You should watch ‘Harold and Maude’: an unconventional romance

Every time I try to explain the concept of Harold and Maude to people, I’m met with skepticism and sometimes, a bit of revulsion. To be fair, it’s not a film which sounds like it should work. When it was originally released in the 70’s, Variety said of the film, “[it] has all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage.”

I know, with Valentine’s Day and all that this month, people will be turning to romance. Well, couples will be turning to romance. Single people will be eating a family-size pack of Doritos and wondering where it all went wrong, which is why I think, no matter what your relationship status, Harold and Maude will lift your spirits.

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She kinda looks like little red riding hood.

If you’re unfamiliar, Harold and Maude, made in 1971, follows a young rich teenage boy, Harold (Bud Cort). Though he’s wealthy, he has nothing in common with the Gossip Girl crowd. He’s obsessed with death and has great fun creating upsetting suicide scenes for his mother (Vivian Pickles) to find, though she is unimpressed most of the time. Harold also has another pastime: attending funerals. There, he meets Maude, (Ruth Gordon), a kooky, young at heart seventy-nine year old. Harold is set up on a series of dates by his mother, but he’s disinterested in all of them. Harold’s friendship with Maude grows into love, much to the dismay of literally everyone around them. Drama/BIG LAUGHS ensue obvi…

Here are just a few reasons Harold and Maude should be required viewing this Valentine’s Day:

The Cast

This movie is almost half about the casting. If it had the wrong people in it, the film just wouldn’t work. The part of Harold was written for another young actor/musician, John Rubinstein, a character actor who still guests on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and This is Us. However, Hal Ashby, the film’s director liked Bud Cort, who had recently had a bit part in Robert Altman’s war comedy, M*A*S*H. He was 23 at the time he made Harold and Maude and was already a fantastic actor. His facial expressions ARE EVERYTHING.

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Subtle. Also, am I the only one who thinks he is WAY TOO PALE?

Ruth Gordon was a bit younger than her character was supposed to be, in her mid-60’s during the shoot. She had, just a few years earlier, won an Academy Award for her role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. She gives life to Maude and makes you understand why Harold is charmed by her. Gordon was a writer early in her career. She actually co-wrote one of Judy Holliday‘s comedies: The Marrying Kind. Her performance as Maude is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

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Maude created #YOLO

Vivien Pickles is also fantastic as Harold’s mother. To me, her shining scene is when she’s filling out Harold’s dating profile.

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Good parenting.

Charles Tyner also has a good turn as Harold’s army uncle, who’s missing an arm. You might recognize Tyner from Cool Hand Luke where he played the sadistic prison guard.

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LOL the Nixon photo…

The Script

Colin Higgins had originally developed the project for his UCLA thesis film. However, after showing the script to his landlady, Mildred Lewis, who was the wife of a Hollywood producer, they formed a production company and began to shop it around to different studios. The script is obviously most often categorized as a dark comedy, which, of course, it is. But, it’s also a drama and a romance and it’s surprising how effective the dramatic moments end up being.

For the time, the way this story is told was so completely original. Since then, I feel like other writers have tried to replicate Higgins style and wit to the point where a current filmgoer might see the film and call it cliched. Higgins was first. The ending will break your heart and uplift you simultaneously.

Higgins went on to direct 9 to 5 and Foul Play and unfortunately died of AIDS in 1988.

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#RealTalk

The Direction

Paramount exec Peter Bart had faith in the story and in Colin, although he didn’t believe Higgins was ready to direct. Bart had seen The Landlord and appreciated the way its director had made the sensitive material funny with satire. Thus, Hal Ashby was brought on to direct Harold and Maude with Higgins blessing. It’s difficult to separate how much was Ashby and how much was Higgins. However, Ashby brought a distinct style to the film. He went on to direct Shampoo, The Last Detail, and Being There.

“In shooting Harold and Maude, Ruth Gordon recalled in her autobiography, Ashby ‘followed the Gertrude Stein theory: chronology has nothing to do with anything. We shot where and when and what Hal said to. Hal is his own man. Do you care about sequence? Not me. We don’t think in sequence, we rarely talk in sequence, we don’t rehearse a play in sequence, so why shoot a script that way?'” – Ruth Gordon, (TCM Article).

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❤ ❤ ❤

The Music

Elton John was originally supposed to provide a score for the film. However, after dropping out, he suggested Cat Stevens. Cat Stevens’ music provides an atmosphere and a perspective from which to see the story from.

Give a listen:

Harold’s Deaths

Basically, they’re hilarious and horrible and these gifs say it all:

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SO MUCH BLOOD.
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Quite normal…or at least, Harold’s mother thinks it is.
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This is when Harold’s mother is filling out his dating profile.
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Dating can be dangerous…lol

The Romance

Some people can’t watch this film without being grossed out. The idea of a teenage boy and an elderly woman falling in love is societally inappropriate. What I think is most fascinating is that their love affair, although consummated offscreen, is more an emotional love affair than a sexual one. Similarly to my favorite film, Brief Encounter, the romance in Harold and Maude is about their souls, about a connection that is more than just sexual attraction.

Harold doesn’t connect with any girls his age. He finds something in Maude; she understands him and she pushes him to live his life. There’s something truly beautiful about that. To those who are still grossed out, well, all I can say, is, at least the film challenged you, made you look at life from a different point of view. I say love is love. Also, there are plenty of May-December romances with an older man and a younger woman and it seems to be more accepted.

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It’s an existential, hilarious, completely unconventional rom-com.

