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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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06 February, 2010

Junkyardfilms.com’s Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month!: A NEW LEAF


Year of Release—Film: 1971

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is a spoiled, selfish and wealthy man whose main interests are his men's clubs, his polo ponies and his oft-malfunctioning Ferrari. One day he's informed by his lawyer that he is broke! Distraught over spending the rest of his life in off-the-rack suits and driving a Chevy, he turns for advice from his trusted manservant, Harold (George Rose), who tells him he should borrow $50,000 from a wealthy uncle (James Coco) and use it to live on while he finds a suitable wealthy woman to marry.

Enter Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May), an extremely wealthy woman who is a socially inept and seemingly friendless but a brilliant botanist. Knowing he has a limited time to both woo and wed, Henry pours on the charm and less than a week's time (and while kneeling on broken glass!), proposes to Henrietta. Later, as Harold is picking the broken glass out of Henry's knee, Henry pronounces that his intended is a danger to health, is feral and doesn't deserve to live. And a plot is born!

Henry and Henrietta honeymoon in a tropical location (and engage in a very funny bit concerning her Roman-style nightgown!) where Henrietta finds a yet-unclassified species of fern growing on the side of a cliff and, dangling dangerously from a rope, attempts to dig it up as Henry reads a book about poisons. They return home to New York and move into Henrietta's family mansion. Not surprisingly, the household staff is a lazy and shiftless bunch of swindlers and Henry, finding the hidden household accounts, fires them all while Henrietta, seemingly unaware of her surroundings, sends the fern to be classified. It is a true species and Henrietta names it after Henry. For the first time, Henry is genuinely touched by Henrietta's gift of a plastic token containing a bit of 'his' fern.

They settle into home life with Henry taking over the daily running of the household accounts, checking Henrietta for store tags and stray crumbs on her clothes before she leaves to teach a the university, while he reads books on the best way to kill her. One day, Henrietta asks Henry to join her on a field trip to the Appalachians. After ascertaining that they will be alone in the wilderness, Henry agrees. Day-dreaming about Indians and marauding bears making off with his wife, he packs for the trip while Harold pleads with him to reconsider killing the "helpless...not hopeless" Henrietta. Unmoved by Harold's impassioned pleas, Henry and Henrietta leave on their trip.

After several days of Henry being constantly attacked by mosquitoes, he sees his chance to unload Henrietta. Knowing she can't swim, they set off down-river in a canoe. Hitting the rapids, the boat capsizes and Henry swims to shore while Henrietta, clinging to a fallen limb, calls for help. Rehearsing the speech he will give to the Park Rangers when Henrietta's lifeless body is discovered, Henry walks away. But, wait! What's that he spies!?! Could it be another of the ferns discovered by Henrietta on their honeymoon!?! Excitedly, he calls to Henrietta while fumbling for his plastic token. But, the token's gone! Realizing he must save Henrietta, Henry dives back into the river, saves Henrietta and together they walk off into the sunset.

Walter Matthau was born to play Henry! Fast, sarcastic, clever and inventive, this comedy belies its age. Elaine May is perfect as the clumsy, socially clueless yet childlike Henrietta. The support actors (George Rose, Jack Weston, James Coco, Doris Roberts, etc) are all veterans of the genre and give flawless performances in this black comedy. Why this movie, which was nominated for two Golden Globes and for the Writer's Guild Award, isn't available on DVD is a mystery! If you can track down a copy, you won't be disappointed. Just remember to lay in a supply of Mogen David's Extra-Heavy Malaga wine, soda and lime juice first!

Enjoy! Or not!


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