A catalogue entry for the 2022 Viennale. –J.R.
Elaine May’s hilarious, edgy first feature is her only one that differs substantially from what she intended. Her three-hour rough cut included two murders committed by the antihero (Walter Matthau), of a blackmailer and a crooked lawyer (Jack Weston), that the studio excised, yet A New Leaf registers with audiences as her sweetest, most tender picture. The irony is that Matthau’s character — a self-absorbed idler who exhausts his inheritance, then goes looking for a wealthy bride he can murder in order to keep his luxuries (and finding a clueless, clumsy botanist, deftly played by May) — is hardly the sort one expects to solicit such emotions, even without his two murders. But a specialist in creating lovable monsters, predators and innocents alike, May is clearly up to the challenge.
Reading Jack Ritchie’s short story “The Green Heart” that she adapted, included with the Olive Films Blu-Ray, clarifies the much blacker comedy she had in mind, achieving her sweet finale only after more challenging discomforts en route. And what she added to this story — such as the antihero’s Ferreri, butler, and uncle, and two potential brides preceding the botanist — may matter as much as what the studio removed. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)