I'm only adding this review to encourage lobbying to bring this film out on DVD and restore it to May's original cut.
So if each person who reads this will get the movie and show it to 10 friends, and so on, and we get a huge deman for the full three our releas on DVD, we might create movie history.
It is a crime that this movie has been so badly neglected since if was first released.
The version we have here is not the film that May made. She attempted to no avail to have her name removed from it when the studio hijacked her 3-hour edit and decided for us all that the cut we now have is the one that's good for us. Still, if this version is butchery, the original must have been...the best movie ever made.
Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is a suddenly penniless bon vivant who realizes he can perpetuate his extravagant lifestyle only by marrying, then killing, a rich woman. He sets his sights on Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May), a shy, painfully awkward, stupendously naive heiress and botanist who appears never to have enjoyed the romantic attentions of a man. This seeming pushover will prove to be, in a manner of speaking, an immovable object.
Henrietta Lowell is a comic character with no awareness that she is a comic character. From the moment she first appears onscreen (at which point Henry makes brilliantly cynical use of her klutziness to demonstrate what a terribly gallant fellow he is, instantly cementing poor Henrietta's devotion) until the final frames, she thinks she's living in a love story, a fairy tale, not a black comedy. Her innocence, which seems so to endanger her, will actually be her salvation. And Henry's too.
Each line of May's remarkably well-polished script functions as both humor and sharp-edged thematic tool. For instance: The improbably frequent, seemingly endless repetition of the phrase "Carbon on the valves" is just plain funny but also sketches, first, Henry's chronic negligence and then, when the lament is repeated by a fellow playboy, a whole subculture of "Henrys". Or: Henry's snobbish reference to Mouton Rothschild (the '55 is CLEARLY superior to the '53) prompts Henrietta to offer, ever so helpfully, that with Mogen David "every year is good". Very funny, but also nuanced; the exchange speaks volumes about each. Dodi Heinrich, the odd little flower girl at the wedding, is pure visual one-liner, but to Henry is a terrifying doppelganger of Henrietta come to torment the hysterical groom.
At the end, the viewer is just as startled as Henry to hear a contrite Henrietta say, "Henry...I know...that this isn't exactly what you planned...But would you mind doing it...very much?"
Maybe... just maybe... (writer Elaine May finally, teasingly suggests), Henrietta isn't as myopic as she seems. Having suddenly excavated this curious notion, May just as quickly buries it.