On Blu-ray: Mark Hamill and Annie Potts in Corvette Summer (1978)

A year after Star Wars (1977) brought Mark Hamill lasting fame he starred in the exponentially more modest Corvette Summer (1978). Despite the dramatic difference in setting, he plays a similarly na├»ve, but principled young man on a quest. It’s as if Luke Skywalker dropped into a high school auto shop after a journey from a galaxy far away. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

Hamill is Kenny, an earnest shop student on the verge of high school graduation. The big class project is a souped-up, cherry-colored Corvette Stingray, which the kids (among them an adorable Danny Bonaduce) are eager to take for a test run. They are devastated when the car is stolen mid-drive and no one more so than Kenny, who decides he must find it at all costs.

He gets a tip that the Corvette is on display in a Las Vegas casino, so he hitches his way across the desert. Instead of finding the car, he meets scrappy aspiring call girl Vanessa (Annie Potts). Though she has a slick trick van, she’s not much older than Kenny and clearly isn’t prepared for the dangerous world of hooking on the strip. When she can’t convince him to become a client, she helps him instead, as hookers with a heart of gold do in the movies.

While much of the action is played lightly, Kenny falls into disturbing territory. He becomes acquainted with violence and corruption beyond his ability to process and his confusion clouds his judgment. You might think that would be the juicy part of the proceedings, but it’s actually when the film begins to lose steam.

Hamill leaps through his early scenes with the earnestness of a half-trained puppy. He’s full of enthusiasm and only somewhat prepared for adult life. While his single mother has given him a taste of the rot in the world, he’s still endearingly eager and the energy he exudes keeps the first part of the film lively, especially when he meets Potts, who nearly steals it all away from him.

The plot begins to drag on the pair though, who really only need each other to engage an audience. Instead, they are required to march through a series of events that fail to be novel or intriguing. They’d have been ideal together in a story with less crime, more screwball action.

As it is, Hamill and Potts are worth the watch and overall the film has the warm feeling of a flick you'll always love because you saw it for the first time when you were twelve.

Bonus: Beloved character actor Dick Miller makes one of his most endearing cameos as a lucky man who is happy to spread the wealth.

The sole special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

On Blu-ray: Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)

Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft are well matched as a married couple navigating chaotic city life in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), Neil Simon’s adaptation of his own stage play. They both play from the soul, with a lack of artifice that enables them to express the complications of human nature with great clarity. I enjoyed seeing these two play off each other in a new Blu-ray release of the film from Warner Archive.

Lemmon and Bancroft are settled into empty-nester life in their fourteenth floor New York apartment when suddenly everything seems to turn sour. Lemmon loses his job, their apartment is burglarized, and the crowds, crime and noise of the city begin to overwhelm them. To top it off, on the same day the building elevator and the water service both break down. Bancroft manages to keep her cool for the most part, but Lemmon veers towards a nervous breakdown.

Throughout their trials with rude neighbors, criminals, suspected criminals (Lemmon chases a suspect, a young Sylvester Stallone, in an amusing scene in Central Park), and meddling family, Bancroft and Lemmon remain endearingly devoted to each other. Even when they fight, there’s a powerful undercurrent of love between them. In a film full of great visuals, with a sparkling script and sharp supporting cast, these two are the overwhelmingly moving, beating heart of it all. They have created loving, funny characters that have clearly grown together in their years as a couple, to the point where they are a single unit. It’s a great portrayal of a marriage.

While The Prisoner of Second Avenue taps into timeless fears about change, urban living, and the frustration of lacking control of your own circumstances, it is a fascinating time capsule as well. Though it is for the most part filmed in few locations and reflective of its roots on the stage, there are several great sequences featuring 1970s New York City. It’s worth watching just to catch a glimpse of the cars, fashion, and feel of the city in that time.

Special features on the Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer, the vintage featurette The Making of the Prisoner of Second Avenue, and a segment from The Dinah Shore Show where the host interviews her friend Anne Bancroft. That last feature is a fascinating bit of classic talk show elegance, with its odd mix of personal chatter and professional promotion.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
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