A New Leaf (Blu-ray Review)

 A New Leaf, presented by Olive Films is a dark, sarcastic, deadpan comedy from writer-director-comedian Elaine May. It stars Walter Matthau as Henry Graham, who, due to his extravagant lifestyle and having no job, has emptied his bank account of his inheritance entirely. After pleading with the Uncle who raised him for a loan, Henry convinces Uncle Harry to give him the money under the terms that the loan must be repaid within six weeks or Henry will forfeit all of his property used as collateral. With the aid of his gentleman’s gentleman, Harold, George Rose, Henry decides to marry into wealth, and once the vows have been taken he’ll decide how to handle getting out of the marriage. Enter wealthy heiress Henrietta Lowell, played by May, a klutzy botanist and the woman of Henry’s get-rich-quick-scheme dreams. But as best laid plans often go, Henry must weather the obstacles placed in his path not only by his Uncle Harry but by Andy McPherson, Jack Weston, Henrietta’s jealous and unscrupulous lawyer.


May herself doesn’t make an appearance until we’re a good third of the way into the film. Up until that point, she directs our attention to Walter Matthau, an amusing early montage consists of Henry ignoring a series of increasingly persistent phone calls from his lawyer. There’s a comic poignancy to Henry’s goodbye tour of his posh familiar places: a French bistro, a polo stable, his private club. In one of the May’s small but hilarious touches, he wistfully pets a priceless statue in his house, then does the same to Harold, his butler.

For romantic-comedy adversaries, it’s interesting that both Henry and Henrietta come off as largely asexual. In fact, Henry seems horrified by the idea, exclaiming to one early prospect, as she is about to slip out of her bikini, “No — don’t let them out!” Nevertheless, he’s enough of a social animal to make his wooing of Henrietta seem genuine, and she quickly warms under his attention. The scene in which they meet manages to combine slapstick and sincere sentimentality, especially in the way Henry notices she’s about to spill before she does, and then comes to her defense when the rest of the guests snobbishly disapprove of her clumsiness. Later, on their honeymoon, Henrietta gets caught in her nightgown resulting in an extended bit of farce that is both hilarious and sweetly intimate.

The nightgown scene, in particular, has the improvisational unpredictability of the comedy sketches May performed with Mike Nichols, which first brought her fame on stage and television.

I’m not sure how A New Leaf registered in 1971 before the social and economic malaise of that decade had really begun to settle in, but it speaks volumes in post-recession America, we’re still a nation obsessed with attaining wealth at all costs and clinging to it against all logic. Harold describes it to Henry thusly, while dressing him in the evening coat that no one will see him wear: “In a country where every man is what he has, he who has very little is nobody very much.” If the ending of A New Leaf goes a bit too soft a bit too quickly, unconvincingly molding Henry and Henrietta into a genuine couple, perhaps we can be generous and say that this is simply a continuation of a similar fantasy narrative.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: The 4K remaster that was prepared by Paramount Pictures from which this was sourced gives a clear image lovely picture.

Depth: Shadows and backgrounds show great depth. The film utilizes many outdoor shots to bring much more depth to the picture due to the great lighting and restoration.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite deep and rich in this image. Details are clear.  No crushing witnessed during the film.

Color Reproduction: This film features a more natural display. There is a vintage feel to this color palette, giving off a more worn, muted selection of colors.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and maintain a consistent appearance from start to finish. Facial details like makeup, lip texture, tear stains, freckles and more come through quite well.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean


Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: THe new lossless track is much clearer than previous releases of the film, but could still use some retouching when it comes to balance.

Low-Frequency Extension: n/a

Surround Sound Presentation: n/a

Dialogue Reproduction: Clear and clean, everyone is understood and heard.


◦ Audio commentary by film scholar Maya Montanez Smukler

◦ “The Cutting Room Floor: Editing A New Leaf” – interview with A New Leaf assistant editor Angelo Corrao

◦ “Women in Hollywood: A Tragedy of Comic Proportions” – with director Amy Heckerling

◦ Essay by critic, editor & film programmer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

◦ “The Green Heart” by Jack Ritchie, the source material for Elaine May’s script

◦ Trailer


A New Leaf is an odd quirky comedy. Elaine May’s directorial debut is a very sarcastic film with a lot of honesty hidden behind its humor. The film sees life from a very unusual angle for an early 1970s film. The two leads are very good. May does appear a bit too goofy at times, but there is something unusually charming about her awkwardness. Matthau exudes the type of cockiness that men like him are typically known for. George Rose is also quite wonderful as the bachelor’s trusted butler. An interesting film that I would definitely recommend watching.

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