The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Blu-ray)

pris1Thanks to Warner Archive over in the States we have a newly restored release of The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and on Blu-ray no less. Naturally as I’m a huge fan of the film I ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday, so I watched it that evening. I can report that the film looks absolutely gorgeous, a beautifully detailed HD image with fine grain, incredible detail, no DNR, lovely colour- its damn near perfect, and the best I have ever seen this film look. As the physical formats continue to decline, it makes releases such as this all the more special and treasured, and I thank my lucky stars this is region-free, as I’m pretty certain fairly lowly-renowned films such as this is extremely unlikely to get released over here in the UK (which is a great shame, frankly, and I’d love some UK distributor to prove me wrong and release this and some other Jack Lemmon films in HD over here).

So I watched the film last night and I was quite overcome with how wonderful the experience was – this is one of my very favourite films and to finally have it in this splendid Blu-ray release is just wonderful. To say this release was worth the added expense of having to import it from over the pond is an understatement. The 2019 master is pretty amazing and gives the film a whole new life and vitality, you could be forgiven for thinking its a fresh new film shot last year, except for the fact that it being shot on film gives it a tactile grain and image superior to many modern films shot digitally. The film also features some really impressive widescreen composition, certainly that old pan and scan version I first saw must have been pretty horrific.

Its no doubt some indication of my adoration of this little film that I have mentioned it so many times here on my blog. Its one of those films that I had an instant and intense emotional attachment to- I was in a very low place in my life when I first saw this film by chance on an afternoon tv airing, and it certainly struck a chord in me. Indeed, over the years as I have returned to it that connection, and my love of the film, has remained undiminished- perhaps even heightened as I have grown older and been able to appreciate it even more. Sure, there are better films out there- but few films, in all honesty, mean quite so much to me.

pris3A study of a middle-aged man who becomes unemployed and has a nervous breakdown is perhaps a strange one to describe as a comedy, but it is – its funny and it is sad and there is a feeling of truth and honesty about it, of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cold and indifferent modern city. Jack Lemmon of course is probably my favourite actor and he’s excellent here as the wounded Mel, displaying fragility and pride and, as usual, uncanny comic timing delivering his lines or reacting to others. Anne Bancroft playing his wife Edna, has really good chemistry with him and is no slouch herself with the comedy, and she engenders great sympathy during her characters moments of stress and concern. We really feel the warmth between this middle-aged married couple (I’d hate to imagine how young and physically utopian a modern film versions casting would be).  Thanks to some fine location shooting, the film also serves as something of a time-capsule, capturing a mid-1970s America and New York that does not exist anymore. Its familiar but also there is a distance, a sense of innocence lost: an interesting New York double-bill would be this followed by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, released only a year after and seemingly light years away from this films Second Avenue- it’s a double-bill I really shall have to try sometime.

pris4The film even features the first on-screen performance of an incredibly young-looking Sylvester Stallone. The fact that this year Stallone celebrates his 72nd birthday is a sober reminder of how old this film is and the years that have passed since, and of those we have lost. Jack Lemmon died in 2001, Anne Bancroft in 2005, Gene Saks in 2015, Ed Peck (you may not know the name but he’s a familiar face from a lot of 1960s and 1970s television) in 1992. Infact, of all the cast, I think only F. Murray Abraham (who appears in unlikely cameo as a taxi driver) and M.Emmet Walsh (the apartment buildings inept and  lazy doorman, later a hero of mine from Blade Runner of course), are still alive, other than that young turk Stallone. Behind the screen, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon passed away in 2018 and the films director, Melvin Frank, passed away in 1988. Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away in 2012; how I would love to own a copy of the films marvelous score on CD, something extremely unlikely to ever happen as I don’t believe any of the score was ever released, but you never know, stranger things have happened.

I only write about all the talent we have lost as an indication of the films pedigree and worth, and it’s unlikely place in film history as a little film that could – and a film I absolutely adore. Film fans can attach to films more easily and more faithfully than they can people. This film is proof of that.

 

Respect my ass!

prisLast night I watched The Prisoner of Second Avenue again. This time it was an HD screening on TCM, so it’s evidently doing the rounds on that channel for awhile- worth chasing down if you can, especially if you’ve never seen it. It is one of my favourite all-time films, probably even in my top ten- it breaks my heart everytime I see it, and makes me laugh in all the right places too; some jokes never grow old, and the sadness of the film is as poignant as ever.

The great Jack Lemmon, my favourite actor, stars as Mel Edison, a 48-year old New Yorker married to Edna (Anne Bancroft). The middle-aged couple are besieged by modern life- whether it be the unendurable heatwave and their apartments faulty air conditioning, or the thin walls and the two air stewardess’ who live next door having noisy nights entertaining men, or warring neighbours from the floor above who at one point throw a bucket of water over Mel. This mid-life crisis intensifies further when Mel is made redundant – and then their apartment is robbed and he suffers a nervous breakdown. Its might sound like a tragedy but it isn’t- its a touching and painful film and yet also incredibly funny.  And its Marvin Hamlisch score is utterly sublime, and never released on album (but we did get The Odd Couple OST a little while ago, so there is still hope).

Its a rather underrated film, something I have never really understood. Lemmon and Bancroft are magnificent; utterly beguiling, natural performances that belie the craft at work. My fondness for the film likely stems from my own circumstances when I first saw it back in the mid-eighties, chancing upon it on afternoon television. I’d left college and was bouncing from job to job, and was at the time mid-way through a few months being unemployed. I felt washed-up and a failure and connected powerfully with Lemmon and his character’s plight. I often write here on this blog that the best movies are those that we connect to. It isn’t always the established ‘classics’ or ‘great movies’, and we can love bad movies for all the right reasons. The Prisoner of Second Avenue is not a bad movie- I’d say it was a greatly under-appreciated film, with one of the 20th Century’s greatest actors at his very best with an able cast around him and a genuinely fantastic script penned by no less than Neil Simon. But in anycase, I love the film dearly.

pris2It is curious to think that watching it now, I am older than Mel Edison is in the film. Across the span of some thirty-plus years my life has changed dramatically, but my connection with the film is as intense as ever- perhaps even more so, as I watch it with older eyes and empathise with Mel even more than I did back when I first saw it. Over the years I have watched it numerous times and as I have noted earlier, everytime it breaks my heart and makes me laugh.  Some films linger alongside us all our lives, and this is one that does with me.

Please, somebody, somewhere, release this film on Blu-ray (I would imagine its only hope is a Warner Archive release in the States, and the films underrated status likely doesn’t help that being likely, but you never know). Too many of Jack Lemmon’s great films are lacking  releases on Blu-ray, and I guess as the physical disc format declines the outlook is grim regards such releases in future. That would be a terrible shame, because Lemmon made some truly great films and The Prisoner of Second Avenue is certainly one of them. If nothing else, the film deserves to be seen and rediscovered.