A New Leaf (1971)
December 1, 2022 8:23 PM - Subscribe

Henry Graham lives the life of a playboy. When his lawyer tells him one day that his lifestyle has consumed all his funds, he needs an idea to avoid climbing down the social ladder. So he intends to marry a rich woman and - murder...

A spoiled and self-absorbed man who has squandered his inheritance, Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is desperate to find a way to maintain his lavish lifestyle. Henry sees an opportunity when he meets Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May), an awkward and bookish heiress. Though Henry courts Henrietta, he has no intention of remaining with her, and he develops a surprisingly sinister scheme. As Henry attempts to execute his plan, he finds that seeing it through may not be as easy as he had thought.

Molly Haskell: The picture as it stands now is very funny indeed, but more charming than uproarious, and quite surprisingly romantic. I have the feeling it may have suffered a blunting of purpose in which black comedy was softened into gray, and caricatures were left - possibly mercifully - uncompleted. A number of secondary characters seem to have been suspended in mid-air without the punch line which would have rounded them off but -perhaps- finished them as human beings.

In co-starring with Walter Matthau, Elaine May gives me the impression of a girl getting into a cage with a gorilla who may or may not be tame.

Susan Stark: Interesting as it would be to find out eactly what Miss May had in mind for A New Leaf one cannot imagine something more appealing than the version now being shown.

In it, Walter Matthau gives his most roguishly comical performance since The Odd Couple, changing expression once every three seconds and delivering the playboy's arch lines every bit as effectively as Miss May delivers the halting but somehow pinted end of repartee that has becomes her trademark.

. . .

Overall, there presides that unmistakable quirky and delightful Elaine May humor, a humor based on the most mundane expierences refined to the delicacy of wit.

Anne Louise: Henry should have been handled with a lighter touch; Matthau lumbers through it woodenly. But then, he's been playing Matthau now for a good many years. On the other hand, Elaine May underplays Henrietta and steals every scene; hers is a fresh new screen talent. She directed and scripted the picture as well

posted by Carillon (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I saw this first a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. It's pretty dark if you think about it, but honestly plays pretty light in tone and treatment. The first scenes with Henry at his lawyers are just great, and the running gag around his car is too good. It does shift to being a different film in the back half, but I did find myself cheering for them as a couple despite it all? It's a weird little movie, but Elaine May is so good that I definitely wish I could have seen the longer cut.
posted by Carillon at 8:25 PM on December 1, 2022

The bit with the nightgown always has me laughing.

Also: carbon on the valves!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:15 PM on December 1, 2022

There is a clip here, where they first meet. I never realized how dangerous a teacup could be! :)
posted by Mogur at 4:58 AM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite films. I recently did a deep dive and watched Mikey and Nicky (directed by May) and Luv (May acted in it) and a lot of her comedy bits from the early days on youtube. She's a treasure.

HENRIETTA: Are you sure you won't change your mind, Henry?
HENRY: I have no mind as far as I can tell.
posted by jabah at 7:39 AM on December 2, 2022

Elaine May is a criminally underutilized talent.

This is a rather odd kind of comedy that I think demands more than most audiences are willing to give.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:04 PM on December 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Watched it on the strength of this post, and both Kitteh and I really enjoyed it! Walter Matthau is 40 going on 65, and at one point I turned to Kitteh and asked if this was the first feature film to focus on somebody we would now know as asexual. Matthau is so disinterested in women (and men, as far as I can tell) that it's almost fascinating in and of itself.

We thought George Rose as Manservant Harold really stole the show. Hooray for the gentleman's gentleman!
posted by Shepherd at 5:24 PM on December 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I watched this movie after watching Mikey and Nicky, which was great, and wondering what else this director had done and why hadn't I heard of her. I found it quirky and charming and altogether delightful, though a few loose ends or bits that don't really go anywhere and don't feel completely resolved did have me wondering about studio involvement (and indeed, her cut was an hour longer than what was released and she was dissatisfied with the final picture). Dark comedy is a genre that's hit-and-miss for me but May nails the tone perfectly here.
posted by matcha action at 10:02 AM on January 2, 2023

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