As the keenly intelligent if neurotic distaff side of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the seminal 1960s stand-up comedy team, May launched her moviemaking career in 1971 as a triple-threat talent — writing, directing and starring in a pithy, pitch-black comedy that sharply skewered the idle rich and the sunny conventions of romantic comedy. That film, “A New Leaf,” has since gained minor cult status, both as a forgotten gem and as an object lesson in one director's stubborn overindulgence.
It's a matter of Hollywood lore that May's final cut of the film ($2 million over budget and 40 days behind schedule) was a three-hour-long, subplot-laden farce of cruel conniving and bloody, murderous mayhem, which the studio and producer Robert Evans insisted should be drastically cut. When May refused, studio honchos seized the movie and cut it themselves. May publicly disowned the resulting version and sued unsuccessfully to stop its release.
Apparently, no copy of May's original cut remains, and so the truncated studio version is all that's left. So, even though May's longer vision for the Jack Ritchie short story “The Green Heart” seems lost forever, a new Blu-ray treatment of the surviving film at least provides a clean rendering of a work that critic Roger Ebert described as “hilarious, and cockeyed, and warm.”
The story concerns grudgingly blossoming love between the sorely mismatched Henry Graham (a hangdog Walter Matthau), a snooty playboy aristocrat who has frittered away his massive wealth, and Henrietta Lowell (May, wide-eyed and bespectacled), a frumpy, socially clumsy botanist whose considerable family fortune attracts the gold-digging Henry's eye.