The late gay screenwriter and director Colin Higgins was the man behind a pair of early Dolly Parton movies.
He wrote and directed “9 to 5,” in which Parton made her acting debut, and he directed and adapted the screenplay for the movie musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Many years before that, he wrote the screenplay for the best little film of his career, Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” (Paramount Presents), restored and remastered in the 50th anniversary Blu-ray+ Digital version.
One of the first (and most beloved and enduring) cult classics of the late 20th century, “Harold and Maude” is a timeless love story for the ages. Harold (Bud Cort), in his late teens, is a deeply unhappy, adrift, and snappily attired rich kid living with his mother in a massive estate, complete with servants. After surviving a near-fatal boarding school accident and witnessing the reaction of his eccentric mother (Vivian Pickles) when she thought he had died, Harold discovers that he “enjoyed being dead.” This leads him to stage at least 15 suicides, hang out at demolition sights and junkyards, and regularly attend strangers’ funerals.
It’s at one of these funerals that Harold meets Maude (a flawless Ruth Gordon). The ultimate free spirit, Maude also finds community at funerals. A survivor in more ways than one, Maude sees Harold as a kindred spirit, and soon their relationship blossoms like a field of daisies. But there are complications, including the 79-year-old Maude’s plan not to live beyond her approaching 80th birthday.
Until that time, Maude is a source of comfort for Harold who endures his mother’s attempts to straighten him out, including appointments with a shrink, meetings with his career-military uncle, and signing up for a computer dating service. As you can imagine, none of this goes well.
The beauty of “Harold and Maude,” in addition to its brilliant dark humor, is that it’s the ultimate outsiders’ love story. Considering that it was written by a gay man, the subject matter takes on even more meaning. Cort and Gordon are riveting, and you never doubt them for a minute. The soundtrack, featuring songs by Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens), is also, as Maude would say, wonderful! Blu-ray special features include commentary with Cameron Crowe and Larry Karaszewski, as well as Yusuf on “Harold and Maude.”
In 1975, at the peak of what some may call his most attractive, Warren Beatty cashed in on his undeniable sex appeal by playing hot hairstylist George in the Oscar-winning “Shampoo” (also directed by “Harold and Maude”’s Ashby!). Of Beatty’s George, the late queer cinema genius Vito Russo wrote he was “a heterosexual hairdresser who allows the husbands of his customers to think him queer so that he can seduce their wives.” There were probably a few husbands who also wouldn’t have minded a piece of George.
A few years later, at the tail end of his hotness, Beatty played aging football player Joe in “Heaven Can Wait” (Paramount), debuting on Blu-ray + Digital in a newly restored version. Beatty and Elaine May based their screenplay on Harry Segall’s play of the same name, which was adapted into the 1941 movie “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.” Beatty, who co-directed the movie with Buck Henry, also plays the lead (which earned him an Oscar nomination).
The light as an angel’s-feather story involves Joe being whisked to a heavenly way station before his time and then being returned to earth in the body of powerful industrialist Leo. While there, Joe confronts Leo’s unfaithful wife Julia (a kooky Dyan Cannon), her lover Tony (the always annoying Charles Grodin) and Betty (the wonderful Julie Christie in a hideous period perm), a representative from a small English town whose residents are being displaced so that a refinery can be built.
While some of the subject matter still resounds today, most of “Heaven Can Wait” simply doesn’t hold up well. The comedy is stilted and flat. Even the budding romance between Joe/Leo and Betty has lost some of its luster. There are no Blu-ray bonus features included
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.