Anne Bancroft in “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”
Written on the 37th anniversary of the film's theatrical release!
Without being so curt as to suggest the “change” was responsible for Anne Bancroft’s acting choices in her later career, there was a distinct period in the 70s where – whether artistic, hormonal, or otherwise – Bancroft made the transition from a sultry crowd-pleaser to a wiry nag. Having thrived upon the rarity of a sexualised ‘older’ woman role like Mrs. Robinson, Bancroft’s work in the following decade rested upon turns such as her bitter, ageing harridan in Herbert Ross’ “The Turning Point,” and as Edna Edison in 1975’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” 1975 was a significant year for Bancroft; she received a BAFTA nomination for the Neil Simon-penned Prisoner, and was also starring in “The Hindenburg,” the year’s big Christmas blockbuster about the disaster of the same name.
If forty-eight – the age at which Edna’s husband Mel (Jack Lemmon) makes the descension from a working professional into a mental basket case – is the point in life where a man starts exhibiting signs of Pernickety Old Codger Syndrome, then someone please shoot me at forty-seven. I recently remarked upon Neil Simon’s uncanny habit of writing both winners and turkeys, as his penchant for layered characterisation and witty dialogue is frequently countered by laborious storytelling and neurotic drivel. The case leans decidedly towards the latter here, as his geriatric script leaves Bancroft to buffer Lemmon’s interminable complaints with perplexed frustration for the first half of the film, and doesn’t require her to do anything else until it’s rendered Mel doolally, as well as annoying. With a vague arc to work with, Bancroft offers a welcome, alternate brand of disillusioned Manhattanite from the masculine inadequacy of her other half, keenly interpreting Edna’s foolishly hopeful outlook on city life as a product of renewed independence rather than an enforced enthusiasm designed to prop up her Mr. Edison. But what to do with a half-rotten apple of a script? She does about as much as most would: reacts uneasily, gamely has a chomp, and then casually tosses it away.
Accolades: BAFTA Nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role)