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A Movie A Day: PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1975)
I don’t know either where I am or who I am. I’m disappearing, Edna.



Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Everything that I loved about IRMA LA DOUCE, the whimsy, the lightheartedness and the optimistic outlook is missing from today’s PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE, based on a play by Neil Simon and starring Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft. I won’t say it’s a bad movie because of it, though. There is a certain optimism to the film, but it’s not the main focus.

Basically you have a man reaching his breaking point. Lemmon plays Mel, a long-suffering corporate man in New York. He can’t stand his apartment (which always seems to be in some form of disrepair… cracks in the walls, water not working, elevator not working, noisy sexpot German stewardesses living next door, etc), he is in constant fear of losing his job, he’s not close to his family… the only thing that keeps him grounded is his wife, Edna (Bancroft). When Lemmon loses his job something snaps and he goes from Grumpy Bastard to Almost Insane Fucker. That balance is tipped when, after weeks of job hunting while his wife gets a job to support them, their place is robbed and he gets a faceful of water from an upstairs neighbor sick of him screaming obscenities out on his balcony. That takes Lemmon from still being the likable, but grumpier version of the actor we all love to love to a wild-eyed conspiracy theory-spewing madman. I don’t like that guy. I like my Lemmon nice and sane!

I can’t hold that against him, though. He is an actor afterall and I did enjoy his “I’m Mad As Hell And I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore!” performance to a degree. I think I was a little let down in just how stage-bound it felt. IRMA LA DOUCE doesn’t really take place in many outdoor spaces, but they successfully made that movie feel cinematic whereas Melvin Frank directed a movie that felt like it could have been made for TV. The film does feel like a PBS special in some degrees, minus a great scene in Central Park where Jack Lemmon chases down a youth he thinks stole his wallet (played by a very young Sylvester Stallone) that is a lot of fun and genuinely funny. Bancroft is the real winner her. She has so much to play with and doesn’t always make the easy decision in scenes. She gets angry at her husband, but never loses the love. She’s trying to so hard to bring him back from the brink of insanity, always wearing her love for him like a mask. She gets pissed, she gets fed-up, she gets scared, but never makes the exact choices you expect someone to make in those situations. There are always layers and depth to her dialogue and delivery.

Simon’s play just might not be my favorite of his works. I love how he plays with sanity vs. insanity and how he parallels Lemmon’s recovery with Bancroft’s slow descent, but something just didn’t click for me in the story. It could just be Frank’s visual decisions that kept me from completely enjoying this movie, but I think the overall story isn’t one that I’m attracted to. I much prefer his more crazy satires like MURDER BY DEATH. I mentioned earlier that Sly makes an early appearance in this film and it’s great. He plays a victim, essentially, and it’s really fun to see him before he was the quiet tough badass or even the lovable lug from Rocky. This film has many early appearances by known people, including F. Murray Abraham early on in the flick as a cabbie and M. Emmet Walsh, one of my favorite character actors, as the snarky doorman at the apartment complex where Lemmon and Bancroft live. Final Thoughts: I’d definitely say this film is better than mediocre, but I could never engage with the characters on the screen. I always felt like I was watching a screen, not looking through a window into another world. Some of that might be the cinematography, the angles, the long takes and some of it might be the overall story being told. As an actor’s showcase, this is strong stuff, but I think it’s a tale more suitable for the stage than the big screen.

Here are the final run of A Movie A Day titles: Saturday, January 3rd: THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977)

Sunday, January 4th: LOST IN YONKERS (1993)

Monday, January 5th: THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975)

Tuesday, January 6th: CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)

Wednesday, January 7th: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)

-Quint quint@aintitcool.com



Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The StrangerDecember 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
December 24th: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
December 25th: The High Commissioner
December 26th: The Silent Partner
December 27th: Payday
December 28th: A Stranger Is Watching
December 29th: The New Kids
December 30th: Serial
December 31st: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
January 1st: Irma La Douce

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 3, 2009, 1:41 p.m. CST

    the Lemmon/Stallone encounter, and reveal....

