Harold and Maude: Wikis


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Harold and Maude

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hal Ashby
Produced by Colin Higgins
Charles B. Mulvehill
Written by Colin Higgins
Starring Ruth Gordon
Bud Cort
Vivian Pickles
Eric Christmas
Cyril Cusack
Ellen Geer
G. Wood
Music by Cat Stevens
Cinematography John Alonzo
Editing by William A. Sawyer
Edward Warschilka
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) December 20, 1971 (1971-12-20)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$1,200,000 (est.)

Harold and Maude is a 1971 American film directed by Hal Ashby. It incorporates elements of dark humor and existentialist drama, with a plot that revolves around the exploits of a young man intrigued with death, Harold (played by Bud Cort). Harold drifts away from the life that his detached mother prescribes for him, and develops a relationship with septuagenarian Maude (played by Ruth Gordon).

The screenplay upon which the film was based was written by Colin Higgins, and published as a novel in 1971. The movie was shot in the San Francisco Bay Area. Harold and Maude was also a play on Broadway for some time. A French adaptation for television, translated and written by Jean-Claude Carrière, appeared in 1978. It was adapted for the stage and performed in Québec, starring Roy Dupuis.

The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1997 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[1] The film was a commercial flop in its original release, and critical reception was extremely mixed. However it has since developed a large cult following.[2]


Plot synopsis

Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a 19-year-old boy obsessed with death; he regularly fakes his own suicide, attends funerals, and drives a hearse, all to the chagrin of his mother, Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles).[3] Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79-year-old woman who shares with Harold the habit of attending funerals. The pair form a bond, and Maude slowly shows Harold the pleasures of music (Harold is taught to play banjo) and art, and teaches him how to enjoy life and "[make] the most of his time on earth."[3] Meanwhile, Harold's mother acts as a matchmaker, and attempts to find a wife for Harold to settle down with, against his wishes. One by one, Harold frightens and horrifies each of his appointed dates by committing gruesome—yet false—acts such as self-immolation, self-mutilation, and seppuku.

As they become closer, Harold announces that he will marry Maude, resulting in disgusted outbursts from his family and friends. Maude's 80th birthday arrives, and Harold throws a surprise party for her. As the couple dance, Maude tells Harold that she "couldn't imagine a lovelier farewell." He immediately questions Maude as to her meaning, and she reveals that she has purposely taken an overdose of sleeping pills and will be dead by midnight. She restates her firm belief that 80 is the proper age to die.

Harold rushes Maude to the hospital, where she is treated unsuccessfully and dies. In the final sequence, a grief-stricken Harold drives his hearse off a seaside cliff in an apparently real act of suicide. After the crash, the final shot reveals that Harold presumably escaped from the car prior to its fall; the camera pans to the top of the cliff and he walks away, picking out on his banjo Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out".


Hal Ashby, the director of the film, shared certain ideals with the era’s youth culture, and in this film he contrasts the doomed outlook of the alienated youth of the time with the hard-won optimism of those who endured the horrors of the early 20th century, contrasting nihilism with purpose. Maude's past is revealed in a glimpse of the concentration camp ID number tattooed on her arm as well as her talk with Harold about using an umbrella to defend herself from thugs at political meetings before moving to America.

Harold is part of a society in which he is of no importance, existentially he is without meaning. Maude has survived and lives a life rich with meaning and deliberate choice. It is in this existential crisis, shown against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, that we see the differences between one culture, personified by Harold, handling a meaningless war, while another has experienced and lived beyond a war that produced a crisis of meaning.

Harold's "deaths"

Harold tells Maude when they are talking candidly at her house the reasons why he fakes his death so often. When Harold was at boarding school, he set his science lab on fire. Escaping the fire, Harold slid down the laundry chute and ran home to hide. When the police came, Harold could not be found. Believed to be dead the police came to his house and told Mrs. Chasen (Harold’s mother) that Harold was dead. Coming up from the back balcony, Harold watched as his mother fell over in grief for the police officers. Harold then states that, "I decided then I enjoyed being dead".

