Frequently silly but oddly memorable and unsettling, THE SWIMMER is an underrated blend of existential fable and social satire. Based on a New Yorker short story by John Cheever, it's buoyed by the music of a 22-year-old Marvin Hamlisch making his film scoring debut.
It's a summer day in suburban Connecticut, and successful advertising executive Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), clad only in swim trunks, finds himself several miles from home. Rather than walk straight back to his house, he decides to "swim" home, touring the pools of all his friends and neighbors.
These include Betty Graham (Kim Hunter), on whom he once harbored a crush; Julie Hooper (Janet Landgard, in her film debut), who used to baby-sit his daughters and lust after him, but meets his latterday advances with bewilderment; and his former mistress, Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), who
shatters Ned with her assertion that she never loved him. Many of those Ned encounters are openly critical, commenting on his failed marriage or the children who have turned their backs on him. Each of these revelations seems to come as a shock, as though he's been unaware of them until now. As
the journey continues, Ned's life is seen to be progressively disintegrating, until he reaches his own home, a dilapidated place which has clearly been empty for years, and breaks down in tears.
A collaboration between director Frank Perry (DAVID AND LISA) and his then-wife and screenwriter, Eleanor Perry, THE SWIMMER was deemed too confusing by its producers, who brought in Sydney Pollack to turn the Lancaster/Rule scene into a neater ending. Much of the film is still confusing, not to
mention portentous and credibility-straining, but it remains genuinely affecting. Shot on location in Westport, Connecticut.
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