AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Harold and Maude
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Dec 1971
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 20 Dec 1971
Production Date:   late Dec 1970--mid-Mar 1971
Duration (in mins):   90-92
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Cast:   Ruth Gordon (Maude)  
    Bud Cort (Harold [Chasen])  
    Vivian Pickles (Mrs. Chasen)  
    Cyril Cusack (Glaucus)  
    Charles Tyner (Uncle Victor [Ball])  
    Ellen Geer (Sunshine Doré)  
    Eric Christmas (Priest)  
    G. Wood (Psychiatrist)  
    Judy Engles (Candy Gulf)  
    Shari Summers (Edith Phern)  
    M. Borman (Motorcycle officer)  
    Susan Madigan (Girlfriend)  
    Ray Gorman (Police officer)  
    Gordon DeVol (Police officer)  
    Harvey Brumfield (Police officer)  
    Henry Dieckoff (Butler)  
    Philip Schultz (Doctor)  
    Sonia Sorrell (Head nurse)  
    Margot Jones (Student nurse)  
    Barry Higgins (Intern)  
    Marjorie Morley Eaton (Madame Arouet)  
    Hal Ashby (Carnival bystander)  
    William Lucking (Policeman)  

Summary: After another in a series of mock suicides staged by 20-year-old Harold Chasen fails to gain the attention he craves from his wealthy, socialite mother, the sullen young man stages a bloody scene in her bathroom, finally driving her to send him to a psychiatrist. During a therapy session, Harold explains that he finds "fun" in attending funerals. Soon after, Harold buys a hearse and goes to a funeral for a stranger, where he spots another casual observer, the 79-year-old Maude. At home that night, Mrs. Chasen, outraged by Harold's "amateur theatrics," sends him to his uncle, Gen. Victor Ball, a one-armed veteran who urges him to join the military and then salutes a portrait of his hero, Nathan Hale, using his mechanically rigged sleeve. Days later, after Harold fails to shake his imperturbable mother by floating face down in her lap pool, Mrs. Chasen announces that Harold must assume "adult responsibilities" by marrying and arranges for a series of dates. During a funeral for another stranger, Maude offers Harold licorice and then suggests that the deceased, who was 80, died at the perfect age. As the mourners exit the church, the affable Maude introduces herself, tells Harold they will be "great friends" and then steals the minister's car. Later, while Mrs. Chasen recites the dating service survey question "Do you have ups and downs without obvious reason?" Harold fakes shooting himself in the head. At the end of the next funeral Harold attends, Maude steals his hearse for a joy ride, then turns the wheel over to him after he informs her that it is his vehicle. Harold then drives Maude to her home, a converted railroad car full of art and memorabilia. Later, at the psychiatrist's office, Harold admits that he might have one friend, Maude. During his first date with Candy Gulf at the Chasen home, Harold pretends to set himself on fire within sight of young woman, who flees the house in terror. On his next visit to Maude, he finds his friend modeling in the nude for ice sculptor Glaucus. After he agrees with her that the nudity is permissible, Maude shows Harold her paintings, sculpture and “olfactory machine,” demonstrating it with a scent called "Snow on 42nd Street." Entranced by Maude's creativity and her insistence on experiencing something new each day, Harold shares with her his favorite activities: watching building demolitions and picnicking at a metal junkyard. Later, at a nursery, Maude explains that she likes to watch things grow and picks a tall solitary sunflower as her favorite flower. After Harold, in turn, chooses a ground cover daisy, saying that all daisies are alike, Maude notes observable differences between them. She advises him that all humans are special; the problem lies in the fact that they allow themselves to be treated all the same. On another outing, Maude, in her zeal, drives over a curb to show Harold a tree being suffocated by the city's smog. When the car is ticketed by police officers, Harold and Maude steal a different vehicle and race through a stop sign, defying the awe-struck police. Later at her home, Maude reminisces metaphorically about her past as a political protestor and explains that now she attempts more idiosyncratic strategies toward change. After playing a song on her player piano for him, Maude gives Harold a banjo. Harold returns home to find his mother has replaced his hearse with a new Jaguar sports car, which he quickly transforms into a mini-hearse with the help of a blowtorch. Days later, when Harold and Maude rush through a tollbooth while delivering the smog-ridden tree to its new home, a motorcycle officer pulls them over. Maude speeds off during the officer's interrogation and drives around in circles until the motorcycle breaks down. Later, when the same officer pulls them over again and reads a list of offenses, Maude and Harold steal his motorcycle. The officer aims his gun at them, but finds his efforts foiled by his unloaded gun. After sharing a hashish pipe at Maude's home, Harold admits that he has not lived, but does enjoy dying and recounts his first "death:" After a school physics lab experiment blows a hole in floor, police mistakenly report to Mrs. Chasen that her son has died in the explosion. Seeing his mother faint and relishing her attention, Harold decides to continue dying. Maude enthusiastically coaches Harold to live in the present and begins to waltz with him. Days later, during a date with Edith Phern, Harold, who has placed a fake plastic arm in the sleeve of his jacket, takes out a meat cleaver and chops off his hand arm, sending Edith fleeing from the room. Learning that his determined mother plans to induct him into the military, Harold and Maude scheme to foil her. Asking Victor to take a walk, Harold endures a minutely detailed account of his uncle's war adventures during another military pep talk. Harold then excitedly enumerates ways to kill and finally reveals a shrunken head, asking if Victor keeps souvenirs. When Maude suddenly appears carrying a peace sign and grabs the head, Harold pretends to start a brawl with her and pushes the elderly woman down a hole in the stone landing. A shocked Victor is convinced Harold killed the protestor and stops talking about the young man's induction. At the close of the day, Harold tells Maude she is beautiful and holds her hand, revealing a number tattoo indicating that she is a Holocaust survivor. During a date with actress Sunshine Doré, Harold performs a mock hara-kiri, but instead of being shocked, the actress recites the suicide scene from "Romeo and Juliet," pretends to stab herself and falls to Harold's side. That night, as Harold gives Maude a gift with the inscription "Harold loves Maude," she throws it in the sea, explaining with a smile that she will always know where it is. After spending the night with Maude, an ebullient Harold announces to his mother that he is marrying her and shows Mrs. Chasen Maude's picture. Horrified by their age difference, Mrs. Chasen sends Harold to see Victor and the psychiatrist, who caution him against the marriage. Finally, Harold is sent to a priest, who suggests that the idea of Harold "commingling" his "firm" body with the elderly woman is perverse. On Maude's 80th birthday, Harold fills her room with paper sunflowers and plans to propose to her, but Maude announces that she has taken enough sleeping tablets to kill her by midnight and wishes him farewell. Harold screams in outrage and calls for an ambulance. On the way to the hospital, as he professes his love to her, Maude looks on approvingly and suggests that Harold "go love some more." A grief-stricken Harold races from the hospital after Maude dies. When his car careens over an ocean cliff, Harold, standing high above on the cliff's edge, plucks at his banjo and skips to the music, celebrating life as Maude would have wanted.
 

