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Very few people have seen May's cut, which is now believed lost, but a surviving draft of the original screenplay suggests its direction: A lengthy subplot involving Henry's endeavor to murder his wife's crooked lawyer after a blackmailing scheme puts his fortune at risk ups the body count and irrevocably damns our protagonist, recasting his last-minute resignation to a life of domesticity as cosmic punishment rather than reluctant love.

Publicity photo of Walter Matthau and Elaine May in A New Leaf.
Publicity photo of Walter Matthau and Elaine May in A New Leaf.

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Watch A New Leaf on YouTube.

There's no doubt that this version would have seemed more daring and audacious, particularly circa 1971. It's impossible to say which would be superior, so perhaps, in the final estimation, it is better to regard the New Leaf we can watch as its own definitive, singular achievement, no less great in its current form than The Magnificent Ambersons or Greed are in their surviving versions. Whether it was intended to be this way is irrelevant; what matters is the film we have, which is worth celebrating on its own.

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