“A NEW LEAF”— A Dark Comedy


A Dark Comedy

Amos Lassen

Part of the new Olive Films Signature Films, “A New Leaf” stars Walter Matthau as Henry Graham, who, because of his extravagant lifestyle, has run through his inheritance. He begs his Uncle Harry (James Coco) for a loan and convinces him to give him the money with the condition that it must be repaid within six weeks or Henry will forfeit all of his property. With the aid of his gentleman’s gentleman, Harold (George Rose), Henry decides to marry into wealth, and once the vows have been taken he’ll decide how to handle getting out of the marriage. Wealthy heiress Henrietta Lowell (May), a klutzy botanist and the woman of Henry’s get-rich-quick-scheme dreams is to be his wife. However, Henry deal with obstacles placed in his path not only by his Uncle Harry, but also by Andy McPherson (Jack Weston), Henrietta’s jealous and unscrupulous lawyer.

This is a love story about these two people, who are in desperate need of each other even if Henry doesn’t know it. He has dedicated his life to living it comfortably and with style and the courtship involves finding out about each other’s tastes. As an example, we see that he savors rare French vintage wine and she likes Mogen David and soda.

Henrietta easily falls for Henry’s charms/tricks very easily, but her conniving attorney tries to make life difficult for Graham. They eventually do marry though and Graham, who has no interest in being a married man, plots to kill Henrietta and claim her fortune. As he enters Henrietta’s life and finds himself improving it, becoming a better man in the process, there might be a glimmer of hope that he won’t go through with the act though. “A New Leaf” was writer-director Elaine May’s first feature and it is very funny.

Henrietta is a dysfunctional socialite lives alone in a Long Island mansion. She’s klutzy, gauche, and primitive in taste and lacks social graces. She falls in love with Henry because his boldness gives her confidence and they get married after a three-day courtship despite her crooked trustee lawyer Andrew McPherson who has been stealing from her for years. He strongly objects to the wedding and gives her proof that Henry is broke and marrying her only for her money. Settling down in her mansion after their brief honeymoon, Henry begins protecting his new fortune by firing the thieving household staff of seventeen after seeing how they are cheating her by not doing their jobs and getting paid excessive salaries. Henry then schemes to murder Henrietta by reading up on poisons. But on a field trip with her, Henry turns over a new leaf and pledges to protect Henrietta for the rest of his life.

The humor ranges from slapstick to witty dialogue to set piece shticks. The performances of the stars are excellent as are the performances of the supporting cast. The intelligent script is fresh in how May presents her self-important characters as losers but with charm. 



New restoration from 4K scan of original camera negative

  • Audio commentary by film scholar Maya Montanez Smukler
  • “The Cutting Room Floor: Editing A New Leaf” – interview with A New Leaf assistant editor Angelo Corrao
  • “Women in Hollywood: A Tragedy of Comic Proportions” – with director Amy Heckerling
  • Essay by critic, editor & film programmer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • “The Green Heart” by Jack Ritchie, the source material for Elaine May’s script
  • Trailer

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