Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Harold and Maude

Review Date: 7-2-09
Release Date:  12-20-1971
Runtime: 91 min.
Period: 1971, Bay Area, California
Costume Designer:  William Theiss

I saw this film on DVD a while back.  It is such a funny and clever movie, but I was taken aback by the darkness of the print.  The blacks in the film were so inky and muddled that it was difficult to make out the details in the frame, especially in the costumes.  When I heard that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was hosting a tribute to Hal Ashby, and screening this film at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, I raced to get tickets.  I was looking forward to seeing a new print of the film.  And for my $5, I got way more than I ever imagined.

Namely, a live performance by the former Cat Stevens.  Yes, Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, got up with his guitar and sang to the audience.  Until this past May, he hadn’t performed a show in Los Angeles in thirty-three years, and there he was, up there singing Don’t Be Shy, a track from the movie Harold and Maude.  He had, in fact, contributed a number of songs to the soundtrack, and his musical presence in the film is so strong that it becomes a character in and of itself.  Side note: his voice is crystal clear, probably for the fact that he hadn’t overworked it all these years.  He sounds exactly the same: heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Yusuf (the former Cat Stevens) performed three songs:  Don’t Be Shy, as mentioned, as well as Miles Away, and the breathtaking Trouble.  Then there was a panel discussion, led by Cameron Crowe and Peter Bart, with panelists Judd Apatow, Diablo Cody, Seth Rogen, Jon Voigt, Haskell Wexler and Yusuf.  It was incredible.  After the screening, Bud Cort (who plays Harold in the film) came out and gave a talk.  I worked with Bud a few years ago on the film The Big Empty. He is hilarious and it was great to work with him, but I never got to ask him about Harold and Maude.  It was nice to finally hear his stories.

Many people involved in the making of Harold and Maude are now sadly deceased (director Hal Ashby, screenwriter Colin Higgins, actress Ruth Gordon, costume designer William Theiss), so this Academy screening was a nice tribute to all of their effort in making this film.  Furthermore, the screening was sold-out, with a wait-list line that snaked down Wilshire Boulevard.  This is a very popular film.  And as I understand it, Harold and Maude has gained a new cult following: teenaged girls.  It’s nice to know that the material is weird enough, classic and timeless enough, with enough dark, subversive humor and “f*ck authority” vibe to transcend the barriers of time and teenagers.

The film begins with a young Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) descending the staircase of his palatial home, writing a note, pinning it to himself, and unceremoniously hanging himself with a noose in the drawing room.  His mother (Vivian Pickles) enters the room, quite unsurprised, saying, “I suppose you think that’s very funny, Harold… Oh, dinner at eight, Harold. And do try and be a little more vivacious.”  Seems she’s seen this before.

Later that evening, at a black-tie dinner attended to by tuxedo-wearing butlers and a harpist, Mrs. Chasen blathers on and on to her only marginally interested guests.  After dinner, she, in a wig cap, undressing from dinner, discovers Harold in her room, covered in blood, apparently dead.  She runs from the scene, “I can’t take it any more, Harold!” as he sticks out his bloody tongue, mocking her.  He has faked it again.

Mrs. Chasen sends her son to a psychiatrist (G. Wood).  The shrink is an indifferent drone, speaking in an affected upper-class accent, listening only to the sound of his own voice.  He and Harold sit in armchairs, facing the same direction.  “What do you do for fun? “ he asks Harold.  Blankly, Harold replies, “I go to funerals.”

Cut to: Harold at a junkyard.  It is full of dead cars.  In the next setup we see Harold driving away in a 1959 Cadillac hearse, taking it through a car wash.  Cut to: Harold at a funeral.  There are older people around the gravesite, crying.  In the distance, Harold spies an older woman leaning against a tree, eating an apple.  This is Maude (Ruth Gordon).

