Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

One of the films that I DVRed some time back and only recently got around to watching is The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

Jack Lemmon stars as Mel Edison. He's an ad exec in New York City in the era just before, as I like to put it, President Ford told the city to drop dead. It's tough living in the city, as it's suffering from a terrible heat wave, while the city seems almost to be falling apart. There have been rolling blackouts, and Mel just can't seem to catch a bus. And, it seems, the Edisons' apartment is falling apart too. There are cracks in the walls, they've had water problems, and the like.

Meanwhile, this being the mid-1970s, the economy isn't in such hot shape. Specifically, the advertising industry is having difficulties, which manifest themselves first in one of Mel's colleagues being sacked, and then Mel having to pay for his own lunch. But even worse is to come, when Mel is summarily sacked after 22 years. He can't bring himself to tell his wife Edna (Anne Bancroft), but how is a man his age going to get another good job

If having the infrastructure crumble around you and losing your job aren't bad enough indignities, there is worse to come. Mel and Edna go out to visit his brother Harry (Gene Saks), who lives in suburban Connecticut and has done quite well for himself financially, in the lighting fixture business. Who doesn't like good-looking lamps? But Harry's success has always been a sore spot for Mel, who isn't exactly looking forward to the visit.

Much worse is to come, though. Edna goes out to do the grocery shopping, and when she comes home, she finds that the place has been robbed -- not just robbed, but ransacked. Oh, and the elevator is out too, so she had to climb 14 floors to get back to the apartment.

It's all enough to drive a man mad, and that's what happens to Mel, as he suffers a nervous breakdown. How is he going to recover?

That's pretty much all there is to The Prisoner of Second Avenue. It was originally a two-act play by Neil Simon, but it was opened up for the movie. That having been said, I have to say I have a lot of problems with this one. I don't have any animus toward Neil Simon; I like The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, and especially The Sunshine Boys. But as I watched I couldn't help but find the two main characters to be extremely tiresome. They're almost constantly screaming, and the situations aren't nearly as funny as I think Simon intended them to be. Not that it was supposed to be a straight-up comedy, but I don't think it was supposed to be a straight drama either. After all, a lot of the scenes are introduced by news bulletins that are clearly meant to be there for comic relief. Still, I don't want to laugh at these characters as much as I want to grab them by the throat and shake them. That having been said, a lot of the reviews on IMDb are highly positive, so give the movie a try and you may like it a whole lot more than I did.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue did get a DVD release, but I think it's out of print on DVD since it's not available at the TCM Shop. Amazon does offer the DVD, and I think streaming options too if you have the ability to do that.

No comments: