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"Excuse me, you're not by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers?",
This review is from: New Leaf [Blu-ray]  [US Import] (Blu-ray)
"I'm so glad you found a nice suitable young lady."
"She is NOT suitable. She's primitive, she has no spirit, no wit, no conversation, and she has to be vacuumed every time she eats."
"Oh, she must be very wealthy sir..."
Long before she hit the kind of record books you don't want to appear in with Ishtar, Elaine May's main claim to cinematic fame was 1971's wonderfully dry black comedy A New Leaf - or at least what was left of it after the studio cut it down from some three hours to 102 minutes, losing a few characters like William Hickey's blackmailer and a much darker spin on the film's ending in the edit. It probably didn't help that, in shades of the American History X saga, May wouldn't let the studio see her apparently unfinished rough cut after ten months of editing or that, as with Ishtar, she went massively over schedule and spent more than twice the original budget but, surprisingly it doesn't look or play like a butchered film. In fact, it's such a wonderfully complete piece of work that you can't help thinking that in the case the studio may well have cut away the fat, or at least some of the less than successful on-set improvisation that May is infamous for with her tendency to keep the cameras rolling until they run out of film even if the actors have left the scene, as reputedly happened on Mikey and Nicky when she berated the cameraman for cutting because "They might come back!"
That askew view of the world may be infuriating to her collaborators and investors, but when it pays off onscreen it can result in some comic gems, and there's plenty to be found in this tale of Walter Matthau's refined playboy millionaire with no skills, interests or talents other than living beyond his means who suddenly finds that he's spent his entire huge inheritance and that poverty beckons. Too selfish and completely lacking in empathy or even basic human understanding for anyone to help, there's only one honourable way out for a gentleman in his position - to marry someone who is still incredibly rich. Enter Elaine May's incredibly rich and incredibly clumsy botany teacher and salvation of a sort beckons. It's a match made in Hell: he has an urbanity borne of disinterest, appreciates the finer things in life and has kept alive traditions that were dead before he was even born while she's an unsophisticated klutz who drinks Mogen-David Extra-Heavy Malaga Wine with soda water and lime juice, goes around with the price tags still hanging on her clothes, lets her servants run her incredibly `democratic' household while taking her for every dime they can and leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. But Matthau regards it as a purely temporary arrangement and is soon boning up on his toxicology handbooks...
It may not be too much of a surprise how things end up (although in the original cut Matthau did indeed deplete the supporting cast and ended up serving a penance of sorts that now be takes on a different hue in the studio's version), but it's a lot of fun getting there. It's not a film of huge belly laughs, more of constant dry wit and social discomfort, with the odd bit of physical discomfort thrown in to the mix in a painful proposal scene and a field trip that provides the perfect opportunity to become suddenly single and independently wealthy again. In the days before his screen image softened into curmudgeonly likeability, Matthau is on fine condescending form and May offers a wonderfully frustrating yet still recognisable human foil-cum-nemesis for him. George Rose is also especially wonderful as his understated northern English butler, as ready with advice on how to avoid disaster as he is to give his notice when it looks inevitable (in a particularly cruel twist of fate, Rose would himself be brutally murdered for his money by his adopted son and family). The end result may not be the film either May or the studio set out to make, though it's hard to disagree with Matthau that the version that finally got released is quite a winner.
Olive's region-free Blu-ray offers a decent widescreen transfer with no extras.