Harold pulls up to his mansion home in the hearse, to the great displeasure of his mother and her fancy friends.  Mrs. Chasen chastises Harold, and, at the end of her rope, informs Harold that he needs to talk with his Uncle Victor (Charles Tyner), a General in the US Army.

Uncle Victor has lost his right arm in the war, and has a big desk in a sterile, military office.  He gives Harold a speech about what it is to be a man, to be brave, etc.  The scene is so comical that it is hard to even listen to him.  In the end, Uncle Victor salutes a picture of a soldier by pulling a chain on his uniform that activates a salute from his fake arm.  It’s ridiculous, and it’s awesome.

Cut to: Harold, wearing a suit, floating motionless, facedown in a swimming pool.  It looks as though he has drowned.  His mother, poolside, daintily unties her robe, adjusts her swim cap, and dives in, swimming around Harold, as if he wasn’t there, rolling her eyes.

Back at the psychiatrist’s office, Harold sits in the armchair. “Tell me, Harold, how many of these, eh, suicides have you performed?” asks the psychiatrist.  Harold, wan, replies, “An accurate number would be difficult to gauge.”

Back at the mansion, Mrs. Chasen sits Harold down and tells him, in her classically affected speech, that it’s time to be a man, to put away childish things.  It’s time for Harold to get married.  She has signed him up for a computer dating service.

Cut to: Harold attending a funeral in a church.  He sits at the back of the crowd, by himself.  Maude is also there, in a back row.  She tries to get his attention.  “Pssst!”  she whispers.  “Pssst!!!”  She offers him licorice.  They begin their friendship.  We find out that Maude is seventy-nine years old, almost eighty.  She’s delightfully kooky, conspiratorial with Harold as they bond over their love of funerals.

The pallbearers load the coffin into the waiting hearse, and a marching band (à propos of nothing, as it turns out) parades down the street.  Maude asks Harold if he dances.  Harold doesn’t know what to say.  Maude gets into a VW bug, and drives off, screeching.  The priest exits the church and sees his car being driven off by Maude, and he screams after her.

Mrs. Chasen sits Harold down in the study.  She is filling out the computer-dating questionnaire.  She reads the questions aloud, to Harold, and then she answers the questions herself, aloud, according to her own judgment.  Harold, in his misery, pulls a handgun from a box, loads it, points it at his mother (who doesn’t see this), then he crosses himself, points the gun at himself, then fires, knocking himself over in the chair.  Another death prank.

In his hearse, Harold pulls up at a graveyard.  The same priest from before is conducting a funeral.  Maude is there, among a large crowd of mourners.  As the funeral winds down, it begins to drizzle, and people pull out umbrellas.  Harold walks to get his car, and finds Maude already driving it.  The priest confronts her about stealing his car.  She admits it, and merrily drives off with Harold in the front seat.

As she drives (horribly) the two discuss their mutual love of funerals.  She asks Harold to take her home, and he does.  Maude lives in a stripped-down rail car in the sticks.  Her home is crammed with things: furniture, memorabilia, hats, a piano.  She asks him to stay, but he can’t.  He has an appointment.  She asks him to come back.

At the psychiatrist’s office, Harold is now lying backwards on the couch, feet up over the headrest.  The Psychiatrist asks if he has any friends, to which Harold replies, “Yes, one…” but refuses to talk about her.  The doctor asks him about the dates that his mother is setting up for him…

Cut to: a bubbly young woman, Candy (Judy Gulf), enters the mansion with Mrs. Chasen.  Harold can be seen through the window, out back.  The ladies sit and talk about Candy’s studies, school, and so forth, and we can see Harold setting up a pyre in the back yard.  Candy is a bit of a jabber jaw.  There is an explosion from the backyard, and what looks like Harold has blown up and caught fire.  Candy screams and runs out.  Harold, smirk squarely on face, enters the room.  Harold – 1, Mother – 0.  Mrs. Chasen is furious.

