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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

A New Leaf (1971)


Starring: Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jack Weston, George Rose and James Coco
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.95 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: U
Release Date: 07 December 2015

Henry has a life of luxury, living off his trust fund, he spends his time in the single pursuit of his own personal happiness. When his cheques begin to bounce he confronts his lawyer with great indignation, only to discover that he has spent his inheritance and is completely broke. Not to be beaten Henry concocts a plan whereby he will borrow $50,000 off his uncle, marry a rich and vulnerable heiress and kill her for her money. After a few false starts Henry finally meets Henrietta, a quirky but extremely rich botanist...

A New Leaf (1971. 1 hr 42 min 03 sec) is a screwball comedy, written, directed and co-staring Elaine May. Having started in the business as an actress, May only directed four films, of which this is her first; she continued working as a writer. The film was nominated for three awards, including a Golden Globe.

Walter Matthau would, at first, seem like an odd choice to play a sophisticated, but eligible dilettante. It’s not his comedy pedigree which is in question; after all he had co-stared in The Odd Couple (1968) where he played to type as a grouch with a face that resembled a bulldog chewing a bee. Few remember that Matthau was both a credible comic and dramatic actor and Leaf allows him to stretch fully his acting chops. To bring Henry to life Matthau imbues the character with an insane level of precision, in fact even his butler praises him for keeping alive nonsensical traditions which were moribund even before he was born.

Elaine May plays opposite Matthau. Where he is worldly in his own way and able to be duplicitous and conniving, Henrietta is so innocent of the world that she cannot see the wood for the trees. Nothing Henry does invokes, in Henrietta, any defensive posture. She readily gives over control of her money and household and mistakes Henry’s antisocial bad temper for a stoic outlook. May’s Henrietta is bespeckled, goofy and clumsy in the extreme.

This being a screwball comedy we already know that Henry will not go through with her murder, although if he had shot her in the face it would have created a great audience reaction. So, we wonder how the awkward Henrietta will win Henry’s heart. The clue is wrapped up in the film’s title.

Henrietta, as a botanist, is desperate to discover a new species of plant, which she will get to name, thus gaining a form of immortality. However, when she succeeds, during their honeymoon, she names the plant after Henry. While this does not immediately guarantee her safety, Henry is still actively trying to work out how to poison her without getting caught; it does lay the seed of Henry’s own change, his own turning over of a new leaf.

Although a lesser known film by Matthau, the presentation has undergone digital restoration. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with a DD2.0 audio track. The picture is fine, if a little soft, the grain being part of the original film stock. The audio does suffer at times of having the music threaten to drown out the actors voices.

The DVD disc comes with one single extra, The Bluebird of Happiness (16 min, 14 sec) with film critic, David Cairns offering up his perspective on the film. The PR blurb also promises a 32 page booklet, but this was not sent along with the disc.

The film does show its age, this was a time of much more gentle comedy, but for Matthau fans this release will be a delight.


Charles Packer

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