Podcasts The B-Movie Podcast

The B-Movie Podcast: Badass Women Director – Elaine May Part 2


The first of two on-going series this month is all about Women in Film.  It could be genres, actresses, filmmakers, whatever we please but it will be about one thing… Badass Women.  Badass doesn’t have to tote a gun, they could just be tough as nails to take on An All-Boys Club like directing or Genre films.  In fact, every Woman is a badass in their own right…

We want to talk about the very definition of Badass Woman, look no further than Elaine May.  Legend would also be applicable.  May began her career as one half of the comedy duo known as Nichols and May.  Uber successful in the 1950s with their improvised style both May and Mike Nichols (yes, that Mike Nichols) worked their way from Chicago Improv scene to New York in the great standup joints of the era (much of her career seems the basis for The Marvelous Ms. Maisel).  May turned to playwriting and acting in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s working in film with Peter Falk, and Jack Lemmon.

A New Leaf starring, written, and directed by Elaine May is everything you could possibly want from a dark romantic comedy.  This is definitely the darker side of the comedy with Walter Matthau cast as Henry Graham a New York dilatant so clueless he doesn’t understand the concept of “You have no money”.  As his trust fund has dried up because of frivolous spending Henry is forced to find himself a wife.  Henry finds an unsuspecting mark in Henrietta Lowell (May) a clueless klutzy Botanist with a huge inherited fortune.  His plan is not just to marry her but to also find a way of killing her off to allow him to continue with his bachelor lifestyle unabated.  How May is able to wring so much truth, humor, and some genuine tension make A New Leaf is one of the best comedies of the 1970’s which rivals any of the work done by her male counterparts Hal Ashby, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.

May after the surprise hit The Heartbreak Kid cashed in her cred to make the next film on the podcast. Mikey and Nicky is a fairly new film for me.  Having only seen in the last year, the film blew me away, in its almost dogmatic approach to realism and the grit and grime of 1970’s New York,  The film tells the story of nihilistic deadbeat screw up Nicky (John Cassavetes) and his ever-suffering best friend Mikey (Peter Faulk).  May with this deft crime thriller in some ways out Cassavetes’ Cassavetes at his own game, though not improvised, there isn’t a moment in the film that does not feel like a documentary.  Cassavetes and Faulk are electric as the friends that are pushed their respective limits just trying to survive a series of bad decisions.  A botched and butchered production, post, and release have caused this one to fade into obscurity.  None May’s fault but had been framed by Paramount and the male executives as such causing May to have to retreat to screenwriting, acting, and playwriting.

Title: A New Leaf

Release Year: 1971

Director(s): Elaine May

Writer(s): Elaine May

Cast: Elaine May, Walter Matthau, Jack Weston, George Rose, James Coco, Doris Roberts, Renee Taylor, David Doyle, William Redfield

Title: Mikey and Nicky

Release Year: 1976

Director(s): Elaine May

Writer(s): Elaine May

Cast: John Cassavetes, Peter Faulk, Ned Beatty, Rose Arrick, Carol Grace, William Hickey, Sanford Meisner, Joyce Van Patten, M. Emmet Walsh

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