“All I am, or was, is rich — and that’s all I ever wanted to be.”
A financially strapped playboy (Walter Matthau) woos an eccentric heiress (Elaine May) with the intent of murdering her after their marriage.
Comedian Elaine May was apparently so appalled with the drastic studio cuts made to her debut film that she wanted her name taken off of it; despite her discontent, however, A New Leaf remains a memorably unique black comedy, and the strength of May’s vision still shines clearly through. Perennial grump Walter Matthau is brilliantly cast as a spoiled bon vivant so enamored with his lifestyle of wealth and leisure that he fails to pay any attention to his rapidly dwindling trust funds; when reality finally forces him to confront his state of near-destitution, he contemplates both suicide and marriage — ultimately deciding that the latter is marginally more acceptable. Because he finds women an annoyance, however — preferring instead to indulge his tastes in fine wine, fancy sports cars, tailored clothing, and impeccable decor — his decision to woo the clumsiest woman in Manhattan (if not the entire United States) comes at no small cost to his personal sanity.
As bespectacled botanist Henrietta (whose greatest aspiration in life is to find an undiscovered species of fern and have it named after her), May is the perfect comedic foil for Matthau; together, they are the epitome of odd duck coupling, and could potentially stand a chance — if only Matthau wasn’t so determined to murder her at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, details of May’s premarital existence are gradually revealed, as we begin to understand the myriad ways in which every individual in her life has taken advantage of her extreme naivete and charity. Will Matthau simply be the next in line — or will he experience a change of heart, and recognize his chance for happiness and fulfillment with Henrietta? This comedic gem is well worth watching to find out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Elaine May as Henrietta
- Walter Matthau as Henry
- May’s darkly humorous screenplay
Yes, as an enduring comedic treat. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.