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Film / A New Leaf

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A New Leaf is a 1971 Black Comedy written and directed by Elaine May. Walter Matthau plays Henry Graham, a spoiled, pompous man who has spent all of his inherited wealth and has no way of earning a living for himself by working, so he decides to marry into wealth. Henry marries botany professor Henrietta (played by May), and plots to murder her.

During the film's troubled post-production, May was unable to turn in a final cut of the film; after she refused to show Paramount a rough cut of the film, which was supposedly three hours long, the film was taken out of May's hands. Robert Evans shortened the film to 102 minutes, deleting some of the film's darker elements, which included a subplot in which Henry murders two men who are blackmailing Henrietta.

Though well received by critics, it was only a modest commercial success.note 


For more on Elaine May's battles with film studios, read about Ishtar.

"There's some carbon on the Tropes":

  • Big Eater: Uncle Harry
  • Black Comedy: Subjects such as attempted murder and suicide are played for laughs. In the director's cut, successful murder is also played for laughs.
  • Cannot Spit It Out:
    • Beckett goes through extreme contortions to avoid using the word "broke" to describe Henry's financial situation.
    • Henry has some trouble proposing to Henrietta.
  • Catchphrase: "There's carbon on the valves" for Henry, "heavens!" for Henrietta.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Henrietta when it comes to anything not related to botany. Henry quite unexpectedly turns out to be good at being her Minder.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After Henry gets introduced to a couple named Hitler at a party.
    Henry: Excuse me, are you by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers?
    Dr. Hitler: No, we're from Glen Cove.
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  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Elaine May takes it up to eleven as the socially inept Henrietta. She forgets to remove price tags from her clothes; has to be vacuumed after she eats; spills multiple cups of tea in one sitting; and accidentally puts her head through the arm hole of a Grecian nightgown.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Refers to both the new fern species Henrietta discovers and the changes in her and Henry's lives.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Per his agreement with Uncle Harry, Henry has six weeks to get married and meets Henrietta with only a few days left, so he's forced to speed up the courtship.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Harold the butler, for Henry.
  • Ironic Hell: Henry staying with Henrietta is this in the director's cut of the film.
  • The Klutz: Henrietta is a classic example.
  • Meganekko: Henrietta
  • Self-Deprecating Humor: This article suggests that Elaine May was poking fun at her own Klutz and Cloudcuckoolander tendencies with Henrietta.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Henrietta on the honeymoon, except for the part of not knowing how to wear a nightgown.
  • Shown Their Work: May consulted with a botanist for the screenplay, so the botany references are all accurate. There's also a Shout-Out to W.H. Wagner.
  • Theme Naming: Henry, Henrietta, Harold, Harry, Professor Heinrich.
  • Unfortunate Names: Dr. and Mrs. Daryl Hitler.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Henry, though he's forced to go to extreme measures to avoid becoming an Impoverished Patrician.


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