Cast & Crew
After picking up his cherished but worn out Ferrari sports car from the mechanic shop, self-absorbed playboy Henry Graham spend the next several days avoiding his attorney, Beckett. Discovering that several of his checks to his private club have bounced, Henry suspects Beckett is trying to lure him to his office and reluctantly goes to see him. At the lawyer's office, Henry learns that he has squandered his entire fortune and is dead broke. Shocked and traumatized, Henry spends the next several hours wandering through his favorite stores and clubs bidding them farewell. At his lavish apartment, Henry considers his priceless collection of first edition books and rare modern paintings, then asks his trusted manservant Harold what he would do if he learned Henry had no money. Harold admits he would give notice immediately. After experiencing horrifying visions of the common life, Henry confesses to Harold and sadly admits the only real talent he has is being rich. Harold suggests that Henry consider "taking the plunge" by finding a suitable, extremely wealthy woman to marry, then gives notice. Weighing this option against suicide, Henry agrees to try to find a wife and turns to his stingy Uncle Harry for help. Henry proposes that Harry lend him fifty thousand dollars, which he vows to repay in six weeks after getting his affairs in order and finding an affluent wife. Dismayed when Harry agrees with the single stipulation that should Henry fail to repay him in time, he will then owe him ten times the borrowed amount, Henry nevertheless agrees. Over the next five weeks, Henry avails himself of any and all wealthy female company, only to be consistently mortified by their demands on him. Despondent as the final week looms with no marriageable contender in sight, Henry is buoyed by steady encouragement from Harold, who has remained with Henry during his desperate quest. At a small society party, Henry learns from his friend Bo that one guest, the solitary, drab and clumsy woman there, is the exorbitantly wealthy heiress Henrietta Lowell, a botanist deeply involved in research and writing. Delighted, Henry introduces himself to the shy Henrietta, who drops her tea cup twice, infuriating the hostess. Henry escorts Henrietta from the party and offers to drive her home. When Henry's Ferrari breaks down, the couple spends all night in the car waiting for a tow truck, and Henrietta admits her greatest wish is to discover a new species of fern never before classified. Henry asks the overwhelmed Henrietta on a date for that evening then hastens to his apartment to familiarize himself with botany. At dinner that evening, Henrietta is mesmerized by Henry's knowledge and sophistication, but revolts him when she reveals she has always fancied Malaga Coolers made with Mogan David extra heavy Malaga wine. The next evening, despite Henrietta spilling Malaga wine on Henry's llama rug, Henry proposes and the smitten Henrietta accepts. Later at home, Henry confides in Harold his feeling that Henrietta's appalling taste makes her a menace to society who does not deserve to live, but forges ahead with immediate plans to wed. When Uncle Harry reads the wedding announcement in the next day's paper, he contacts Beckett, who provides information about Henrietta's attorney, Andrew McPherson. That afternoon when Henrietta stops at McPherson's office, he begs her not to marry Henry, but she remains firm. Later, McPherson summons Henrietta and Henry to a meeting, where he reveals that Harry has provided him with a copy of Henry's loan agreement, which proves he is a penniless gold digger. Henry admits to arranging the loan, but insists it was to clear his debts before committing suicide. He then explains that meeting Henrietta changed his mind. Despite McPherson's pleas, Henrietta insists on making Henry a joint co-signer on all her bank accounts and demands that the loan to Harry be paid before the wedding the next day. After the wedding, on their island honeymoon, Henrietta investigates the native plant life while Henry studies various toxicology books with the intention of poisoning his new wife. Henrietta finds a fern she does not recognize and upon returning home, submits it to the university. At Henrietta's enormous estate, Harold greets Henry with a warning that the servants, led by coy housekeeper Mrs. Traggert, are unmanageable. After Harold finds the household budgets books under Mrs. Traggert's mattress, Henry goes over them carefully and discovers the staff has been heavily padding the accounts which are supervised by McPherson. With Henrietta's consent, Henry fires the servants and terminates McPherson's authority, assuming management of all Henrietta's financial affairs. After Henry learns from the gardener that there are no chemicals on the grounds because Henrietta supports organic materials, he renews his attempt to obtain poisons. When Henrietta invites him to accompany her on her annual field trip to the Adirondack mountains, Henry imagines her falling victim to wild natives or unruly animals and readily agrees. While packing Henry's revolver for the trip, Harold congratulates Henry on the success of his marriage, pointing out that he has displayed remarkable abilities in finance and management and that Henrietta trusts him completely. That afternoon Henrietta happily reveals the university has confirmed that her fern submission is a new species and that instead of following tradition and naming it after herself, she has named it "Alsophilia Grahami," using her new husband's name. When Henrietta presents Henry with a necklace containing a small piece of the newly named fern and thanks him for giving her confidence, he is uncomfortably touched. On the field trip, the mosquito-addled Henry takes no homicidal action against Henrietta, hoping some accident may occur. When their boat overturns in the river rapids, Henrietta clings to a log and tells the thrashing Henry she cannot swim. Assuring Henrietta he will save her, Henry reaches the shore, ecstatic that he can do away with his wife at last. Calling to Henrietta to let go of the log and let the current carry her to him, Henry turns away from the shore only to find himself surrounded by Alsophilia Grahami. Unexpectedly elated, Henry searches for his necklace and panics when he realizes that he has lost it in the river. Cursing as he realizes that despite all his plans, he has fallen in love with Henrietta, Henry rushes to the river's edge to save her after which they walk back together as Henrietta happily plans their future.
