August 26, 2019  (Web Review)

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Warner, 98 min., PG, DVD: $17.99, Blu-ray: $21.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Jack Lemmon is Mel Edison, a burned-out middle-aged Manhattan corporate executive who abruptly loses his job. Anne Bancroft is Edna, his supportive wife whose sympathy is stretched to the breaking point as Mel’s frustrations and anxieties push him into a complete nervous breakdown. The 1975 film version of Neil Simon’s hit play is full of barbed remarks and acerbic comments but under Simon’s banter lies a portrait of resentment, helplessness, and simmering rage that finally boils over. Lemmon made a career as the exasperated Everyman railing against life’s indignities and this is his most extreme portrait. Mel suffers the urban pressure cooker of high-rise existence—the heat waves, broken elevators, and annoying neighbors heard through paper-thin walls—and just as importantly he faces a loss of confidence and self-respect as his unemployment drags on. But Mel is also hard to like as he takes his anger out on Edna and vents his rage so loudly that his neighbors complain. Bancroft is superb as Edna, who soon becomes the breadwinner and is slowly overwhelmed by the very same frustrations. The Prisoner of Second Avenue is a time capsule of middle-class anxiety in Simon’s beloved New York City during the 1970s recession and it serves as a fine showcase for Lemmon and Bancroft, but there’s also a bitterness to the barbed humor and a dated portrait of psychoanalysis. Extras include Bancroft’s guest appearance on the talk show Dinah!, a gag reel, and an archival “making-of” featurette. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)