Aug 6, 2019
On Blu-ray: Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)
Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft are well matched as a married couple navigating chaotic city life in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), Neil Simon’s adaptation of his own stage play. They both play from the soul, with a lack of artifice that enables them to express the complications of human nature with great clarity. I enjoyed seeing these two play off each other in a new Blu-ray release of the film from Warner Archive.
Lemmon and Bancroft are settled into empty-nester life in their fourteenth floor New York apartment when suddenly everything seems to turn sour. Lemmon loses his job, their apartment is burglarized, and the crowds, crime and noise of the city begin to overwhelm them. To top it off, on the same day the building elevator and the water service both break down. Bancroft manages to keep her cool for the most part, but Lemmon veers towards a nervous breakdown.
Throughout their trials with rude neighbors, criminals, suspected criminals (Lemmon chases a suspect, a young Sylvester Stallone, in an amusing scene in Central Park), and meddling family, Bancroft and Lemmon remain endearingly devoted to each other. Even when they fight, there’s a powerful undercurrent of love between them. In a film full of great visuals, with a sparkling script and sharp supporting cast, these two are the overwhelmingly moving, beating heart of it all. They have created loving, funny characters that have clearly grown together in their years as a couple, to the point where they are a single unit. It’s a great portrayal of a marriage.
While The Prisoner of Second Avenue taps into timeless fears about change, urban living, and the frustration of lacking control of your own circumstances, it is a fascinating time capsule as well. Though it is for the most part filmed in few locations and reflective of its roots on the stage, there are several great sequences featuring 1970s New York City. It’s worth watching just to catch a glimpse of the cars, fashion, and feel of the city in that time.
Special features on the Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer, the vintage featurette The Making of the Prisoner of Second Avenue, and a segment from The Dinah Shore Show where the host interviews her friend Anne Bancroft. That last feature is a fascinating bit of classic talk show elegance, with its odd mix of personal chatter and professional promotion.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.