Richard R. Fried
Howard W. Koch
D. D. Ryan
A New Leaf (1971)
May's history is important because each stage of her evolution plays a part in A New Leaf (1971), her deliciously eccentric debut film as screenwriter, director, and star. The picture's hallmark is a sort of improvisational wobble - a feeling that whether or not the words were set down on paper before the camera rolled, the actors seem to be saying them, and even thinking them, for the first time. May's experience with Nichols also contributes to the film, which shines most brightly in freewheeling comic dialogues between two people - usually May and Walter Matthau, but others as well. A pair of important reviewers - Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and Vincent Canby of the New York Times - called the picture "cockeyed" when it premiered in 1971, and they were right. It's also quite amazing, especially if you like comedies that go in their own dizzy directions without worrying too much about adding up at the end.
Matthau plays Henry Graham, a bachelor with a trust fund that has enabled him to live a life of ease, comfort, and luxury. But years of overspending have drained his bank account to the dregs. One of the funniest scenes takes place when Henry's lawyer (played by William Redfield, a Nichols lookalike) tries to make Henry understand that he has no more principal, no more capital, no more cash, no more anything - stating the fact over and over until Henry finally manages to think the unthinkable. He then takes a goodbye trip around New York, bidding farewell to restaurants and recreations he'll never enjoy again. Even his loyal butler, Harold, gives notice that he's not loyal enough to keep working without a paycheck.
Yet it is Harold who dreams up a solution. Marrying a wealthy woman should set things right, he says, and Henry puts a sinister twist on the suggestion: He'll marry and then murder a very rich bride. This means Henry will have to keep up appearances a little longer, and that means borrowing money from his Uncle Harry, who despises him. Uncle Harry comes through, but on very strict terms, forcing Henry to find, woo, and wed a willing bride on an extremely tight schedule. After a few courtships that don't pan out, Henry meets Henrietta Lowell, played by May with a ditzy charm that's riveting to watch. Henrietta is a botanist who longs to discover a new species of fern that will bear her name forevermore. She is also an absent-minded professor who can't so much as drink a cup of tea without forgetting what's in her hand and dropping it on the increasingly stained carpet.
Henrietta has oodles of money and no relatives to inherit it, so Henry promptly marries her. Then he visits her estate and takes her unruly household staff in hand - firing the crooks and slackers, which is all of them, and alienating Henrietta's lawyer, who wants to marry her himself. On their honeymoon, Henrietta reads about ferns while Henry bones up on poisons, setting his murder plan in motion. The rest of the story swerves in unexpected ways, coming to a more or less happy ending without surrendering to sentimentality for an instant. It won't warm your heart, but it will keep you on your toes.
The zigzags, oscillations, and hairpin turns of A New Leaf aren't entirely due to planning on May's part. Principal photography exceeded the schedule by forty days, and May spent almost a year in the editing room, emerging with a three-hour cut that Paramount disliked intensely. Nor was the studio pleased with the ballooning of the budget from less than $2 million to more than twice that figure. By all accounts, Paramount exec Robert Evans took control of the picture and shortened it by almost half, eliminating a subplot involving Henrietta's attorney, Andy McPherson, and a chauffeur named Smith, who still appears briefly but memorably in the servant-firing scene. A couple of murders also landed on the cutting-room floor.