Throughout the movie, Harold appears to "die" a total of seven to eight times. He tells his psychologist that he has made similar attempts 15 times, a rough estimate.

1. Hanging himself in opening scene: Harold hangs himself while his mother is on the phone in the opening scene, in which she barely blinks twice.

2. Slitting his throat in his mother’s bathroom: after this act, we see Harold seeing a psychiatrist.

3. Floating dead in pool: Harold floats face down, fully clothed, as his mother swims laps around him.

4. Shooting towards his head: Harold initially points a gun at his mother and then shoots close to his head as his mother is reading off the questionnaire for his dating service.

5. Fire: For the first blind date, Harold pretends to set himself on fire, scaring away his date.

6. Hand chopping: The second blind date ends abruptly with Harold chopping off a fake hand.

7. Juliet scene: For the final date, Harold performs a seppuku by stabbing himself with a fake harakiri sword in the stomach. Instead of this date running off as the others have, Sunshine Doré instead joins in: she recites lines from Romeo and Juliet, stabs herself and “dies” with him.

8. Car: Harold sends his Jaguar/hearse off a cliff. From the previous scene, the audience may believe Harold was stricken with enough grief from Maude’s death to kill himself (mirroring viewers' impressions from the opening scene). However, the camera pans up to the cliff to show Harold playing Maude’s banjo and dancing away casually.


Harold and Maude is #45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years... 100 Laughs, the list of the top 100 films in American comedy. The list was released in 2000. Two years later, AFI released the list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions honoring the most romantic films for the past 100 years, Harold and Maude ranked #69.[4] Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #4 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films.”[5]

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten Top Ten" – the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres – after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Harold and Maude was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the romantic comedy genre.[6][7]

American Film Institute recognition

At the 29th Golden Globe Awards, Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon received a nomination for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy film, respectively.[8][9]

Critic Roger Ebert, in a review dated January 1, 1972, did not care for the film. He wrote, "And so what we get, finally, is a movie of attitudes. Harold is death, Maude life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life’s hardly worth the extra bother. 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. Harold doesn’t even make pallbearer."


Cover of the Harold and Maude video, with lead actors Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort
  • Dame Marjorie “Maude” Chardin (Ruth Gordon) is a 79-year-old spitfire who wears her hair in braids across her head like laurels. Maude is an abysmal driver who delights in listening to music and believes in living each day like it is your last. The movie does not disclose anything about her tattoo, that may be a Nazi concentration camp tattoo.
  • Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a pale, nineteen-year-old male who craves human interaction but is smothered by his mother’s controlled, materialistic world. (He becomes more tan as the film progresses). Obsessed with death, he drives a hearse, attends random funerals, and fakes suicides for effect. Through meeting and falling in love with Maude, he discovers there is more to life than death and begins living for the first time.
  • Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) is Harold’s mother, an affluent, middle-aged woman who surrounds herself with the best of everything. Hoping to straighten out her son, Mrs. Chasen arranges computer dates and bestows a myriad of lavish gifts upon him, all to no avail.
  • Glaucus (Cyril Cusack) is the sculptor who makes the ice statue of Maude and lends them his tools to transport the tree.
  • General Victor Ball (Charles Tyner) is Harold’s uncle. He vainly attempts to entice Harold into joining the armed forces.
  • Sunshine Doré (Ellen Geer) is an actress. On Harold’s third blind date, she lies down and “dies” beside him.
  • Priest (Eric Christmas): Maude steals his car. He also tells Harold not to marry Maude.
  • Psychiatrist (G. Wood)
  • Candy Gulf (Judy Engles) is Harold’s first blind date, whom he scares off by feigning to set himself afire.
  • Edith Phern (Shari Summers) is Harold’s second blind date, whom he scares off by pretending to cut off his hand. This distasteful antic prompts Mrs. Chasen to send Harold to talk with Uncle Victor about joining the armed forces.
  • Motorcycle Officer (Tom Skerritt, credited as “M. Borman”)
  • Director Hal Ashby appears in an uncredited cameo in the picture, watching a model train at an amusement park.


