Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"New Leaf" is silly...and that's good

Cleveland Press April 1, 1971

"A New Leaf" is playing at area theaters. Comedy; general audiences. In the cast are Walter Matthau, Elaine May, George Rose, Jack Weston, James Coco. Running time: 102 minutes.

"A New Leaf" is a silly movie and I mean that as a compliment. It is silly as in fun and escape and lotsa laughs and as in "people go to the movies to be entertained" -- and why not?

It is whacky and it is full of wacky people.

Not kooky people. Wacky people. The movies today like kooky people. Overly so.

We have had a surplus of kooks in movies and kooks are always supposed to be lovable. A kook is someone who does strange things, like dribbling a basketball down the freeway during rush hour. That makes him lovable.

Wacky people, on the other hand, do wacky things which are ordinary things done in a funny or exaggerated way. Wacky people are not lovable; they're just wacky and before you know it you find them lovable as well.

WALTER MATTHAU AND ELAINE MAY are in "A New Leaf" and they are wacky and very, very funny. Elaine May wrote the screenplay and sometimes it sounds like parts of the old Elaine May-Mike Nichols routines, which is good-not bad.

Miss May also directed the movie and while maybe she's no Billy Wilder or David Lean or Alfred Hitchcock she gets the movie from here to there in a reasonably interesting and non-tricky way.

The movie is a throwback-to the days when making fun pictures was sufficient unto itself, in which the characters were in the never-never land of the very, very rich who had servants and therefore had time to do crazy and/or wonderful things.

Walter Matthau is a wealthy playboy who drives a sports car, plays polo, belongs to the right clubs, drinks the correct wine and has a man servant (George Rose). But he has just run through his money and the only skill he has is spending.

"I'm poor," he sighs, saying farewell to his car, taking a last look around his exclusive club.

His valet explains that there is only one way out, since genteel poverty is not looked well upon in the United States. Suicide? No. Marry a wealthy woman.

So the desperate Matthau begins his search. His miserly uncle (James Coco) has lent him enough money at impossibly usurious rates to help him maintain appearances but he has only six weeks in which to succeed or be wiped out.

WITH ONLY DAYS TO GO he finds Miss Perfect. It Is Elaine May as a spinster botanist with no relatives and enormous amounts of money. She is near-sighted. Her glasses keep falling off.. She is terribly clumsy. She is a sloppy dresser. In short, she is a frump. What could be better?

The desperate Matthau steels himself to the ordeal of courtship. He serves her Mouton-Rothschild '55 (a very good year) only to learn that she drinks Mogen David with lime juice and ice because every year is a very good year for Mogen David. Certain that it will rot his teeth, he manfully downs the brew and crams up on his botany.

He succeeds but even then the movie is only half over. There is her shyster lawyer (Jack Weston) to be overcome, a houseful of thieving servants to deal with and the playboy's own murderous intentions, since what he wants is money, not a wife.

But even here there are pitfalls. Looking in the gardening shed for the right poison he discovers that she practices only organic gardening. Foiled on an ecological note!

MISS MAY HAS RAISED quite a fuss since her film's release, contending that the way it was edited does not make it her work. She wants her name off it. I have no way of knowing how much better her unedited version could be but this one is good enough. She should leave well enough alone.

Matthau, though seemingly a trifle old to be playing playboys, is extremely good with his affected accent, his looks of horror at this woman's gaucheries, his puttylike features working overtime.

Miss May with a sometimes nasal twang is perfect as a clumsy, careless botanist ("she has to be vacuumed after she eats" Matthau complains). Her contortions with a Grecian nightgown which she has put on by putting both head and arm through an arm hole is going to become one of those classic movie moments.