May apparently tried and failed to remove her name from the movie, which was a stroke of good fortune in retrospect, since the result is still a terrific comedy and a credit to her name. That said, however, the overruns of time and money on A New Leaf were waved in May's face when her idiosyncratic drama Mikey and Nicky (1976) followed a similar trajectory, and when it happened again with her epic comedy Ishtar (1987) her movie-directing career was effectively over.
Not every critic liked A New Leaf. The influential Pauline Kael offered only a hint of praise in The New Yorker, writing that "there is a sweetness about its absence of style and about its shapeless, limp comic scenes." Many moviegoers have a much higher opinion. I don't think this is May's finest comedy - that honor goes to The Heartbreak Kid, the 1972 classic she directed from Neil Simon's fine screenplay - but it provides many pleasures as it moseys along its meandering path, however truncated and bumpy that path may sometimes be.
May's performance is a gem, both verbally and visually, and Matthau's spot-on comic acting reminds us that he was one of the most skillful, versatile, personable actors Hollywood has ever given us. The excellent supporting cast includes pudgy, plaintive Jack Weston as McPherson the lawyer; pudgier James Coco as Uncle Harry the moneylender; Renée Taylor as a middle-aged wannabe bride; William Hickey as the recalcitrant chauffeur; George Rose as Harold the unflappable butler; and more. Occasional scenes fall a tad flat, but most of the going is great fun. Turning over a new leaf is rarely such a pleasant endeavor.
Director: Elaine May
Producers: Hillard Elkins, Howard W. Koch, Joseph Manduke
Screenplay: Elaine May; based on Jack Ritchie's story "The Green Heart"
Cinematographer: Gayne Rescher
Film Editing: Don Guidice, Fredric Steinkamp
Production Design: Warren Clymer, Richard Fried
Music: Neal Hefti
With: Walter Matthau (Henry Graham), Elaine May (Henrietta Lowell), Jack Weston (Andy McPherson), George Rose (Harold), James Coco (Uncle Harry), Doris Roberts (Mrs. Traggert), Renée Taylor (Sharon Hart), William Redfield (Beckett), Rose Arrick (Gloria Cunliffe), William Hickey (Smith)
by David Sterritt
A New Leaf (1971)
A New Leaf - Elaine May & Walter Matthau in the 1971 Comedy, A NEW LEAF
The witty and insightful A New Leaf is directed in an understated style developed over Ms. May's many years as a comedienne and writer, with and without her original performing partner Mike Nichols. Star Walter Matthau had been playing in essentially the same aggressive, mouthy comedy groove since Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie. May hands him a refreshingly different character, an insufferable elitist who has "preserved in his own lifetime a way of life that was dead before he was born." This may be Matthau's last movie before his face started to get heavy -- becoming an occasional romantic leading man is not easy at age fifty.
A tale of the true meaning of money, privilege and entitlement, A New Leaffocuses on Henry Graham (Walter Matthau), a Manhattan millionaire who has never worked and fastidiously refuses to acknowledge the needs or rights of others. But the luxury-loving Henry has been spending way too much for far too long. By the time his patient lawyer Beckett (William Redfield) finally gets his attention, Henry is virtually penniless. As a lifelong adherent to the indolent, patrician lifestyle, Henry has no ability to make a legitimate living. He'll soon lose his glorious town house, his butler Harold (George Rose) and his expensive Ferrari. Henry decides against suicide, instead taking the last-ditch suggestion offered by Harold: borrow some cash from his venal, vindictive Uncle Harry (James Coco) and find himself a rich woman to marry, fast. After a few false starts Henry discovers Henrietta (Elaine May), a mousy, clumsy botanist who is so trusting that she doesn't see through Henry's insincere advances. Henry makes a supreme effort to charm the clueless Henrietta. Harold is dismayed to discover that Henry's intentions are doubly nefarious: he plans to follow matrimony with murder.
Filmmakers with a revue comedy background need more than a campaign bag of funny jokes. Theodore J. Flicker's stylishly successful farce The President's Analyst boils down to a series of revue-style comedy scenes, some with former members of Chicago's Second City troupe. Elaine May's comic style was developed in The Compass Players, the precursor to The Second City. Her incisive little show spoofs no genres and tries for no grand effects, yet scores with every satirical barb. She has us in her pocket from the first scene of her effortlessly accurate comic view of the rich, a never-bettered extended gag about the realities of Ferrari ownership. The phrase "Carbon on the valves" should have entered the public lexicon as a generic term for any technician trying to snow a client with vague non-information.