Production Company: Mildred Lewis & Colin Higgins Productions, Inc.  
  Paramount Pictures Corp. (Gulf & Western Industries, Inc.)
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp. (Gulf & Western Industries, Inc.)
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
  Michael Dmytryk (1st asst dir)
  Robert Enrietto (2d asst dir)
Producer: Mildred Lewis (Exec prod)
  Colin Higgins (Prod)
  Charles B. Mulvehill (Prod)
Writer: Colin Higgins (Wrt)
Photography: John Alonzo (Dir of photog)
  Joe Marquette Jr. (Cam op)
  King Nicholson (Asst cam)
  Safar Elias (2d asst cam)
  Charles Record (Head grip)
  Vern Matthews (2d grip)
  Richard Hart (Gaffer)
  Randy Glass (Best boy)
  Larry Whitehead (Elec)
  Jack Geraghty (Stillman)
Art Direction: Michael Haller (Prod des)
  Pablo Ferro (Titles by)
  Jim Moss (Painter)
Film Editor: William A. Sawyer (Film ed)
  Edward Warschilka (Film ed)
  Don Zimmerman (Ed apprentice)
  Sam Gemette (Ed apprentice)
  Bill Shur (Projectionist)
  Jack Davies (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: James Cane (Set dresser)
  Steve Ferry (Props)
  Eugene Booth (Props)
Costumes: William Theiss (Cost des)
  Andrea Weaver (Ward supv)
  Kirt Templeman (Ward asst)
  Rosa Lazar (Fitter)
Music: Paul Samwell-Smith (Rec supv)
  Ken Johnson (Mus ed)
Sound: William Randall [Jr.] (Sd)
  Richard Portman (Re-rec)
  James A. Richards (Sd ed)
  Frank Warner (Sd ed)
  Chuck Randall (Boom man)
Special Effects: A. D. Flowers (Spec eff)
  Paul Lombardi (Spec eff)
Make Up: Bob Stein (Makeup)
  Kathryn Blondell (Hairstylist)
  Rebecca White (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Wes McAfee (Unit prod mgr)
  Steve Silver (Prod assoc)
  Jeff Wexler (Prod asst)
  Julie Pitkanen (Scr cont)
  Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Ann Brebner (S. F. casting)
  R. Alberts (Craft services)
  Gene Clinesmith (Driver capt)
  Al Pettigrew (Driver)
  Creg Pinkerd (Driver)
  Jim Brubaker (Driver)
  Gerald Vers (Driver)
  Elwyn Dale Henry (Driver)
  Charles Bricker (Driver)
  Ray Tostado (Driver)
  Dalibor Raos (Driver)
  Art Wilde (Pub)
  Jan Haag (Intern)
  Barbara Ulrich (Dir secy)
  Sheila Woodland (Prod secy)
  Julie Dressler (Prod secy)
  Arnold Orgolini (Auditor)
Stand In: Joe Hooker (Coord/stunt double)
  Jerry Randall (Stunt double)
  Pam Bebermeyer (Stunt double)
  Susan Madigan (Stand-in)
  Boone Lodge (Stand-in)
MPAA Rating: GP
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Greensleeves," traditional; Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II.
Songs: "Don't Be Shy," "On the Road to Find Out," "I Wish, I Wish," "Miles from Nowhere," "Tea for the Tillerman," " I Think I See the Light," "Where Do the Children Play," "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" and "Trouble," music and lyrics by Cat Stevens, sung by Cat Stevens, courtesy of Island Records and A & M Records.
Composer: Cat Stevens
  Johann Strauss II
  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Paramount Pictures Corp. 13/12/1971 dd/mm/yyyy LP40312
Mildred Lewis & Colin Higgins Productions, Inc. 13/12/1971 dd/mm/yyyy LP40312

