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A New Leaf (1971) Review

A rich man finds himself without a penny to his name, and the only way out is to get married. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but to be fair I’m sure such a thing would work for a light-hearted comedy-drama starring Walter Matthau. Starring as Henry Graham, Matthau dominates yet another enjoyable performance through A New Leaf, which sees the bankrupt Graham work his way through the social ladder looking for the ideal partner in just six weeks otherwise he can say goodbye to his position as a socialite and his expensive way of life.  

It’s a solid enough film, Matthau is a tremendous talent. His leading performances are often forgotten to the charms of his pairings with Jack Lemmon, but A New Leaf showcases all the charm he holds and the ability he has as a leading performer. Graham is devoid of emotion, morality and character, but Matthau injects that unique charm into a dry and witty script from Elaine May and Jack Ritchie. Elaine May also stars as Henrietta Lowell, the botanist Graham looks to woo in just one week in the hopes of clinging on to his wealth and stature.  

Aside from the talent on display, there isn’t all that much going on from a plot perspective. May and Matthau have some exponential chemistry, but the plot is wafer-thin and rather predictable. The ups and downs are flagrant, with no real interesting in re-inventing the wheel. A New Leaf can be forgiven somewhat for its delicately useless storytelling thanks to its strong leading performances. They struggle under the weight of a bland plot; a great deal of scenes really struggle to bring out the farcical drama, one that never fully touches upon any of the build-up. May and Matthau present a lot of preparation for a big bust-up of a finale, but there never seems to be such a moment of redemption until too late. 

There are scenes throughout that feel rather dated or misplaced, the humour wearing thin or the dialogue not fitting the scene. Jack Weston and George Rose provide good supporting performances but suffer from being rather stilted at times, again an issue of the dialogue being crummy yet funny. A New Leaf certainly struggles from some slapdash writing and pacing issues, but the leading pair of performances from Matthau and May make it a charming treat from time to time. It’s hard to connect with any of the characters on display though, killing off any chance of it being more than just a tremendously forgettable experience.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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