The Ferrari gag is followed by one of the funniest, driest comic scenes ever, when the lawyer Beckett ever so patiently tries to penetrate Henry's umpteen layers of denial about his new state of poverty. Beckett approaches the touchy subject from multiple angles yet Henry still resists. When Beckett modestly volunteers the information that he has been personally paying some of Henry's debts, Henry isn't the slightest bit impressed or mollified. A colossal inconvenience has been perpetrated, and that's the only issue he wishes to address. The verbal rhythm of this scene and several others reminds us of classic May-Nichols routines: the more civilized Beckett tries to be in the face of Henry's abuse, the funnier the scene gets.
Matthau's Henry Graham is a terrific characterization that requires both intelligence and a myopic disdain for others. In Henry's view, he's a hero making the ultimate sacrifice. He'll lower himself to the indignity of speaking to other people as equals, just long enough to ensnare a rich mate. As impossible as this seems (Henry is the most unlovable suitor imaginable), the perfect pigeon appears.
Elaine May's Henrietta is an adorably maladroit klutz. She distills 101 social faux pas into one unlucky girl -- wearing clothes with price tags still attached, leaving big stain lines on her lip when she drinks. Her idea of a great drink is Mogen-David extra-heavy Malaga wine with soda water and lime juice. Yet Henrietta is neither stupid nor inferior. An accomplished academic, she's a botany professor with personal goals, intensely focused on her little ferns and fronds. Her greatest ambition is to find a new species, have it named after her, and become immortal. We love Henrietta on sight -- she's the patron saint of every high school girl unfairly branded as a social liability.
Henrietta is so socially inept that she takes Henry's insulting endearments at face value. It's a match made in bankruptcy court. A series of endearingly awkward dates ensues. Henry's plans are held up by his discovery that Henrietta's lawyer McPherson (Jack Weston) and all of her servants (led by the marvelous Doris Roberts) have been systematically fleecing her, turning Henrietta's mansion into a 24-7 party palace. Will Henry cut through McPherson's web of deceit? Will he carry out his plan to murder his wife? Will Henrietta master one single rule of social etiquette?
The intensely creative and prolific Elaine May did not play by Hollywood's rules. After going far over budget and spending the better part of a year editing A New Leaf, May reportedly turned in an overly long director's cut, which Paramount's Robert Evans proceeded to radically reshape. When the smoke cleared A New Leafhad been shorn of much of its darker content. According to various sources, after the Henry Graham character dismisses Henrietta's corrupt staff, her lawyer McPherson and servant Smith (William Hickey) retaliate with a threat of blackmail. Henry eliminates both of them with poison. The final cut drops this entire subplot. As finished, A New Leaf'squirky (and far more romantic) resolution works quite well. Yet it would be fascinating to know if Elaine May's original experiment in black comedy came together.
The debate over A New Leaf's post-production battle was re-opened eighteen years later. Ms. May's Ishtar was excoriated as another reason why "irresponsible" creatives should not be allowed to control the filmmaking process. Elaine May's films didn't set industry records, but they had an edge missing from the work of many another high-profile woman director. The Heartbreak Kid is a merciless lampoon of matrimonial cruelty that made male audiences squirm, and Mikey and Nicky almost beats John Cassavetes at his own improvisational game. Had the box office dice landed differently once or twice, we may have seen more interesting movies from the talented writer- director. But it is unfair to make a feminist argument out of the conflicts between Ms. May and her producers, as three of her four films went wildly over budget and schedule. Few directors of either sex have overcome that liability.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of A New Leaf is an extremely welcome release, as this very funny show hasn't been a TV staple and is considered something of a rarity. It plays beautifully on a big screen, and almost as well in an HD home video environment. The transfer is quite good, even if it reveals occasional rough edges in the cinematography. On the whole the production has a handsome look, with soft colors. With Elaine May everything is performance, and A New Leaf is 102 minutes of delightful characterizations.
Neal Hefti's bouncy music score wisely doesn't give away the game by telegraphing the tone of dialogue scenes. The show has plenty of opportunities for funny underscore moments, the best probably being Henry's terror-stricken nightmares of being de-classed to the level of an ordinary nobody. In one fantasy a well-heeled friend catches him driving an unexceptional middle-class car. To Henry that's a fate worse than death.
