Directed by Melvin Frank (A Touch of Class), The Prisoner of Second Avenue is based on the hit Neil Simon play. Amid a New York City heat wave, long-time married couple Mel and Edna Edison (Jack Lemmon, Grumpy Old Men, and Anne Bancroft, The Graduate) are growing tired of big city life. Mel, already the nervous type, is increasingly anxious about loud neighbors, repairs to their apartment, and smelly garbage from the heat. Things get worse when Mel loses his job due to the economic downturn.
Scripted by Neil Simon himself, The Prisoner of Second Avenue is darker than most of his other works. At 48, Mel finds it difficult to find another job. If that’s not bad enough, their apartment gets robbed. When Edna is forced to go out and get a full-time job to support them both, this sends Mel to the edge of a full nervous breakdown. Lemmon and Bancroft have a comfortable chemistry, not unlike many longtime couples. Lemmon and Bancroft bring and underlying warmth and humor to their performances that makes them relatable. There’s plenty of one-liners. It works, sometimes you must laugh, even if you’re crying inside.
Melvin Frank’s direction is more skillful than inventive, allowing Lemmon and Bancroft to create sincere characterizations. Mel’s frustrations are real, he’s not an unreasonable man. Can we really blame him for his frustration at the employment office? The inattentive building super? And Edna, who can blame her for developing her own neurosis as the pressures mount, her husband diapers into depression, and she must support them both? While some might see The Prisoner of Second Avenue as just a film about a middle age couple grousing at each other, it’s also a chance to see two fine actors working together.
The supporting cast is excellent. Neil Simon’s favorite stage director Gene Saks (he directed Lemmon in the film version of The Odd Couple) appears as Mel’s constantly one upping, but loving older brother, Harry. Veteran character actresses Elizabeth Wilson (A Child is Waiting) and Florence Stanley turn up in a couple of funny scenes as Mel’s concerned, if slightly suspicious, sisters. Look for M. Emmet Walsh as the Edison’s doorman and a young F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) as a cab driver. Released a year before Rocky hit theaters, an unknown Sylvester Stallone appears in a sequence that just might be the funniest in the film.
Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive has delivered an excellent 1080p transfer. Boasting a “new remaster” of the film, the image is sharp throughout, with a surprising level of detail. There’s a nice sense of depth, making movement appear natural. Colors look appropriate throughout. The Edison’s apartment features lots of grays, browns, and off whites. The actors’ clothes follow a rather bland palette as well. While the colors don’t pop off the screen, the rather bleak look seems appropriate for the film. Skin tones look natural and consistent. There are no digital anomalies or artifacts to mar the viewing experience.
The included English 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack serves the film well. This dialogue heavy film is well balanced. Ambient sounds and Marvin Hamlisch’s score make an appropriate impact, but never interfere. Dialogue is crisp, clear and concise, with no analog hiss.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
These have been ported over from Warner Bros. DVD edition:
- Anne Bancroft on Dinah! (SD, 7:41) Originally aired on March 2, 1975, Bancroft appeared on friend Dinah Shore’s popular talk show. The ladies discuss a recent tennis match that had the two women paired against the men in their lives; Anne’s husband Mel Brooks and Dinah’s guy, Burt Reynolds! Of course, they discuss The Prisoner of Second Avenue and the segment ends with a gag reel from the film.
- The Making of The Prisoner of Second Avenue (SD, 5:53) includes brief interviews with Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3:04)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)
Movie title: The Prisoner of Second Avenue
Director(s): Melvin Frank
Actor(s): Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft, Gene Saks, Elizabeth Wilson, Florence Stanley , Ed Peck
Genre: Comedy, Drama