In the pantheon of great movie endings, few can touch Harold and Maude’s. Hal Ashby’s film turns 50 this year and if you’re thinking, wasn’t Harold and Maude released on Blu-Ray before, it was. Criterion’s release had an orange cover.
Luckily, fans didn’t have to wait long between Criterion’s release going out of print and Paramount adding Harold and Maude to their Paramount Presents line. Paramount’s release comes with a new 4K restoration of the movie. There are also new bonus features. Criterion’s Blu-Ray had bonus features, too, and none of them are carried over to this one, but at least if you’re looking for an excuse to double dip there are reasons to do so.
Harold and Maude is about a young man (Bud Cord) and an older woman (Ruth Gordan) who meet crashing funerals. While Harold is used to throwing people for a loop (he fakes his own death as a hobby), Harold and Maude turns the tables so it’s Harold who’s challenged by Maude and their unconventional love story.
Anytime you revisit a film something different stands out and this time around it was Vivian Pickles’ performance as Harold’s mother. On the one hand the source of her son’s trauma, she’s also a mother who doesn’t give up on her son (even if she won’t inconvenience herself to help him). Famously the film begins with her walking in on one of her son’s fake suicides and not reacting. This will become a pattern as the film goes on, but did she react once? That’s the ultimate question and one which Harold only partially answers.
Paramount’s cover, which also appears on the slipcover, is cool and graphic and captures one of the scenes where Harold and Maude visit a cemetery. Not as big a fan of the poster art that was used for the flap of the slipcover, but at least that’s not what’s showing.
As Almost Famous director, Cameron Crowe, says in his commentary with screenwriter, Larry Karaszewski, “This really is the greatest use of music… the greatest marriage of cinema and music, too,” and it’s true. Harold and Maude wouldn’t be the same without Cat Stevens‘ soundtrack and while the new interview with Stevens (who goes by the name Yusef now) isn’t long, it was pretty wild to learn that Ashby used Stevens’ demos for ‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’ and ‘Don’t Be Shy’ in the film.
[As a side note, Crow and Karaszewki mention how difficult it used to be to find the soundtrack for the film – which if you think about it from Stevens’ point of view, meant fans had to purchase his CDs instead – but that’s about to change, with a new CD and vinyl of the soundtrack scheduled for February.]
Other revelations from Crow and Karaszewki’s commentary include that John Rubenstein and Elton John were both considered to play Harold. They also talk about the composition of Ashby’s frames and how he brought his editor’s eye to the project, the origin story behind Colin Higgins‘ screenplay, and the difficult time that was had trying to figure out how to promote the movie. Of the two theatrical trailers, the second is the strongest, but also has Harold and Maude kissing. The first is just a montage to ‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’ that doesn’t provide any context, but would an ageist society have responded well to seeing Harold and Maude kiss?
At a time when movies are still released without subtitles, Paramount deserves every credit for including subtitles for Crow and Karaszewki’s commentary. That’s almost unheard of and it would be great if that became general practice.
Harold and Maude is available on Blu-Ray now from Paramount Presents.