Revisit “Harold and Maude” and “Dr. Strangelove”

Harold and Maude

My 2 favorite films were streaming this past week.

With depression and misery seeping into a corner of everyone’s life, I found complete joy when these classic films re-appeared on TV. They are widely inventive in multiple ways, and I have had the pleasure of seeing both multiple times over the years.

Let’s start with Harold and Maude (1971). Harold, played by Bud Cort, is a teenage boy who enjoys pretending to commit suicide to torment his single, wealthy mother. Mom is played by Vivian Pickles in an unforgettable performance.

As she tries to set up Harold with some dates, he bumps into Maude at a funeral they are both attending. The deceased is a stranger to both, and they attend for entertainment.

Maude, nearing her 80th birthday, is played in an historic fashion by Ruth Gordon. A relationship between the two develops as Maude tries to help Harold find fun and meaning in life. That includes everything from stealing cars, to transporting city trees to the forest, to helping Harold avoid being drafted into the military.

In the process, you watch Harold gradually being introduced into a life worth living. The script by Colin Higgins is a work of art and Hal Ashby’s direction bring us some hysterical performances from Ellen Geer and Shari Summers as two of Harold’s arranged dates set up by mommy. Harold’s faked suicides become a thing of beauty.

But what makes this film so memorable is the soundtrack by Cat Stevens. It is as endearing as it is memorable and captures your heart as you watch an elderly woman faced with death help a young boy obsessed with death find meaning in life.

Dr. Strangelove

And then you have the toweringly unforgettable Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, there has never been a cleverer screenplay in the history of film.

To begin with, Peter Sellers gives one of the great performances of his career playing an American President, a British Officer working for a deranged American General and Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi working in American intelligence. George C. Scott has never been better, here playing General Buck Turgidson, an American Officer who hates the Russians. And Sterling Hayden gives an hysterical performance as General Jack Ripper, the deranged Commander who orders a secret hydrogen bomb strike on Russia.

There are other fabulous performances, two coming from Slim Pickens as the pilot Major “King” Kong and Keenan Wynn as Col. Bat Guano. They join the others in making a film about destroying earth that finds comedy at every turn.

As noted, I loved these two films. They are masterpieces that define entertainment.