After the film was panned and subsequently, flopped, something amazing happened. College students fell in love with the film. Colin Higgins had a theory on why they related to it when the older generation did not: “We’re all Harold, and we all want to be Maude. We’re all repressed and trying to be free, to be ourselves, to be vitally interested in living, to be everything we want” (Higgins, TCM Article).

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This SONG and MOMENT are EVERYTHING.

Vintage trailer is below:

Gifs and photos property of Paramount Pictures.

Why ‘Somewhere in Time’ is a severely underrated period romance

It’s difficult for me to remember exactly when I first saw Somewhere in Time. Funnily enough, it was made the year after another time travel favorite of mine, Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time. However, this one is very different. It’s an old school romance with an intriguing premise that you can’t help but get swept up in (or, at least, I can’t!).

If you’re unfamiliar, Somewhere in Time follows Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), a playwright suffering from writer’s block. He decides to get out of town for a bit, visiting his old college town and staying at a historic hotel. He sees a photo of an actress, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) in the hotel’s hall of history and falls in love with the girl. Only one problem: she’s dead. His obsession turns dramatic. He talks to an old professor, asking if it’s possible to travel through time. He essentially tricks his mind into believing he is back in 1912 (Don’t think too hard about the time travel logistics. It makes no sense obvi). Once back in time, he begins his steamy affair with Elise, much to the dismay of her manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer). Will it be Robinson who tears them apart or time?? You have to watch the movie to find out!

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I’m OBSESSED with the early 20th century fashion. I WANT A FAN!

Here are just a few reasons Somewhere in Time is SEVERELY underrated:

The Cast

Christopher Reeve was HOT (both physically and in the industry), having already starred in his most popular role of Superman! He turned down several movies around this time, looking for something specific. There’s something about his sincerity that makes this character and this film work. Is it the plot convoluted and nuts? Um, yes. But, for some reason, you look into Mr. Reeve’s eyes and you’re like, Okay, sure. He’s sweet and romantic and very swoon worthy!

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He’s a bit self-assured. I think the message is, time traveling gives you confidence…

Jane Seymour was in her late twenties at the time she made this and was (and still is) absolutely drop dead gorgeous! Seriously, though, she belongs on the cover of romance novels which is probably one reason why she got the part. Additionally, she has the acting chops to back it up – she is tough, but also naive and vulnerable and you fall in love with her (just as Richard does) instantly!

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In the early 20th century, taking your down = SEDUCTION. 

Christopher Plummer is also wonderful as Elise’s manager. He was, of course, known at the time for his role as Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He’s deliciously wicked as the Mr. Robinson, but you sense that there’s more to him than that, a compliment to his nuanced performance!

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What is he really thinking? 

The Score, the score, the SCOREEE!

I’m sorry, did I say the score one too many times? Well, if you had heard even one minute of John Barry’s score, I think you’d probably be screaming too. It’s difficult for me to parcel out how much of my love for this film is related to the score. I believe it elevates every aspect of the film. Apparently, or at least according to the TCM article, Jane Seymour was the one responsible for getting John Barry on board. I can’t imagine this film without this music. They belong to one another. Seriously, just give it a listen:

The Story/Script

Alright, so I know it’s far fetched. And yes, I know it’s cheesy, but for some reason, it really does work. Trust me. Writer Richard Matheson, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay got the idea when he came across photos of a young actress from the early 20th century, Maude Adams. Her biggest claim to fame: she was the first actress to play Peter Pan.

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Quite beautiful, no?

What I love about Matheson’s time travel concept is that it’s all about the mind. It’s a form of hypnosis, not a machine. As a kid, I remember REALLY buying into it. I was like, Sure, you can time travel just by shoving everything modern into a closet and dressing in old timey clothes!

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As a child, this scene both scared me to death and intrigued me beyond belief.

The romance is that Romeo and Juliet, love-at-first-sight type of deal. But, again, somehow, through the performances, you buy it and you root for them!

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A BIT dramatic…but I LOVE IT! ❤ ❤ ❤

The Gorgeous Early 20th Century Costumes

For real, I think I am one of those girls seduced by costume dramas and the thing is, the costumes in this are so pretty, you can’t NOT be obsessed with them!

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So refined and gorgeous. THAT HAT THOUGH!

The beautiful cinematography!

There are many ways to illustrate that the time period has changed. What cinematographer Isidore Mankovsky did was use a sepia-toned filter for all the the 1912 scenes. Mind you, modern audiences apparently didn’t take too well to that. But, I think it was a wonderful choice, almost like being in a picture, in a dream!

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GORGEOUS!!

The Major Flaw: THE WATCH

Alright, so full disclosure, this film does have one major flaw. In the beginning of the film, Christopher Reeve is given a watch by old Elise in the 1970’s. He takes it with him back in time, and (spoiler alert!) leaves it there with Elise. So, the big question is, where does the watch start? Like, seriously, where the fuck did this pocketwatch come from? That seems to be one thing we’ll never know!

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This watch is magical I guess?

It’s a sweeping, underrated, moody period romance! 

Despite its convoluted premise, Somewhere in Time is a severely underrated gem. It was actually a flop when it was originally released and then found its cult audience through repeated cable viewings. Now, there’s actually an annual event at the Grand Hotel honoring the film and you can bet that’s on my list of things to do (once I become a millionaire of course! LOL).

Is it utterly ludicrous? Yes. But, I think that’s where its magic comes from. It epitomizes what I believe all storytelling should set out to do: capture the imagination.

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LOL this scene. 

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and gifs property of Universal Pictures.