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Paramount Studios presents
Harold and Maude (1971)

"Vice/virtue, it's best not to be too moral, you cheat yourself out of too much life... Aim ABOVE morality."
- Maude (Ruth Gordon)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: June 27, 2000

Stars: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort
Other Stars: Vivian Pickles
Director: Hal Ashby

Manufacturer: CADDS
MPAA Rating: PG for (simulated violence)
Run Time: 01h:31m:00s
Release Date: June 27, 2000
UPC: 097360804270
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B+A C-

DVD Review

Harold Chasen (Cort), a bored, lackluster 20-year-old, resorts to staging various suicide attempts to gain the attention of his social-calendar mother (Pickles). The film opens with his most ceremonious attempt—by hanging from the ceiling of the family library. His mother enters, looks at him, and then picks up the phone, not to dial 911 but to cancel an engagement. Looking at him sidelong she delivers, "I suppose you think that's very funny," with such aplomb that if this doesn't make you laugh you just might be measurably dead yourself.

A cult classic that may finally find its reward in Paramount's new DVD release, Harold and Maude is a flawless tale of didactic, life-affirming absurdities. Harold is a brilliant and intricate character portrait of an introverted young man obsessed with death because he sees no point in life. His secondary amusement is to hang out at funerals, and it is there that he meets the irrepressible, insouciant Maude (Gordon), who is quickly nearing her 80th birthday. When she steals his hearse (her 3rd auto theft in the film's first 20 minutes), she scoops him into her life and alters his forever.

When I was younger, this film altered my life, too. For any depressed teenager (or adult) who at one time or another questions their lives or even considers suicide, this story speaks to all the reasons one can experience in the ensuing 60 years to make them reconsider. Maude's organic, enigmatic character has seen and done it all, and yet remains vibrant and joyous. In the course of about a week, she manages to deliver Harold from his sang froid existence to his exhilarating satori, just by being who she is.

Mrs. Chasen, fed up with her strange son, looks for help everywhere she can, allowing the film to build brief but pointed arguments against war, societal restraints, pollution and religion—among others—in one hilariously timed scene after another. These concepts manage to transcend the era and still speak to us 30 years later, a testament to the classic perfection of this gem.

An inspiring story about approaching life with your eyes open, whether you are just beginning or near the end. "A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they're not dead, really. They're just... backing away from life," says Maude, the bonne vivante and we all understand. Harold understands, but there are always more lessons to learn—he falls in love with her. The filmmakers are prepared for some to not understand or accept this, and through its disapproving characters moves reprovers to a dark corner where they belong. This love is beautiful and profound, and age has no meaning as the "reborn" Harold finally learns how to live.

Veteran Ruth Gordon IS Maude, a gloriously natural performance. Cort is perfectly morbid and moves Harold toward his enlightenment with quiet brilliance. Director Hal Ashby (Being There) sets them in gorgeous (and now, sadly almost unrecognizable) locations around the San Francisco Bay that, coupled with a fabulous Cat Stevens soundtrack, makes the experience sublime.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount did well by this classic and the inclusion of an anamorphic version is exciting. Although there is some speckling here and there (notably in Harold's first visit to Maude's boxcar), the colors are fresh and natural with no bleeding or forced enhancements. The contrast is subtly correct in both exterior and interior scenes. Fleshtones appear natural in all lighting situations. There is nothing that detracts from this finely crafted film.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish and Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both the French and English monaural tracks seem crisp with no real annoyances, making them a fine listen. The 5.1 track is worth every penny here, even though most of the soundtrack consists of dialogue that stays front and center—but nobody "peels-out" like Maude in her various stolen vehicles in a way that makes you want to jump to get out of her way! The fireworks are stunning through the back speakers and I was delighted to hear the actual clicks and tapping of Cat Stevens' plectrum against the pickguard of his guitar on certain tracks. Definitely elevates the experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The menus are easy to navigate and the 26 chapters were planned with obvious care and attention. There are two theatrical trailers that encompass the gamut of emotion sparked by the film, a nice addition. However, as this is a cult favorite this package leaves enthusiasts a bit dry, knowing that there are deleted scenes, back-stories and insights available, but not here. A shame. And the biggest shame is the omission of an isolated soundtrack—an enormous disappointment as the LP/CD was never released in the U.S.

Nice work for what IS there, just not enough to please the crowd.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

This is a gregarious, happy film about "Life and death, the great circle," and about loving and the living that comes in-between. A poignant gift, hopefully to be treasured by generations to come, it aims above morality and hits every mark. Highly recommended.


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