'The Prisoner of Second Avenue' Blu-ray: Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft Awesomely Play Neil Simon Says
The wonderfully restored Warner Archive May 14, 2019 Blu-ray release of the 1975 Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft urban comedy "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" is the epitome of something that is tragic to the person experiencing it being hilarious to the rest of us. The very strong live-stage vibe of "Prisoner" relates both to master playwright Neil Simon (also of the reviewed similar Archive BD release of "The Goodbye Girl") being the writer and the film being based on a 1971 hit Broadway play. The BD enhancements make both films look MUCH better than their '70slicious theatrical releases.
Stating that Lemmon is the perfect choice for beleaguered middle-aged middle-management New Yorker Mel Edison illustrates that cliches are cliches because they are true. One only need watch Lemmon in the 1973 film "Save the Tiger" to see that no one plays a white-collar dude experiencing the mother-of-all-mid-life crises better. A memorable scene in that one has the character of Lemmon lamenting his financial obligations.
The MUST-SEE 1962 film "The Apartment" and the equally good 1992 "Glengarry Glen Ross" illustrate the skill of Lemmon at playing a stereotypical lovable loser who finally snaps after years of abuse by masters of the universe.
One further only look at "The Odd Couple" to see that Lemmon also a master at roles that require equal parts drama and comedy. No one does it better. Baby, he's the best.
Mrs. Robinson (Mrs. Brooks in real life) herself Anne Bancroft does equally well as long-suffering loving and supportive spouse Edna Bancroft. An awesome part of her role is proving the cliche that at least one person in a committed relationship must be the stable one.
A notable cameo has Sylvester Stallone bumping into Mel after the latter has snapped; a less recognizable F. Murray Abraham of "Amadeus" plays an awesome stereotypical NY cabbie in an early scene. His appearance, performance, and role make one think that Judd Hirsch is playing the part.
Simon does his usual expert job sadistically heaping increasingly horrific insult on injury that New Yorkers endure everyday until the damn dam inevitably bursts. This starts with Mel trotting to get to his bus stop just ahead of that vehicle only to have the modern-day Ralph Kramden driving it literally pass him by. This is the beginning of the end in the form of Mel and Edna is a dystopian version of the "American Gothic" painting.
One of the biggest blows comes when 48 year-old Mel loses his job; the modern relatability of this is the 1,000,000s of middle-aged professionals jobs who found themselves unemployed around 2008 and know that they will never get comparable employment.
The bigger picture is that the '70s is the beginning of the end of the era in which the man gets "the job" on graduating high school or college and receives fair rewards for doing his job properly until he retires 40 years later with a pension that allows him and his wife of the same period to continue enjoying the life style to which they have become accustomed. Any sane person know that that social contract between employee and employer (and husband and wife) is more obsolete than disco and polyester leisure suits.
A desire to keep spoilers to the minimum is behind merely stating that the next few months find Mel and Edna suffering through a sweltering New York summer as they experience virtually every evil that can plague Manhattanites and out-of-towners alike. The aforementioned talent of Simon for depicting this makes one seriously wonder why anyone would choose to live in that city.
Additional fun comes in the form of clever bumpers; director Melvin Frank contributes to the live-stage vibe by separating scenes with shots of Manhattan accompanied by parody radio news broadcasts read by Dan Rather and other real reporters.
The aforementioned unhappy ending is equally awesome because it reflects the gritty realism that makes many '70s New York films so special. Mel and Edna do live to fight the rest of their days, but he does not get an 11th-hour offer of the job of his dreams, and they do not get to have the witty and privileged one-percenter lifestyle of Nick and Nora Charles. The moral is that reality bites even for folks who have been out of college for 20 or more years.
Archive awesomely supplements this classic film with truly special bonus features. These begin with Bancroft appearing on the "Dinah" talk show that her friend Dinah Shore hosts. Much of fun of this relates to these women discussing a recent doubles tennis game with their fellas Mel Brooks and Burt Reynolds.. The obligatory film clip includes entertaining outtakes.
We also get a five-minute making-of feature that also includes much of the aforementioned footage that ends up on the editing-room floor.