A New Leaf

1971 | Comedy | 102 minutes | In English


Henry Graham, a playboy who inherited a substantial amount of money, has been informed by his lawyer that he’s dead-broke. He spent all his wealth on maintaining a profligate lifestyle. Henry has no skills and no interest in pursuing work. Henry’s valet suggests his only option: He should marry a very rich woman. To cover his immediate financial needs, Henry borrows $50,000 from his irascible Uncle Harry, on the condition that it be repaid in six weeks. Henry has a deadline. After a few failed attempts to find the right woman, he meets Henrietta Lowell, a botanist. She’s rich, she’s single, has no family, and is on the naive side. Perfect. Overcoming warnings by Andy McPherson, Henrietta’s lawyer, that Henry is only interested in her money, Henrietta consents to be married. She’s smitten. When the fern Henrietta discovered is cited as a new species, she names it “Alsophila grahami” after Henry. Henrietta invites Henry to join her on a canoe trip in a remote area of the Adirondacks. While on the lake, Henry starts thinking that this might be a perfect opportunity to murder Henrietta by capsizing the canoe. It does capsize. Henrietta pleads for help. She can’t swim. Will Henry for the first time in his life be decent and compassionate?

Walter Matthau (Henry Graham) / Elaine May (Henrietta Lowell) / James Coco (Uncle Harry) / Jack Weston (Andy McPherson) / George Rose (Harry, the butler)
Why Stream This Film?
Primarily to see the comic Elaine May brilliantly wearing three hats: screenwriter, director,  actress.  When the film opened, it received excellent reviews (a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%). However it did poorly at the box office. Over the years, more and more people began to appreciate its wit and it’s now considered a cult classic. 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 100%
  • Golden Globe Awards: Nominated, Best Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Actress (Elaine May)
  • WGA Award: Nominated, Best Comedy adapted from Another Medium
  • In 2019 the film was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

Now streaming on:

Walter Matthau is both broad and satirically sensitive and Elaine May has gotten off some sharp and amusing dialogue in her screenplay. It’s sophisticated and funny, adroitly put together.

A NEW LEAF is one of the funniest movies of our unfunny age. It’s hilarious, cockeyed, and warm.
Roger Ebert


The movie is so nutty and so funny, so happily reminiscent of the screwball comedies people aren’t supposed to be able to make any more. In addition to another superior performance by Matthau, a charming one by Elaine May, some cheerfully manic supporting performances by other players and many small laughs, A NEW LEAF also contains the funniest single slapstick sequence I’ve seen in any movie. A NEW LEAF will, I hope, be the first of many films Miss May will direct, write and star in.
Vincent Canby

The New York Times

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