Harold goes looking for Maude, and finds her at an artist’s studio, posing nude.  At first he seems to be embarrassed by this, not wanting to look.  They go back to her railcar home, and she shows him around the place.  She is flirtatious and vivacious – a remarkable contrast to his mother.  Maude is a free spirit. She shows Harold her paintings, her smell machine, her sculpture; he is quite beguiled by her charms.  She tells Harold that she’ll be eighty years old on Saturday.  She shows him how to breathe the breath of life.  She asks what he likes to do.

Smash cut to: a wrecking ball bashing into its target.  Harold and Maude are picnicking at the junkyard, red checked linens, bottle of wine, the whole thing.  They visit the Veterans’ cemetery, with its rows of white headstones like teeth sprouting from the earth.  Maude drives along the countryside in a green muscle car, and when they get into town, Maude screeches the car into park on the sidewalk.

Maude examines a tree planted in the sidewalk.  She tells Harold that the tree can’t breathe, and that they need to plant it in the forest.  The cops come to inspect Maude’s parking job, and she finagles her way into another parked car, stealing it and taking off with Harold at breakneck speed, blowing through a stop sign, as the cops shake their heads.

They go back to Maude’s railroad car home and Maude pours Harold a drink.  When he tells her he doesn’t drink, she brushes the comment away with, “Well, it’s organic,” and he takes the drink.  Maude tells Harold about her youth in Vienna, and about how the old black umbrella over her mantel is the same one she used in the revolts.  Harold asks, “What were you fighting for?”  Maude replies,” Oh, big issues. Liberty. Rights. Justice. Kings died, kingdoms fell. I don’t regret the kingdoms – what sense in borders and nations and patriotism? But I miss the kings.”  Tears fill Maude’s eyes.

Maude leads Harold to her piano, and she strikes up a tune.  It’s Cat Stevens’ If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.  She encourages Harold to sing, and he does so, reluctantly.  She continues singing as she gets up from the piano.  It’s still playing by itself – a very funny gag, a player piano.  She tells him that everyone should be able to make some music, and takes him to a cabinet filled with instruments.  She gives him a banjo and shows him a chord.

Back at the mansion, Harold is practicing the banjo.  His mother sweeps in, and tells him that she has a present for him.  It’s a beautiful Jaguar Roadster coupe.  She tells Harold that she sold his hearse to get him this, more appropriate, car.  We then see Harold firing up a welding torch.

Harold and Maude are driving an El Camino pickup truck with the tree from the sidewalk in the truck bed.  They cruise through a toll area without paying a toll, and are soon pulled over by a motorcycle cop (Tom Skerritt).  Maude, who is driving, first sweet-talks, and then outmaneuvers the cop and they take off to the forest, where they plant the tree.

When Harold and Maude cross the bridge on the way back home, they encounter the motorcycle cop again, and he gives chase.  He pulls them over, and reads her the riot act.  Maude tells the cop that being officious is the curse of a government job.  She sneaks back to his motorcycle, and steals it, putting Harold on the back and driving away with their stolen shovel.  The motorcycle cop tries to shoot at them, but his gun jams.

Harold and Maude return to her home, where they are dressed in kimonos and smoke a hookah.  Harold tells Maude about the fake death attempts that he has made.  How they started with a fire he started at boarding school, and about how his mother collapsed upon hearing the news that he (Harold) had perished.  At first it seems as though Harold giggles, but it gives way to crying.  Harold says, “I decided right then: I enjoy being dead”.  Maude tells him that he must live.  LIVE!  Harold says, “I like you, Maude,” and she returns, “I like you, Harold.”

The next day, Mrs. Chasen brings a second computer-date, Edith (Shari Summers) to meet Harold.  We discover that Harold has converted the Jaguar coupe into a mini-hearse.  It’s brilliant.  Edith and Mrs. Chasen are talking, and Harold enters the room.  He sits down, and listens for a while. Nonchalantly, he pulls a large meat cleaver from his jacket and hacks his left arm off.  Of course, the arm he’s chopping is fake, but it causes hysteria in Edith, and frustrated disappointment in his mother.  In a “breaking the fourth wall” moment, Harold acknowledges the audience with a knowing smirk.  It’s devastatingly inspired.  Harold – 2, mother – 0.