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor

 
Genre: Romantic comedy
  Satire
 
Subjects (Major): Aged women
  Love affairs
  Maturation
  Mothers and sons
  Suicide
 
Subjects (Minor): Automobile theft
  Banjos
  Cemeteries
  Concentration camp survivors
  Drowning
  Funerals
  Hearses
  Junk trade and junkyards
  Officers (Military)
  Police
  Priests
  Proposals (Marital)
  Psychiatrists
  Radicalism
  Self-immolation
  Uncles
  Wealth

Note: During the opening credits for the film, Bud Cort, as the character "Harold Chasen," sets the stage for a mock suicide. As director Hal Ashby's credit appears, Harold jumps from a chair, hanging himself from the ceiling of his family home. Although onscreen credits list the "motorcycle cop" as M. Borman, the actor was actually Tom Skerritt. Ashby also has a bit part in the film as a carnival bystander.
       Writer and producer Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay for Harold and Maude for his graduate thesis at the UCLA Film School and had originally planned it to be a 20-minute short. He then formed his own production company and made a deal with Paramount to produce the film. According to a 24 Sep 1970 DV article, Howard Jaffe was originally to co-produce the film, but was later replaced by Charles Mulvehill. Location shooting for Harold and Maude took place in and around San Francisco and San Mateo, CA. In her autobiography, Ruth Gordon specifies the following locations within those areas: Half Moon Bay, Redwood City, Oyster Point, Oakland, Palo Alto, Soldier's Cemetery in Daly City and the Dumbarton Bridge for the motorcycle officer sequence.
       As noted in a 5 Feb 1971 DV article, Higgins wrote a novelization of his screenplay for the film that also was entitled Harold and Maude (Philadelphia, 1971). Soon after the film's release, Higgins adapted his screenplay for a theatrical version that became a hit play in Paris. Higgins also wrote a Broadway adaptation of Harold and Maude , which was directed by Robert Lewis and starred Janet Gaynor and Keith Dermott. The play ran for only four performances from 7 Feb—9 Feb 1980.
       There are a number of satirical moments in the film, which modern critics hailed for its darkly comic, ironic situations. For example, in one sequence "Uncle Victor Ball," salutes a portrait of Nathan Hale, the American Revolutionary war hero, who, upon his imminent execution, was reported to have said that his only regret was having but one life to give his country. Several reviews of the film noted the age difference between characters Harold and Maude with disdain; however, other reviews lauded the film as an upbeat love story. Despite its lack of critical acclaim or financial success at the time of its release, Harold and Maude garnered record-breaking runs in both Detroit and Minneapolis and soon established a "cult" following with repeat audiences throughout the United States. After Paramount re-released the film in Feb 1979, an 8 Aug 1983 NYT article noted that Harold and Maude was still being shown in rented halls and theaters and was finally making a substantial profit.
       Oscar-winning actress Ruth Gordon was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress—Musical or Comedy, while Bud Cort was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor—Musical or Comedy. British actress Vivian Pickles made her American film debut in Harold and Maude . The soundtrack for the film featured songs written and performed by popular 1970s performer Cat Stevens, including “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” which was specifically written for the film. In 1997, the picture was selected for inclusion on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   3 Jan 1972.   
Box Office   17 Dec 1972.   
Cue   25 Dec 1971.   
Daily Variety   24 Sep 1970.   
Daily Variety   7 Jan 1971.   
Daily Variety   5 Feb 1971.   
Daily Variety   16 Dec 1971.   
Filmfacts   1971   
Herald Examiner   24 Dec 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   31 Dec 1970   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Jan 1971   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jan 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Mar 1971   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 1971   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   24 Dec 1971.   
Los Angeles Times   24 Dec 1971.   
Motion Picture Examiner   29 Dec 1971.   
New York Times   21 Dec 1971   p. 51.
New York Times   26 May 1974.   
New York Times   8 Aug 1983.   
Playboy   Apr 1972.   
Variety   15 Dec 1971   p. 18.
Variety   5 Jun 1974.   
Village Voice   23 Dec 1971   p. 66.
Vogue   Sep 1974.   
Wall Street Journal   5 Aug 1974.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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