Elaine May Richard Combs - Essay

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A New Leaf] has that rather plain and graceless look which combines the functional needs of stage and television comedy. Admittedly there is some dabbling with more respected models—the film opens with a visual gag of a type refined by Buster Keaton, and the storyline itself is vaguely reminiscent of Keaton's Seven Chances. But then the tragedy of Henry Graham, middle-aged bachelor and profligate of a now exhausted private income, and his efforts to find a marriageable heiress, to appropriate the fortune and then dispose of its owner, has its own classic status which Elaine May chooses not to update, or at least only for occasional and very specific comic effect….

A New Leaf keeps the current phobias of American comedy firmly out of sight, with a rigour of approach that is more than just the artificially airtight conventions of its story. The society inhabited by Henry Graham, all hyper-refined and aristocratic tedium, has a perverse dislocation from any American reality. It is blandly characterised by Henry's vaguely English but perfectly generalised activities at his club, a languid canter along a bridle-path, or the exquisite boredom of hearing about the current blight in a friend's garden….

[The cultural joke of Henry's drive through a New York ghetto, bemoaning his financial situation,] a wrenching and rearranging of social contexts—The Great Gatsby as written by P. G....

(The entire section is 469 words.)