THE DVD SHELF: The Grandly Theatrical "A Double Life," Plus "A New Leaf," "E.T.," "Annie" and "The Carol Burnett Show"

By Steven Suskin
30 Sep 2012

Cover art for "A New Leaf"

Olive Films also gives us Elaine May's cockeyed 1971 comedy, A New Leaf. Writer-director May combines screwball with the sardonically macabre in this relatively obscure film that is deserving of our attention. Here is Walter Matthau, as a trust fund playboy whose trust fund dries up. What to do? Grit your teeth and marry some hapless heiress you can bump off on the honeymoon. Walter finds his perfect match in Elaine May, an exceedingly clumsy and exceedingly rich botanist. (May names her characters Henry and Henrietta, naturally enough.) Things wind up pretty much as you might expect.

What you don't expect is the level of humor, which starts high and never flags. Matthau, of course, was born to play such roles; May, formerly of the standup team Nichols and May, is exceedingly dry as Walter's better half. May — as director — has filled out the film with inordinately eccentric performances from her supporting cast. George Rose (as Henry's valet) and Jack Weston (as Henrietta's accountant) are both simultaneously impossible and perfect. Part of the fun of "A New Leaf" is watching favorite old character comedians like Rose, Weston, Jimmy Coco, William Redfield, Doris Roberts and more.

The film was famously troubled: May went way over schedule and way over budget; Paramount's Robert Evans seized the negative and trimmed it by more than an hour, with lawsuits and countersuits; and the film opened to strong reviews but weak business. Which doesn't much matter, here and now. Turn over "A New Leaf," slide it into your Blu-ray or DVD player, and laugh.


Cover art for "E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"

Director Steven Spielberg revolutionized the film business in 1975 with "Jaws," which Universal recently spruced up and released on Blu-ray. He followed this with box office hits "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). His 1982 effort was his best yet, and remains near the top of his personal list: E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial [Universal], which now comes to us digitally remastered on Blu-ray in what they call an "Anniversary Edition." (This is the 30th Anniversary, but who's counting?)

Spielberg managed to wed science fiction with a heartwarming family drama, populating his tale with a couple of incredibly cute kids (played by incredibly canny young actors, including the seven-year-old Drew Barrymore) and a title character who was simultaneously cute and grotesque. "E. T." turned out to be a perfect tale for the times — which were the early Reagan years — and it remains highly effective.

The Blu-ray package is accompanied by copies on DVD, digital and Ultraviolet. New bonus features include "Steven Spielberg & 'E. T.'," with the director talking about the making of the film and how it has impacted his career; and "The E. T. Journals," with behind-the-scenes footage from the set. Also included are various bonuses from the 20th Anniversary DVD set.

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