    by chromedome

    is worth the price of the dvd

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 3:48 p.m. CST

    did stallone do this roll pre or post Italian Stallion?

    by crazybubba

    Movie sounds great. wild-eyed conspiracy theory-spewing Jack Lemmon works for me. Besides there was nothing sane or nice about him in Grumpy Old Men.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 4:17 p.m. CST

    Neil Simon on film

    by Larry of Arabia

    I've always felt that Neil Simon plays belong on stage, preferably in NY or Florida. His unique New York voice and style - a Catskills Woody Allen in a way - just don't come across well on screen because they need a more claustrophobic air. The Odd Couple is about two guys stuck in an apartment together. All his best plays deal with conflict and proximity California Suite, Barefoot in the Park, Last of the Red Hot Lovers. They simply are not cinematic, unless they are in the hands of a master, which they sadly rarely are.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 4:18 p.m. CST

    great little film

    by haywood

    my favorite line is Anne.. "Where ya going ta get the wader!"

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 5:51 p.m. CST

    the "doc" can work on film..

    by earlfist

    The amad tommorow is one good example, although that movie for me is THE greatest romantic comedy (not called Annie Hall) ever made. Biloxi Blues also is a Gem. I have nothing against a stagey movie as long as it works. good examples(although not all of them stageplays) wait until dark. lifeboat. Even doctor strangelove. Anyway get your opinions ready for the goodbye girl. and see where I got my possibly misheard name from!

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 6:57 a.m. CST

    to all the haters of amad...

    by Juror Number 8

    ...fuck off. i've been noticing a lot of people shitting on this column lately and I wonder to myself "wait, isn't this a site about discussing and discovering cool movies?" you don't like it, then don't read it. 'nuff said. keep up the good work quint!! some of us really do enjoy this column and appreciate the time you take in watching and writing about some of these old gems.

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 7:48 a.m. CST

    College Memories

    by Rathbone

    This movie was a favorite of my college roommate's grandfather. During a break between semesters, we paid him a visit. He cooked up some steaks for lunch and sat us down to watch the movie. I almost choked on my steak when I recognized Sly. Today's column brings back a happy memory of a nice man who has since passed. Thanks for the reminder, Quint!

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 8:44 a.m. CST

    The mere site of Jack Lemmon Depresses the Hell Out of Me

    by catlettuce4

    I'm of an age that all my original memories of the guy are from the late 60s-70s period when he was always the guy who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown or suffering horrible calamity: the China Syndrome, Save the Tiger, this movie. Of course, as years went on I realized, and even came to appreciate, the man in great comedies like "Some Like it Hot". But those first impressions are hard to get over.

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 2:51 p.m. CST

    hehehe....whats with that?

    by DANNYGLOVERS_DICKBLOOD

    I mainly new him as the sweet old man in Grumpy Old Men, until I started looking back at his earlier films. Now as I see him as a depressing drunk.

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 4:53 p.m. CST

    Prisoner just isn't a good fit for Lemmon

    by TimBenzedrine

    The part of Mel was originally played by Peter Falk on Broadway and I guess the studio felt they needed a bigger star for the film. He could have been busy too, since he had just recently become famous as Columbo at the time. What a shame. Falk seems more "New York" than Lemmon, and I would have loved to see what he did with the character.

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 6:01 p.m. CST

    Jack Lemmon's best non-drunk/depressing role:

    by Paul Bucciarelli

    Professor Fate. "We can melt! We can blast! We can rise above! We are invincible! Push the button Max!"

  • Jan. 4, 2009, 7:07 p.m. CST

    So sad that both Bancroft and Lemmon are dead now

    by Cruel_Kingdom

    I love this movie, but it makes me sad to see them both and be reminded of how alive they once were and how decidedly un-alive they now are.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 2:23 p.m. CST

    The Great Race

    by TimBenzedrine

    Is one of my favorites, Paul B,Professor Fate is one of his greatest characters,but he DOES also play his drunken doppelganger in that film too.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 9:45 p.m. CST

    TimB

    by Paul Bucciarelli

    I defenitley should have mentioned him! "What makes you so great you Great Leslie you?"

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