It’s difficult in our techno-spy thriller era to take seriously such a bumbling joking character as Walter Matthau’s CIA agent here, Miles Kendig. He’s running rings around his bureaucratic superiors (most notably Ned Beatty antagonist Myerson), but I’m not sure it is always believable. It’s more akin to a comedic farce really, likeable I suppose and impossible to really hate, but very much of its time.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Ronald Neame | Writers Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield (based on the novel by Garfield) | Cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson and Brian W. Roy | Starring Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty | Length 104 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 2 July 2017
The actor and comedian Elaine May was only allowed to write and direct three films between 1971-1987 (she directed one other with no writing credit), but the narrative that built up around her was one of impecunious budgetary blow-outs, and that story was allowed to largely define her work for a long time after the commercial failure of Ishtar (1987). However, I think there’s generally a sense nowadays that this narrative is quite unfair to her directorial legacy, certainly on the basis of the two films of hers I’ve seen (1976’s Mikey and Nicky, and now this one). A New Leaf is a black comedy that revels in deadpan laughs, of which there are plenty if you’re attuned to its rhythms. Walter Matthau plays Henry, a bored playboy who’s run through his inheritance and is now desperate for a plan to keep the lifestyle to which he’s been born, and so latches onto Henrietta (Elaine May), rich but timid and socially awkward, someone he feels he can easily win over and then kill off. And so he sets about his task with a kind of macabre relish (though that seems too melodramatic a word given Matthau’s laconic and unsmiling performance) that reminds me of the blacker moments in the same year’s Harold and Maude, but where that film has already accrued a sizeable cult following, it’s May’s film that I think is the real star of its era and feels like some kind of summation of the American spirit. Whatever its troubled production history, this remains a towering achievement of a turbulent era.
Director/Writer Elaine May (based on the short story “The Green Heart” by Jack Ritchie) | Cinematographer Gayne Rescher | Starring Walter Matthau, Elaine May | Length 102 minutes || Seen at home (streaming), London, Thursday 14 January 2016
This is, unquestionably, a bit of late-Golden Era Hollywood silliness, as Audrey Hepburn plays a wealthy widow to a man found dead under mysterious circumstances. Returning to their home in Paris, now stripped of all its furnishings, she finds herself being stalked by a trio of dangerous American felons (led by James Coburn), and helped — perhaps — by Cary Grant, whose name constantly changes throughout the film. All of these men believe she has access to some enormous wealth that her husband left behind ($250,000!). Things progress from there in a largely comedic (if not screwball) way, and if the film never seems particularly concerned with any profound depths of emotion (even the Criterion Collection likes to lighten things up occasionally), it’s also never particularly boring, thanks to the on-screen charisma of Hepburn and Grant.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Stanley Donen | Writer Peter Stone (based on his short story “The Unsuspecting Wife”) | Cinematographer Charles Lang | Starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn | Length 113 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 4 October 2015