Pissed off, Mrs. Chasen instructs Harold to report to his Uncle Victor to be conscripted into military service.  He goes to Maude’s home to talk with her about it and to ask for her help.  He reports to (what looks like) the Presidio for a walk and talk with his uncle.

As they walk the grounds, all manner of war wounded are limping along in the background.  Uncle Victor tells Harold some heroic, aggrandized war stories.  Harold feigns interest; his sarcasm is lost on Uncle Victor.  Harold becomes increasingly homicidally interested in the prospect of war, and produces from his coat a clump of hair that resembles a “scalping” trophy.  He runs, Uncle Victor chases, and they run into Maude, dressed in widows weeds, holding a protest sign aloft with her old umbrella.  She shrieks at the sight of the clump of “scalp” and takes it from Harold (they pretend not to know each other, and at this point, it is clear that they are pulling one over on Uncle Victor).  Harold, enraged, chases Maude, screaming, “She took my head!  I’ll kill her!!”

As Uncle Victor watches and tries to keep up, Harold chases Maude to a bluff platform area, where she falls down a hole in the floor into the ocean.  Uncle Victor is freaked, and in the melee, his fake salute-arm has been triggered.  He frets about the Maude, and her demise, while this fake arm flaps in the wind, stuck in a salute.  Harold – 3, mother – 0.

Cut to: Harold and Maude relaxing on a blanket under a tree.  Harold asks her if she prays. She tells him that no, rather she communicates with life.  He says that he’d like to do somersaults on the hill where they are, but he’d feel like an ass.  Maude says, “Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”  He does the somersaults.

They spend the rest of the day playing – he gives her a piggyback ride in a field, and they wind up in the marshy areas of the Emeryville mudflats, among the junk sculptures.  It is here, watching the sunset, that Harold tenderly tells Maude that she’s beautiful.  Maude tells Harold about Alfred Dreyfus (a Jewish officer in the French Army, wrongly convicted of treason) and how, when he was imprisoned, he watched glorious birds from his prison cell, later to find out that the birds were only seagulls.  Maude explains that, for this reason, they will always be glorious birds to her, and in a single cutaway shot, we see something on Maude’s forearm – a tattoo of a series of numbers.  If you’re paying attention, and doing the math, you realize that these numbers are the mark of her time in a Nazi death camp.  Maude survived the concentration camps.  However, on the DVD, this shot is so fast, and so muddled, it is impossible to make out the details.  Sad, really – it’s a major part of the story, and you can barely see it on the DVD.

The tattoo is never mentioned by Maude or Harold, though we know that Harold has seen it.  He puts his arm around Maude, and the sun sets.

Back at the mansion, Mrs. Chasen has arranged yet another computer-date for Harold.  This time, the date is a beautiful young woman named Sunshine Doré.  She is a dramatic, overblown, not-too-bright actress-type.  Harold leads her to the drawing room, showing her an impressive knife collection.  “Do you enjoy knives?” he asks.  He shows her the hara-kiri knife.  “What’s hara-kiri?” asks Sunshine.

Harold solemnly rolls out a bamboo mat, removes his coat, points the knife at this stomach, pauses, looks at her, flips his tie over his shoulder, and plunges the knife into his belly, bright red blood oozing all over his shirt.  He collapses.  Sunshine gasps, pauses, then excitedly grabs the knife, testing it (seeing it’s fake) and begins to reenact the scene from Romeo and Juliet where Juliet kills herself.  She, too, collapses, smeared with blood.  Mrs. Chasen arrives and her face falls.  “That was your last date!” she exclaims.  Harold – 4, mother – 0.

