Here’s some trivia about “Harold and Maude,” the dark 1971 comedy that Blacksburg’s Lyric Theatre will present for free twice over the next week.
At one point, the film might have starred Elton John and Agatha Christie.
Strange but true. Per Nick Dawson’s biography of director Hal Ashby, his early wish list for the female lead included the world-famous mystery novelist, newly 80 at the time.
Ashby also wanted to hire the budding Rocketman to play Harold and to provide tunes for the film. Elton John passed on both, but suggested Cat Stevens for the music, thereby lending to “Harold” one of its most essential elements, its soundtrack. Even for those who aren’t huge fans of Stevens (raises hand, sheepishly), the movie without his songs would undeniably be a far different and much lesser thing.
Two other integral ingredients were the actors who actually did get the title roles: Ruth Gordon, fresh off a 1969 Oscar win for a darker turn in “Rosemary’s Baby,” and Bud Cort, who resembles an Edward Gorey sketch made flesh and, therefore, was pretty much born to play this part.
Cort’s character is a young man obsessed with death, Gordon’s is a survivor invigorated by life, and the sparks that fly between them are deeply unconventional.
The fourth essential element of “Harold” is Ashby himself. You can spot him briefly in the film, as well, as the bearded, bespectacled man at an amusement park who’s entranced by a toy train.
The freewheeling Ashby didn’t know it at the time but, as a director, he was about to embark on one of the greatest, fastest runs in modern movies: “Harold” was his sophomore effort, then “The Last Detail,” then “Shampoo,” then “Bound for Glory,” then “Coming Home,” and then “Being There,” before his hot streak finally soured.
Of that bunch, “Harold” is the lightest and arguably the slightest, with touches that occasionally border on cruelty, but it’s also the warmest and most colorful, too, easily the most influential and most optimistic.
”Harold and Maude” will show at Blacksburg’s Lyric Theatre at 3 p.m. both Saturday and June 12, as part of the theater’s Summer Classic Matinee series. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.thelyric.com.