The Set of 400: #285 – My Favorite Faux Self-Immolation

Today! Because everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves –

Harold and Maude (1971)

Directed by Hal Ashby

Starring Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort (x2), Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Eric Christmas, Tom Skerritt (x2), Ellen Geer, Shari Summers, Charles Tyner, William Lucking (x2)

One of the blackest comedies ever made, Harold and Maude became forever known as that movie where a teenage kid dates an elderly woman. And if that concept freaked you out, odds are you never sought the film out, despite its status as a true classic of New Hollywood cinema. It’s kinda like Nabokov’s Lolita – once you know the plot, you have to make the decision whether word of mouth and reviews are enough to get you to actually read it. Can you get out of the way of your own preconceived ideas, really.

(Lolita is an incredible book, by the way, but I doubt you needed me to tell you that.)

It’s weird, but it’s fun

So I do wonder if Harold and Maude, having this built in problem for audiences, still finds viewership today. I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t like it – to see this movie is to love it, so far as I can tell – but I don’t hear it come up super often either. It’s a shame, because while it is an amazingly dark film, it never really ventures into overly depressing territory. Yes, Harold is depressed, undoubtedly, and stages many increasingly alarming mock versions of his own suicide, to shock his mother and the prospective girlfriends she trots out. But Maude! Maude is a goddamn ray of sunshine. Name a truly happier character in the history of cinema, if you can. Their interaction, the rapport between these characters and the chemistry between these actors, is so extraordinary as to buoy the entire film. And so even though it is rightfully described as an exceedingly dark comedy, it is also an incredibly positive one. It’s life affirming, in a way. And while this kicked off a tremendous decade for director Hal Ashby (Shampoo, Coming Home, Bound for Glory), Harold and Maude may well be his finest, toughest work.

(It just misses being my favorite Ashby film, though – tune back in November 22nd, folks!)

There are plenty of crazy, suicide related awards that could be handed down to Harold and Maude, but let’s keep the mood high, huh? Best Cat Stevens Musical is appropriate, as I can’t think of this movie without hearing “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” in my head. The grimness and ahead-of-its-time-ness of the movie didn’t prevent it from awards in its day, necessarily – Cort and Gordon were both nominated for Comedy/Musical acting leads at the Globes, anyway.

And Cort also joins #396 MASH co-star Tom Skerritt with induction to the Two-Timers club today, alongside this week’s #287 Stripes actor William Lucking, later of X-Files “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” fame. Spotlight!

My favorite television episode ever – no list required

Coming tomorrow! You can take your apology and your trophy and shove ’em straight up your ass –

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