Colin Higgins died at the age of 47 after a short but incredibly distinguished career as a screenwriter. Foul Play, Silver Streak, and 9 to 5 topped his list, but Harold and Maude became a cult favorite and a kind of screenwriters playbook.
Numerous books on screenwriting and as many or more teachers of the trade refer to Colin's script for Harold and Maude. The script started as Higgins's master's thesis at UCLA Film School. He was working as a pool boy when Paramount purchased the script. The 1971 film, directed by Hal Ashby, bombed. But then this quirky, dark comedy began being shown on college campuses and at midnight-movie theaters, and it gained a loyal cult following.
Dark, bright, witty, an incredibly well rounded story brings characters to life, but even more the themes of life, death, suicide and happiness.
Staring Ruth Gordon, Bud Court and Vivian Pickles, Harold and Maude lays out a convincing tale of a young, rich, Harold, obsessed with death, who finds himself changed forever when he meets 80 year old, lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.
Their antics of life and death play off one another like peanuts and coke. Peculiar, but somehow a treat at the movies. Gordon is a breath of life and fun to observe as she teaches Harold the joys of life. But it's Harold who brings to the story laugh out loud humor in his antics of death and suicide. No laughing matter, but a necessary evil for the tender moments the film captures again and again.
When I was in high school, I owned every Cat Stevens album ever published. Largely, due to the movie, Harold and Maude. Stevens memorable songs create a sublime pallet full of anticipation and loneliness, yet leave the viewer satisfied with the idea, "if you want to be you be you, if you want to be me be me, there's a million things to be."