For more information about A New Leaf, visit Olive Films. To order A New Leaf, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
A New Leaf - Elaine May & Walter Matthau in the 1971 Comedy, A NEW LEAF
I have no mind as far as I can tell.- Henry Graham
Have you ever tasted Mogen-David extra-heavy malaga wine with soda water and lime juice?- Henrietta
You are an aging youth!- Uncle Harry
What frond is in your token?- Henry Graham
Excuse me, you're not by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers?- Henry Graham
The film as delivered by 'May, Elaine' was drastically re-cut and shortened ("butchered", according to some) by Paramount before its release. Sadly, neither the director's cut of the film nor the original shooting script has ever been made publicly available.
The running time before Robert Evans at Paramount had the film re-edited was 3 hours, and the actor who played the blackmailer (and whose part was cut from the film) was 'William Hickey' .
The original story included a sub-plot in which Henry discovers from the household accounts that Henrietta is being blackmailed on dubious grounds by the lawyer, McPherson, and a third party; and Henry poisons both of them. This darkly casts Henry's eventual resignation to lead a conventional life with Henrietta as his "sentence". By eliminating the sub-plot, Paramount got rid of the excess (3 hour) running time, avoided the awkwardness of Henry getting away with murder, and transformed the same ending into a positive and rather sweet statement of love and personal redemption.
The working title of the film was The Green Heart, which was also the title of the Jack Ritchie short story on which it was based. Although a July 1969 Daily Variety item noted that Howard W. Koch was withdrawing as producer on A New Leaf in order to focus on another film in pre-production, and that production responsibilities for A New Leaf would be turned over to Stanley Jaffe, the picture's credits read "A Howard W. Koch-Hillard Elkins Production." The extent of Jaffe's contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to Filmfacts,A New Leaf lacked a music credit because the score, by Neal Hefti, was taken from a 1967 Paramount production, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad(see below).
As noted in contemporary sources, A New Leaf marked the first time a woman simultaneously performed the three functions of writing, directing and co-starring in a major feature film. Elaine May, who with future director Mike Nichols formed the popular 1960s comedy team of Nichols and May, had acted and written for films and television since the late 1960s, but had never directed. According to Filmfacts and the Time review, when May initially submitted a rough cut of the film that was nearly three hours in length, Paramount took the production from her to re-edit.
In a suit filed against the studio, May stated that Paramount informed her that "the film released would be that as cut and edited by [Fredric] Fritz Steinkamp, a Hollywood editor, and Robert Evans, a vice president of Paramount." After seeing the studio cut, May accused Paramount of so distorting the film that she could make no claim to it, stating "I made a film about a man who commits two murders and gets away with it. In this new version the murders have been eliminated." According to Filmfacts, in the original story, Walter Matthau's character, "Henry Graham," murdered the lawyer, "Andrew McPherson," played by Jack Weston, as well as a blackmailer played by William Hickey, a role completely eliminated from the released film. Other eliminations from the film included a fantasy sequence in which May's character "Henrietta" imagines herself a romantic seductress.
In answering May's suit, Paramount stated that "Elaine May failed to perform her duties as a director in a timely, workmanlike and professional manner, resulting in substantially increased production costs." The New York State Supreme Court found in favor of Paramount, and May vowed to appeal, either to prevent the release of the film or have her name removed from the credits, but an appeal was never filed.
May went on to direct the critically and commercially successful The Heartbreak Kid, which was released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1972, but again ran into difficulties with Paramount on Mikey and Nicky, a gangster drama she wrote and directed starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk. Concluding that May's version of Mikey and Nicky was not commercial, Paramount placed the production on hold for four years, finally releasing it in 1976. In 1978, May was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the script for Paramount's Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty. In 1987 May wrote and directed the Columbia production Ishtar, starring Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. The studio was forced to threaten May with legal action after she spent several months editing it. Considered one of the great box-office flops of all time, the film, which was the last directed by May, went on to become a cult favorite. May continued to act, including a small role with Matthau in Paramount's Plaza Suite (see below), released shortly after A New Leaf in June 1971, and in Columbia's California Suite (1978). A New Leaf was shot on location in New York and Maine. The film marked the last screen appearance of character actor Fred Stewart, who died in December 1970.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States July 25, 1996
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States July 25, 1996 (Shown in New York City (Lighthouse Cinema) July 25, 1996.)