Harold and Maude go to a carnival.  Maude is playing an arcade game while Harold is making a souvenir token at a machine.  They go outside to the dock area, watching fireworks over the water, and he gives her the token.  It says, “Harold Loves Maude”.  She turns to him and says, “And Maude loves Harold”.  Maude tells him it’s the best present she’s received in years.  Then, she promptly tosses the token into the water.  Harold gasps.  “So that I’ll always know where it is,” Maude says.

Cut to: Harold, shirtless, in bed in the morning light, blowing bubbles, smiling.  Pan over to Maude, in the same bed, sleeping.  (!!)  Do the math!!

Cut to: Mrs. Chasen, in her dressing gown, on a phone call in her bedroom.  Harold enters the room.  He tells his mother that he’s getting married.  She thinks it’s a joke.  He shows her Maude’s picture.   A montage ensues:  Uncle Victor, the psychiatrist and the priest (all in one-shots) dismiss the notion of Harold marrying Maude, with the priest getting the best line: “I would be remiss in my duty if I did not tell you that the idea of intercourse – the act of your firm, young body… comingling with… withered flesh… sagging breasts… and flabby b-b-buttocks… makes me want… to vomit.”

That evening, Harold has prepared a special evening to celebrate Maude’s eightieth birthday.  There are paper sunflowers decorating her home, along with cake and champagne.  Harold and Maude dance.  Maude declares that she is happy.  Harold kisses her neck.  Maude says, “I can’t imagine a more fitting farewell…”

Farewell?!!?!!

Maude tells Harold that she took the capsules an hour ago, and she’ll be dead by midnight.  Harold loses it!

The next sequence is Harold, frantic, riding with Maude in the ambulance, and her admittance to the hospital, intercut with Harold driving the Jaguar hearse in the rain (a different day).  A doctor emerges from the hallway, has a silent exchange with Harold, and he crumbles.  Maude is dead.

Harold drives the Jaguar hearse at top speed along the back roads.  He seems to have a sense of purpose.  From below, we see the car fly, at top speed, over a cliff, and crash on the rocks of a deserted beach.  The camera slowly pans up, and we see Harold, standing alone on the top of the cliff, banjo slung from his shoulder.  Harold walks off into the countryside, strumming the banjo and dancing.  The end.  Game, set and match: Harold.

Oh, how I love this movie.  The performances are stellar – every single one of them.  The story is uplifting, and the humor is so dark.  This is an American film, but it has a distinctly non-American sense of humor.  Harold and Maude is not just a simple film, it is a platform for much political commentary, especially anti-war, anti-authority sentiment (as we would also later see in Ashby’s Coming Home).

This film was initially panned and dismissed by the “establishment”.  It was trashed in reviews from big outlets like the Daily Variety, and even by Roger Ebert, who said, “Death can be as funny as most things in life, I suppose, but not the way Harold and Maude go about it… The visual style makes everyone look fresh from the Wax Museum, and all the movie lacks is a lot of day-old gardenias and lilies and roses in the lobby, filling the place with a cloying sweet smell.”  Harsh!  I wonder if he’d have a different take on the film today.

Our sensibilities as moviegoers have certainly changed, and while I concede that this film might not have been appreciated by all who saw it in 1971, times have changed.  The themes of this film – enjoying life while you can, questioning authority, living life outside of “the box”, loving for love’s sake – are timeless, and so the message is not lost on today’s audience.  I am particularly encouraged that young women are seeing this film.  Ruth Gordon’s portrayal of Maude was downright shocking to mainstream America’s prude 1970s sensibilities.  But even in today’s post-post-feminist society, she seems delightfully free.  Women – 1, Oppression – 0.

The costumes are lovely in this film.  I am glad I saw it on the big screen, because truly, the film, as it appears on DVD, has been done a disservice with that bad transfer.  If you can see this film in a midnight screening or in a special engagement at a theater, do it – it is so much better seen on the big screen, as it was intended.

