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Harold and Maude
1971 - R - 91 Mins.
Director: Hal Ashby
Producer: Colin Higgins, Charles Mulvehill
Written By: Colin Higgins
Starring: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner
Review by: Jake Cremins

I simply don't know what to think about 'Harold and Maude' at all. It's unfailingly original, it's not suffering from a lack of intelligence, and it features fine performances from Bud Cort and especially Ruth Gordon. But it's simply not of this planet. I couldn't find much of anything in it funny, because not much of anything in it seems based on human behavior, normal or otherwise. Even weird behavior needs something to bounce off of, as a contrast. The dialogue and situations in this movie float down from the planet Zaxor, appear on the screen and wither upon exposure to our atmosphere.

There's Harold, for instance. He either a) is some kind of immortal vampire who cannot die, no matter how many times he tries to kill himself or b) is always pretending to kill himself in order to irritate his mother. I say this not to be snide, but because for much of the movie I honestly didn't know one way or the other. I am fairly certain, for instance, that you cannot shoot yourself in the face with a loaded gun and survive--no, not even if it's loaded with blanks. Harold makes it through without a scratch. Later he sits in his backyard, pours gasoline on himself and lights a match, only to reveal that it's a dummy burning and he's standing at a safe distance. He is able to do this because he is in a movie. He lights the match, the director yells "CUT!," a dummy is hustled into his place and set aflame as the cameras start up again. There is no other possible physical explanation.

Maude is more fun because she exists without defying the laws of physics, though her philosophies on life are so numerous and jumbled that I defy anyone to make sense of them. She inspires the one sequence I found truly funny, in which she breezes past a toll booth, is pulled over by a highway patrolman and explains politely that she's driving a stolen truck, with a stolen tree and a stolen shovel in the back so that she can drive to the forest to plant it (the tree, not the shovel). Having described the situation adequately, she cheerfully drives off. I thought she was really in a pickle when she came back the other way and passed the patrolman again, but she gets out of that mess in a way which is nothing if not consistent with her character.

Harold and Maude meet because they both like hanging out at funerals; Maude steals Harold's car (a hearse, what else) and offers to give him a ride home. They indulge in many philosophical conversations that zoom right in one ear and out the other without making a connection, kind of like Harold's magic bullets, I guess. Meanwhile Harold's mother signs him up for a computer dating service, and he horrifies one girl after another with his phony suicide attempts and they run away screaming.

The last date Harold goes on is typical of what bugged me about this movie. The girl is an actress who admires Harold's collection of antique knives. "This one is for hari-kari," he says. "What's that?" she asks. Harold demonstrates the process very convincingly--it's an ancient Japanese tradition of ritual disembowelment, don't you know--and she's so delighted at his performance that she grabs the knife from his hand and plays out the last scene of 'Romeo and Juliet,' stabbing herself in the chest with what we now know is a phony blade. As the girl collapses to the floor, Harold's mother walks in and says something or other in an annoyed tone, about how now he's blown all of his chances.

Now. Where did the big bloodstain on Harold's stomach come from? Does he walk around with blood bags under his shirt, in case someone asks him about his hari-kari knife? And why is his mother annoyed? Here's a girl who's happily joining Harold in his games instead of running for the hills; isn't that a good thing? And what about the girl? Why doesn't she sit up when Harold's mother comes in and yells at him? Why is she just lying there? Did she actually hurt herself? No use asking; the scene quickly cuts away and is never mentioned again. Most of the scenes in this movie do that over and over--cut away to something else just before logic can intrude--and by the end the niggling little questions have piled up about as high as that cliff Harold drives over in the last scene.

So no, alas, I could not find much in 'Harold and Maude' very amusing. The scene at the tollboth works because Maude is applying her insanity to a sane situation; the rest of the movie applies itself to itself, which doesn't leave us with very much to do. I'm sure it's going to be a big hit on the planet Zaxor.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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