Colin Higgins and Hal Asbhy: “Harold and Maude”

The 1971 film Harold and Maude is a cult classic, a romantic dark comedy preserved in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry and ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. Written by Colin Higgins and directed by Hal Ashby, it deserves every bit of the love its enamored fans have showered on it over the years.

It’s an unlikely love story if ever there was one. Nineteen-year-old Harold meets his future paramour, seventy-nine-year-old Maude, at a funeral. You might expect me to say, “And not just any funeral.” But to both Harold and Maude, it is “any” funeral – for their shared joy, it turns out, is to attend funerals. Harold drives a Jaguar he’s converted into a hearse, and Maude quite literally zips around town in any car she can find. The pair hit it off, and before long, they’ve become lovers.

Now if you’ve never seen Harold and Maude, you’re thinking, “What a bizarre-sounding film,” or “Why is Linda recommending something so outlandish?” In fact, you’re probably thinking both!

But if you’ve seen Harold and Maude, you’re likely to have drunk the Kool-Aid, too. You’ve probably seen it more than once. You likely have fond memories of the whimsical passion Harold and Maude have for one another. And like me, you’re probably humming Cat Stevens’s song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” right now! Written and recorded for the film, the song perfectly sums up Harold and Maude’s quirky but loving relationship.

In short, I love Harold and Maude, and if you’ve seen it, I bet you do, too. Despite the fact that Harold and Maude love to go to funerals and despite the fact that Harold stages elaborate mock-suicides in his attempt to get his mother to notice him, the film is ultimately life-affirming. Though Maude is sixty years older than Harold, she teaches him about love and life – she is such a gift to this young man. And love, we are reminded, is a true gift in our lives, no matter when or where or how we find it.

The best way to see this iconic film is to purchase The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition, complete with high-definition digital restoration, a remastered stereo soundtrack, audio commentary by Hal Ashby, Nick Dawson, and Charles B. Mulvehill, audio excerpts of seminars by Hal Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins, an interview with songwriter Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Wood.

For more on this outstanding film, read Mental Floss’s list of 10 fun facts about Harold and Maude. The Criterion Collection offers its own list of 10 facts about the film as well as a number of other resources. James A. Davidson’s book Hal Ashby and the Making of Harold and Maudeprovides a behind-the-scenes peak into the filmmaking process. And if you just can’t get enough, check out screenwriter Colin Higgins’s novelization of the film’s script. It will give you even more insight into the couple’s story.

If you find you’ve fallen in love with the film, too, and want to fly your own freak flag, consider sporting a Harold and Maude T-shirt or using a Harold and Maude mouse pad! As Cat Stevens sings in the song and as Harold discovers when he meets Maude, there’s a million things to be, you know that there are!


Watch:Watch the original trailer for Harold and Maude. Then watch video interview with Yusuf Islam about writing the music for the film.