Harold’s costumes go from fancy suits and ties in brown, black and grey (darker colors), to printed shirts, a leisure suit, and the color pink.  His transition goes as follows:  1) Miserable momma’s boy, 2) Copycatting the shrink, 3) Loosening up with Maude, 4) the Breakthrough, 5) Color/Life.

In the hanging scene, marking the “stage one” costumes, Harold wears a brown striped suit, silk tie, tie tack, crisp shirt, and shiny boots.  He comes from a rich family, and it shows.  At dinner with guests (tuxedo), drowning himself in the pool (dark brown suit, monochrome), computer-dating survey (dark grey, black suit, tie).  These costumes are expensive-looking and well fit, but lack color of any kind.

Stage two: at the psychiatrist’s office (and this is where it gets interesting) he is consistently dressed in the exact same outfit as the psychiatrist.  I have seen this film a number of times now, and can confirm that every time he is in the room with the shrink, they both wear the exact same costume.  Shirt, tie, jacket, pants, everything is the exact same.  Hilarious!  Also notable – lack of color.  It’s mostly grey slacks, black or dark navy jacket white or cream shirt, striped tie, and pocket square.

Stage three: learning to play the banjo (pink shirt) stealing the tree (light colored beige trench coat), converting the Jaguar into a hearse (light-colored leisure suit with red accents). This is a gradual total lightening of his costume.

Stage four: the breakthrough – the light blue silk kimono.  He breaks down, telling Maude about his fake death attempts, and she tells him to live.

Stage five (the resolution): talking to Uncle Victor at the Presidio (cream-colored pea coat, plaid pants), fakes death with Sunshine (wears suit but the lining of his coat is bold red), at the arcade, gives Maude the love token (curiously here, black leather, but I consider it a more rebellious statement, the iconic black leather jacket, he also wears a floral shirt under the jacket), Maude’s birthday (light patterned/print shirt, black sport coat, bright red tie, bright red pocket square), transitioning into sending the car off the cliff (light patterned/print shirt and what looks like jeans or light blue pants).  In the end, Harold’s silhouette and color palette has relaxed.  He is no longer monochromatic.  There is life in him.

As for Maude, we gradually get to discover her.  As we do, she loses layers of her costume.  When we first meet her, she is in the cemetery eating an apple.  She wears her hair in braids over the top of her head (like an old-fashioned Swiss milkmaid).  She wears a grey tweed coat with black trim.  At the church funeral, when she actually meets Harold, she wears an olive green boucle coat with a 1960s cut.  She has a pink scarf that she eventually wears over her hair.

At the big funeral at the cemetery, Maude wears a white (or dove grey, hard to tell) trench coat.  When it begins to drizzle, everyone pulls out their umbrellas.  They are all black or dark umbrellas, except Maude’s, which is bright yellow.  Yay props!!  Maude is a breath of fresh air!

When Harold goes to Maude’s house and she shows him her paintings and the smell machine, she wears a nice burgundy/ruby-colored dress with cardigan sweater.  It’s a fitted bodice with a fuller skirt, timeless in its cut, and I couldn’t help but think about how, with her hairstyle, it resembled the silhouette of the traditional Austrian dirndl.

When they drive the muscle car and look at the tree, Maude has a bright yellow scarf.  These touches of color are purposeful reminders of Maude’s vitality.  Maude is a ray of sunshine in this world, and the use of color helps the audience to understand that.

When Harold comes to Maude’s house and she tells him about her old umbrella and the revolts she participated in when she was young, Maude wears a very interesting garment.  She wears a dress in silk panné velvet, cut in a 1930s style, and metallic high heeled shoes.  The dress has long sleeves and a long, to-the-floor, narrow skirt.  It is an elegant dress, for sure, but the implication is that this is a dress that she might have had in her youth, and it makes her feel young and beautiful.  Maude’s hair is in an up-do, with a fresh daisy plucked from their walk earlier in the day stuck into her curls. Sidebar: if she was imprisoned in a death camp in WWII, she probably had nothing to come home to, so the dress may not have been hers, or it may have been something she purchased after the war.  In any case, it reads as a vintage dress, and as such, I interpreted it to be something from a time where she felt young and beautiful.

