|First things first. You dohave to see this movie at some point in your life. It's just one of those required viewing lessons in social history. No way around it. As the blurb mentions, this was standard "midnight movie" fare for a good ten years after its release. At least.
Second, no bones about it, both Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort are terrific. The movie was a blessing for Gordon, whose earlier career had previously been pretty much forgotten. Without Harold and Maude, she probably wouldn't have got the book deal that eventually followed, her memoirs in which she utters one of the most important pieces of advice you'll ever hear: "Keep your bowels moving."
Unfortunately, the movie was something of a curse for poor Bud Cort. No one could ever look at those ET-like eyes again without thinking: Harold. Very tough for him to get cast in any other role, and sadly, he was last seen in Wim Wenders's pathetic Million Dollar Hotel.
Then, the movie didlaunch the directing career of Hal Ashby, an editor who directed this, his first feature, at the age of 42. He'd later give us far better work such as Shampoo, Bound for Gloryand his masterpiece, Being There.
Ashby's flower child background is written all over this movie. If the 70s were all about digesting the radical break of the 60s (arguable, but go with it), what we have here is an amalgam of all the gooshy stuff released by that break. This movie is a prime example of why the 70s for many was the "Me Decade." When I saw it way back when, I must have been about Harold's age, but I'd regale my friends who loved the movie with my own version of Harold and Maude's leitmotif, "If you wanna sing out, sing out," in which I merely extended the logic: "If you wanna rape dogs, rape dogs."
You can't argue with the gist of the movie, of course: Life is good. Get out there and enjoy it. The problem is, though it tackles such essential existential questions (remember, Sartre and Camus were still all the rage), its simplistic approach is truly embarrassing 30 years on. Free love: good, military: bad, and so on. Stylistically, it's impossible not to look at those washed-out colors, long lens shots, all underlaid with Cat Stevens's quintessential goofy-hippie soundtrack without realizing that you're looking at a remarkable relic of a now-very-distant past. And good riddance.
Watch it with that in mind and it's gotta be a kick.