Harold And Maude[10][11]
Soundtrack by Cat Stevens
Released December 28, 2007 (2007-12-28)
Label Vinyl Films
Producer Cat Stevens
Paul Samwell-Smith

The soundtrack is by Cat Stevens, and includes two songs, “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” that he composed specifically for the movie, and which were unavailable on vinyl for over a decade; they were eventually released in 1984 on the compilation Footsteps in the Dark. A vinyl LP soundtrack was released in Japan, although without the two songs Cat Stevens wrote for the film, and including five songs not actually in the film (“Morning Has Broken,” “Wild World,” “Father & Son,” “Lilywhite” and “Lady D'Arbanville”). The first official soundtrack to the film was released in December 2007[10], by Vinyl Films Records, as a vinyl-only limited edition release of 2500 copies. It contained a 30-page oral history of the making of the film, the most extensive series of interviews yet conducted on "Harold and Maude."

Track listing

This is the track listing for the first official release of the soundtrack to Harold and Maude.

  • Side one
    1. "Don't Be Shy"
    2. "On The Road To Find Out"
    3. "I Wish, I Wish"
    4. "Miles From Nowhere"
    5. "Tea for the Tillerman"
    6. "I Think I See The Light"
  • Side two
    1. "Where Do the Children Play?"
    2. "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out"
    3. "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out (banjo version)" – previously unreleased
    4. "Trouble"
    5. "Don't Be Shy (alternate version)" – previously unreleased
    6. "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out (instrumental version)" – previously unreleased
  • Bonus 7" single
    1. "Don't Be Shy (demo version)" – previously unreleased
    2. "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out (alternative version)" – previously unreleased


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Harold and Maude is a 1971 cult film about the friendship between a morbid young man and a life-loving old woman.

Directed by: Hal Ashby; Cinematography by: John Alonzo
Written by: Colin Higgins; Original music by: Cat Stevens



  • Dreyfus once wrote from Devil's Island that he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany, he realized they had only been sea gulls... For me, they will always be... glorious birds.


  • I haven't lived... I've died a few times.


Harold: You hop in any car you want and just drive off?
Maude: Well, not any car. I like to keep a variety. I'm always looking for the new experience.
Harold: Maybe. Nevertheless, I think you're upsetting people. I don't know if that's right.
Maude: Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I'm merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don't get attached to things. Now, with that in mind, I'm not against collecting things...

Maude: That little tree — it's in trouble. Come on. [Harold and Maude walk over to a tree growing through the sidewalk in front of a building.] Look at it. Oh, it's suffocating. Well, it's the smog. You know, people can live with it, but trees — it gives them asthma. They can't breathe. The leaves, look, they’re turning all brown. Harold, we have got to do something about this life.
Harold: What?
Maude: We'll transplant it. To the forest.
Harold: You can't do that
Maude: Why not?
Harold: This is public property.
Maude: Well, exactly.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Hmm?
Harold: Do you pray?
Maude: Pray? No. I communicate.
Harold: With God?
Maude: With Life.

Psychiatrist: Tell me, Harold, how many of these, uh, suicides have you performed?
Harold: An accurate number would be difficult to gauge.
Psychiatrist: Well, just give me a rough estimate.
Harold: A rough estimate? I'd say... fifteen.
Psychiatrist: Fifteen?
Harold: That’s a rough estimate.
Psychiatrist: Were they all done for your mother's benefit?
Harold: No. No, I would not say "benefit."

Motorcycle Officer: License, lady?
Maude: I don't have one. I don't believe in them.
Motorcycle Officer: How long you been driving, lady?
Maude: About 45 minutes, wouldn't you say, Harold? We were hoping to start sooner; but, you see, it's rather hard to find a truck.
Motorcycle Officer: This your truck?
Maude: Oh, no, I just took it.

Harold: You sure have a way with people.
Maude: Well, they're my species!

External links

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