never end. The best about it is how the relationship between the characters evolves in a such an honest way, with a lot of humor and melancholy to the sound of Cat Stevens' sweet songs.
August 21, 2013
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

The unlikely bond between the two is one of the oddest I have ever seen. Most friendship-centric movies provide the stories mood via merely the two friends themselves, but as the characters' personalities clash, so do the moods provided. It's as if the film is two halves inseparably melded together, but the halves are polar opposites. One half is a downbeat, depressing, suicidal tale; the other an upbeat, cheerful, life-valuing tale. I'm a sucker for such an offbeat, dark comedy. I know those who have soft, sentimental hearts will definitely find justification for some dispute here, but films such as A FISH CALLED WANDA, BEETLEJUICE, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE GRADUATE, LIFE OF BRIAN, and THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, have managed to crack me up quite heavily. Out of all those films, HAROLD AND MAUDE is the czar. The film has a pretty dark premise: a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old male becoming best friends with a seventy-nine-year-old woman who could easily be his grandmother. It has enough heart to give us a certain prediction of the ending, but it comes so suddenly and shockingly, a bit of a seven-minute-long "you-are-there" moment. Definitely the classic I had expected, surely worth its worldwide cult following, HAROLD AND MAUDE should be used as the comparative standard for judging all modern black comedies.

read it all at themoviefreakblog.com
July 16, 2012
spielberg00

Super Reviewer

Hal Ashby is the master of the slow-burning gem. His films aren't always the most visually remarkable, or the easiest to get into, but the longer you spend in the company of his characters, the more one's enjoyment turns into acknowledgement of greatness. While Harold and Maude is not quite as strong as his later efforts, such as Coming Home and Being There, it contains all the ingredients for a really heartfelt comedy, combining dark humour and joyful optimism to great effect.

One of Ashby's great strengths has always been persuading us to care about characters, and by extension actors, with whom we normally wouldn't dream of associating ourselves. He is, after all, the man who turned Peter Sellers from a self-parodying has-been into the toast of the Academy, getting the performance which in many ways defines Sellers as an actor and comedian. In this case he manages to make us care for two characters who would normally be repulsive or obnoxious: one a mopey teenager with a suicide fixation, the other an overly quirky septuagenarian with a penchant for stealing cars.

The reason we end up caring for these people lies in Ashby's make-up as a director. Although he was considerably older than his New Hollywood counterparts - the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and William Friedkin - he empathised greatly with the ideas and free spirit of the 1960s and 1970s. While Scorsese and Friedkin made their name in gritty dramas, exposing the dark underbelly of American society after a decade of mainstream froth, Ashby is more whimsical and forgiving. He is a deeply humanist director, concentrating on human reason and emotion over any kind of spiritual or religious allegory (at least at this stage).

This might help to explain why it takes a while to get a handle on Harold and Maude. Most black comedies work on the basis of dark, pessimistic humour set against an equally dark, pessimistic worldview. In Kind Hearts and Coronets, it is the cruelty of Dennis Price set against the persistent injustice of the British class system. In Dr. Strangelove, it is the absurdity of Jack D. Ripper's conspiracy theories set against the greater absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction. Harold and Maude has darkness in the mind of its male protagonist, but its goal is to demonstrate how joyous life can be. While it doesn't resolve everything oh-so-neatly, it doesn't entirely play by the rules either.

Because Ashby treats his characters with such affection and respect, the opening act - if not the opening hour - can feel like two different films trying to mesh together. The civilised, refined and decidedly dull home of Harold's parents sets us up for some kind of comedy of manners, only to be punctuated by Harold self-immolating, covering the bathroom in fake blood or hanging himself during the opening credits. And that's before we even get to Maude, whose kookiness makes Diane Keaton's "La-di-dah!"-ing in Annie Hall look positively ordinary.

The opening sections of Harold and Maude are repetitive and arguably episodic, insofar as you could watch Harold's death scenes in any order without them compromising the dramatic tension. The same could be said for Harold's scenes with his psychiatrist, or his introductions to his computer-selected dates. But even as we get the feeling of going in circles, we decide to stick around, somehow knowing that something special is around the corner. Repetition is, after all, a form of comedy, and the individual set-pieces or big gags involving Harold are in and of themselves quite funny.

