The Swimmer (1968)
Directed by Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (uncredited)
Produced by Roger Lewis, Frank Perry
Cinematography by David L. Quaid
Edited by Sidney Katz, Carl Lerner, Pat Somerset
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Written by Eleanor Perry, based on a short story by John Cheever
Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray (1:35)
The Swimmer is in many ways a product of the 60s, yet with the exception of a few techniques (and a few swimsuits) that link it to its era, the film transcends its time, making it as relevant in 2017 as it was nearly 50 years ago. (Speaking of 50, let’s just get this out of the way right now. Burt Lancaster was 53 when the film was made. Remember that when you see him diving into swimming pools wearing swimming trunks and moving around like he’s in his 30s. He looks amazing.)
Lancaster plays Ned Merrill, a middle-aged man who drops in on a pool party hosted by his friends Donald (Tony Bickley) and Helen Westerhazy (Diana Van der Vlis). Ned wasn’t invited, but he’s welcomed. Well, mostly… The Westerhazys haven’t seen Ned in a long time. Ned takes a dip in the pool and decides to “swim” his way home, hitting all the swimming pools belonging to his neighbors from this point to his own house. Immediately both the characters at the Westerhazy party and the audience know that something’s not quite right, but we don’t know exactly what.
With each visit at each pool, Ned encounters less and less friendship and more and more resentment. Slowly things begin to take shape, but each swimming pool holds surprises. I can’t tell you more, I just can’t. It’s an amazing film, probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Shot in 1966 but released in 1968, The Swimmer in many ways paves the way for many of “disenchantment” films of the late 60s and 70s. The film also features Joan Rivers in her first film as an actress. (She had appeared in other films as herself.) You’ll also see other familiar faces such as Kim Hunter, Diana Muldaur (below), Janice Rule, Charles Drake, and others.
Based on a short story by John Cheever, The Swimmer had its share of production woes (which you can discover fully on the Blu-ray’s supplements). Three-time Best Picture Oscar winner Sam Spiegel produced the film, but eventually removed his name from the credits. Lancaster reportedly had confrontations with many people while working on the film including director Frank Perry, who was fired by Spiegel at some point after the film’s first screening. (Sydney Pollack was brought in to reshoot several scenes.) Not exactly good times… But The Swimmer gave first-time film score composer Marvin Hamlisch (at age 24) a chance to show what he could do.
Based on the recommendation of the guys at the Pure Cinema Podcast, I picked up the Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing, a company that specializes mostly in horror and exploitation films. I must say, the high definition image is absolutely spectacular. I challenge anyone to find colors this vivid and vibrant in any Blu-ray release of a film made in the 60s. Truly incredible. And although I have only sampled parts of it, the disc also includes a five-part documentary The Story of the Swimmer which features interviews with surviving cast members, assistant directors, Lancaster’s daughter Joanna, composer Marvin Hamlisch and editor Sidney Katz. I have seen very few documentaries of a single film that go into this much detail.
Roger Ebert, a young critic at the time, called the film “a strange, stylized work, a brilliant and disturbing one.” I agree. If you’re a fan of Burt Lancaster, 60s cinema, or just movies in general, this is a must-own release. It’s also a film I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time. I suspect you will, too.
Photos: Mondo Digital, DVD Beaver