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Warner Home Video presents
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1974)

"If you're a human being, then you reserve the right to complain, to protest. If you give up that right, then you cease to exist. Now, I protest against stinking garbage and jiggling toilets! And barking dogs! Now, shut up!"
- Mel Edison (Jack Lemmon)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: March 29, 2004

Stars: Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft
Director: Melvin Frank

MPAA Rating: PG for (strong language)
Run Time: 01h:37m:58s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 085393185121
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B B-

DVD Review

So-called "modern civilization" simply does not jell with some people. The hustle and bustle of a large city, where concrete replaces grass, can wear on any soul. In such a setting, patience can be thin and common courtesy, seemingly left to the winds. Occasionally, caring individuals make themselves known. As I walk down the street downtown, I see droves of people, each on their own mission, hoping to accomplish a days work, or to simply get from point A to point B. Are these people content and fulfilled? Who is on the edge of sanity? In the filmed adaptation of his popular play, Neil Simon comedically depicts the decay-inducing blights of such an environment on one man.

Mel Edison, a good-hearted fellow, is trying to make is way in a stuffy, overpopulated Manhattan. He is growing tired of many things. The weather is too hot, but he cannot get a decent night's sleep because the air conditioner is too high, turning his bedroom into a meat locker. He forgets to carry exact change for the bus. His fellow tenants are either throwing water at him, or making too much noise, which bleeds through the cracked drywall. At work, things are grim. Corporations are tightening their belts, and soon, he too is out of a job. Things worsen and Mel simply cannot take the strain. In a city of the insane, where do the sane fit in?

Mel's loving wife Edna (Anne Bancroft) desperately tries to make sense of Mel's rapid disintegration. She wants desperately to help and understand his pain. As Mel becomes well acquainted with the unemployment office, she takes a job, and becomes the caretaker of the household. Even time in the country does not do Mel good. Before things end bitterly, his family comes to his aid and, though hindered by their own selfishness, tries to make a difference. To get better, Mel must take things into his own hands.

Whew. Sounds pretty grim, right? You're wondering, "did that Peterson guy screw up by calling this a comedy?" Certainly not. Neil Simon finds the juxtaposition of such material with side-splitting gags and comedy to be simply delicious. I would have to agree. However, later in the film, the psychotic nature of the plot seems to take over, and laughs diminish. This can make the film seem unbalanced and a tad depressing at times. However, this is a ride well worth taking. Simon's delicately crafted, and occasionally hard hitting interplay is brilliantly brought to life by Lemmon and Bancroft.

Desperation is Jack Lemmon's cup of tea. Whenever I see his name on a list of credits, I smile. His performances never cease to delight and engage. He can capture roles spanning every conceivable genre, from Shakespeare to his most brilliant comedic spouts. Lemmon is certainly in top form in this fun romp. Along with the fantastic Anne Bancroft, whose performance emotes the kind of compassion and concern any man would want in a wife, these two shine. Also, look for some interesting early cameos, including F. Murray Abraham (as a cabbie), Sylvester Stallone (as a pickpocket) and M. Emmet Walsh (as a doorman). With performances like this, direction and visuals do not have to be flashy. The material speaks for itself.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Warner's transfer beautifully captures director Melvin Frank's full use of the Panavision frame. I can't imagine how horrible this film must look panned and scanned. The image is simply gorgeous. Grain is minimal, and detail is quite good, despite the film's overall soft appearance—pretty common for the period. The print is clean and exhibits good color and contrast. This is a great restoration and a joy to behold.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The English mono track is serviceable and clean. Dynamic range is limited, but Marvin Hamlisch's effectively jazzy, mournful score is still well captured. Dialogue is clear and the track is not very harsh overall. A fine job.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Warner has dug up a few nice extras for this disc. First up is a segment from Dinah Shore's talk show, appropriately titled Dinah! (07m:40s), featuring an interview with Anne Bancroft. Anne discusses her marriage to Mel Brooks, her tennis games, the film, and denies ever screwing up on camera, after which Dinah shows a very funny gag reel from The Prisoner of Second Avenue. This little bit has some great bloopers between Bancroft and Lemmon.

Next is a "vintage featurette," The Making of The Prisoner of Second Avenue (05m:52s). This is a piece produced when the film was made, and features some good behind-the-scenes footage (and a couple more outtakes) while an overtly enthusiastic narrator drums up how wonderful the film is. Horribly washed out pan-and-scan clips from the film prove how essential widescreen is for this film.

Finally, we are given the film's theatrical trailer. Quality of these features are okay, but worn, with Dinah's segment looking the best.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The legendary Lemmon is Oscar-worthy in this overlooked adaptation of Neil Simon's comedy. Gags, spirited, witty dialogue and blistering commentary on city life makes this a wonderful way to spend ninety minutes. Recommended.


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