The film only truly takes flight once Harold has been invited back to Maude's eccentric home - a converted railway carriage or static caravan filled with all manner of unusual artworks, musical instruments and cultural paraphernalia. What emerges from these scenes is a personality which exists beyond artistic flights of fantasy or eccentric behaviour on the road; this is a window on the soul of a woman who genuinely loves life and lives for it every day. Maude has a great deal more depth and heart than other 'Manic Pixie Dream Girls', such as Zooey Deschanel's character in (500) Days of Summer.

After this scene Harold and Maude blossoms from a slightly awkward but enjoyable collection of stories into a focussed film about two people deeply and blissfully in love with each other. We might still shrink at the age gap, or the implication later in the film that they have slept together, but that's not important. What's important is that their relationship opens Harold's eyes to the possibility that life is not all bad, and more importantly that he does not have to be at the mercy of other forces to live life in this fashion.

Ashby's film is as much a sweet romance as an existential and social commentary on two generations of America. On the one hand we have Maude, whose survival of WWII has given her perspective on the wider and higher purposes of life, and keeps up her energy so she can confidently live how she pleases. On the other hand we have Harold, who has no experience or existential crisis to fall back on: he lives in the shadow of both a meaningless war and his pushy parents who want him to live life their way. Harold's encounter with Maude is on one level an existential crisis, where hope clashes with despair, what he doesn't understand meets what he does and he is drastically changed as a result.

Don't think for a minute, however, that Harold and Maude is a film that forsakes realism or weight for the sake of some uplifting life lessons. Just when we are getting comfortable, embracing the central characters and accepting them for who they are, the film deals us a total curveball as Maude decides to slip away. As Harold screams at her and we cut to inside the ambulance, we remember the couple of clues left for us earlier on and share in Harold's anger and grief. Like Being There, the film gives us the reality of death and the negative emotions that come with it, refusing to entirely sugar-coat the bitterest of life's pills.

As well as an instruction to live life to the full every day, Harold and Maude is a warning not to belittle or underestimate the older generation. We are often told the elderly have greater enthusiasm and lust for life than teenagers do, with physical infirmity not always being an accurate representation of the energy that exists inside. Maude may not be entirely representative of her generation, but she is not meant to be. She is a heightened example of an overall approach, designed to surprise, confound and eventually reshape our expectations.

Even if you don't choose to read into the subtext of Harold and Maude, it's still very enjoyable as a darkly uplifting comedy. The physical comedy is generally very well-executed, with Maude's repeated incidents of grand theft auto playing havoc with the local police. Harold's suicide attempts are funny, even if they are not mounted quite as skilfully as the deaths in later black comedies like Heathers or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The interplay between Harold and his uncle is enjoyable, especially the running gags about his severed arm. And the final scene is emotionally close to the ending of Quadrophenia, delivering a good balance of anguish, uncertainty and fulfilment, all conveyed through the music of Cat Stevens.

Harold and Maude is not Hal Ashby's finest work. Even by his slow-burning standards it takes a while to take hold, with a lot of the first half lurching around in terms of tone and focus. But once it gets into its stride it is a little triumph, making the very best of its leading man and woman, and cementing Ashby's status as one of the key directors of the 1970s. Most of the ingredients he would refine in Being There are present here in some form, and even after 41 years it hasn't lost the ability to lift your spirits.
June 29, 2012
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

A sublime, well-acted, surprisingly moving black comedy of a young man (Bud Cort) who is obsessed with death, and how he meets and falls in love with a 79-year old free-spirit (Ruth Gordon). What sounds creepy and boring is actually consistently funny and never uninteresting. Cort's disengaged stare and ghost-like appearance combined with Gordon's pig tails and high exuberance make for an unlikely pair to be sure, but it is still convincing despite being totally ridiculous. A little show in parts, but overall a phenomenal black comedy that rightfully has earned a cult following over the years.
April 9, 2012
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

    1. Mrs. Chasen: Harold! That was your last date!
    – Submitted by Bill M (15 months ago)
    1. Maude: I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are *this*, [she points to a daisy] yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.
    – Submitted by Tika P (19 months ago)
    1. Maude: Harold.....that monstrosity you purchased is an eyesore....and an enbarrassment.
    – Submitted by Lynne H (21 months ago)
    1. Harold Chasen: I love you!
    2. Maude: That's Wonderful! Go love some more.
    – Submitted by Daniela T (22 months ago)
    1. Maude: Harold, everyone has the right to make an arse of themselves. You can't let the world judge you too much.
    – Submitted by Letitia L (2 years ago)
    1. Maude: You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing... oh my, how the world still *dearly* loves a *cage.*
    – Submitted by Chad E (2 years ago)
View all quotes (8)

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