When they steal the tree and are chased by the motorcycle cop, Maude wears a bright yellow car coat.  It’s a lot of color, and it reinforces her influence on Harold and her state of being:  free, happy, devil-may-care.

In the hookah-smoking scene, where Harold breaks down, Maude wears a beautiful, vibrant blue silk kimono.  She tells Harold to LIVE!  Her color does the same.

In the scene at the Presidio when Harold is talking with his uncle Victor, Maude is dressed in widow’s weeds.  Quite literally, she wears a black bonnet, black old-fashioned dress, black boots, and she carries her old black umbrella.  It’s an interesting choice, but I think an effective one.  Maude in all black, and Harold in the cream/white pea coat.  Maude with the wacky 19th-century silhouette, Harold in the contemporary silhouette.  It’s pretty great.

At the arcade, when Harold gives her the love token, Maude wears her olive green boucle coat and a bright red scarf.  The next evening, Maude’s birthday, she wears a fabulous long, full floral skirt, a pink blouse, and the same floral fabric vest.  She must have looked terribly fashionable to 1970s eyes.  The colors are extraordinary, and the pattern is formidable.  This is Maude at her most ebullient, and also at her end.  This joyful costume turns quite poignant once we know what Maude had in mind.

Mrs. Chasen has some of the best costumes in the film.  Her style is severe and fashion-forward.  Being a doyenne of San Francisco society, her look had to be perfect.  And it was.  From her many wigs, head coverings, and turbans to the perfectly tailored clothes to the exquisite jewelry, everything was well thought out and masterfully done.  Mrs. Chasen only wears color once in the movie, a blue scarf, when she gifts Harold with the new Jaguar.  Other than that, she wears black, navy, brown, cream, grey, white, and that’s about it, as far as the colors go.  Special kudos for the costume she wears when filling out the computer-dating form.  It’s a grey wool ensemble with a sharply pleated turban, accented with grey and white Egyptian-patterned trim.  When she came on screen, the audience chuckled.  That’s how severe it is.  I love it.

Uncle Victor is supposed to have had his arm blown off in the war, thus the fake saluting-arm.  However, in the days before CGI, the actor’s real arm was harder to hide.  You can see the actor’s arm beneath the Army jacket in many shots.  I am surprised that they didn’t resolve just to shoot him from specific angles in order to hide the obvious arm-protrusion from under the coat, but they didn’t.  Issues like this are unheard of now, as we can wipe out the appearance of an arm with a few clicks of the mouse.  It’s just interesting to see how far we’ve come.

Harold’s prospective dates had some very interesting costumes, as well.  Candy wears a purple getup consisting of a purple top, a huge belt, and a wool skirt.  She looks uncomfortable in these clothes, like she’s dressed up for an occasion.  Edith wears a camel-colored wool coat, a white blouse, grey sweater vest, and a skirt with tights.  It’s a conservative look, unpretentious but well put together.  Sunshine, his final date, wears a puffy tan-colored applejack hat, a Missoni-like sweater, knickers, white leather boots, and the most unusual leather lace-up collar/necklace thing.  It’s quite a departure in style from the other girls, and when she pretends to kill herself with the hara-kiri knife, we see that, in some way, Harold met his match.


This is such a fabulous movie, and (in theory) could have been so creepy with the May-December vibe.  But in the end, Ruth Gordon’s performance is so perfectly bewitching, so charming and lovable, there isn’t one shred of creepiness to their relationship.  Bud Cort is perfectly deadpan, rebellious without raising his voice or breaking a sweat.  And Vivian Pickles is perfect.  The film is worth seeing again for its subtle and powerful humor and beauty.  See it in the theater if you can, and enjoy it.

— KMB

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