Burt Lancaster gives one of his most daringly complex performances in The Swimmer, a fascinating adaptation of John Cheever's celebrated short story. At first it seems that middle-aged businessman Ned Merrill (Lancaster) i... more »s merely enjoying a spontaneous adventure, swimming from pool to pool among the well-tended estates of his affluent Connecticut neighborhood. But as Ned encounters a variety of neighbors, we see from their reactions that Ned's on an entirely different kind of journey--that he is balanced on the edge of some mysterious psychosis that we can't fully understand until the film's final, devastating image. A compelling portrait of loss, refracted memories, and deep-rooted emotional denial, The Swimmer sprung from the same late-'60s soil that yielded similarly ground-breaking literary films like The Graduate and Goodbye, Columbus. It's an egotistical showcase for the physical prowess of its 55-year-old star, but Lancaster turns it into something deeper, more disturbing, and completely unforgettable. --Jeff Shannon« less
"It really is amazing how unknown this movie still is. If you are unfamiliar with it, you are in for a real experience. It is based on a classic short story by John Cheever, and it works like an extended, lost episode of the old "Twilight Zone" television series. A middle-aged suburban man (Burt Lancaster) decides to swim across his wealthy Connecticut county, through all the swimming pools of his neighbors back to his own home. As he makes his journey you gradually become aware that he is not all that he seems. Dark secrets keep getting revealed and it soon becomes apparent that we are witnessing a telescoping of the man's entire adult life into a few afternoon hours of an early autumn day. The film becomes a powerful allegory about disillusionment and tragedy, without being the least heavy-handed about it. Like Cheever's other great short story "The Enormous Radio", "The Swimmer" can be interpreted as a religious parable about the self-deception of fallen humanity. The comeuppance Lancaster receives is almost too intense to watch. This is a genuinely shattering movie that will stay with you."
Odd and Unsettling
Kathy Fennessy | 09/26/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Odd, unsettling film, based on a short story by John Cheever (from his Pulitzer Prize winning collection), about a middle aged man who swims from one end of suburban Westport, Connecticut to the other. Wearing only a snug pair of swim trunks, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) swims in each of his neighbors' pools until he reaches his home which, as he tells almost everyone he encounters, has a tennis court rather than a pool. Along the way, the sky turns from blue to black (both literally and metaphorically), and he realizes his life isn't quite what he thought it was.
Despite the presence of Lancaster, who was still in terrific shape at the time (he was 55 in 1968), Frank Perry's film was far from successful. And it isn't hard to see why--this isn't a happy tale and there's barely even a glimmer of hope or redemption at the end. Nonetheless, it's powerful and original stuff and, although you might imagine otherwise, doesn't really have much in common with the suburban melodramas of the 1950s, like "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit," or the suburban black comedies of the 1990s, like "American Beauty."
Granted, "The Graduate," which was released only a year before, was just as cynical towards the Left Coast's version of swimming pool and cocktail culture, but that cynicism was leavened by humor and the point of view was, even more significantly, that of the young characters in the film rather than their parents. That isn't the case with "The Swimmer," which is more like a condensed version of "The Great Gatsby" or "Death of a Salesman." In other words, it's a fully realized character study and minor classic about the failure of the American Dream. Not to all tastes, but easily as relevant today as it was in 1968."
A MASTERPIECE, Plain and Simple
Eric J. Matluck | Hackettstown, NJ United States | 02/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Or not so plain and hardly simple.My admiration for the shorter fiction of John Cheever knows no bounds, but this movie goes an already great short story one better. Great movies, of course, are made of very different stuff than great fiction. How, for example, to turn "Citizen Kane" into a great novel or "Ulysses" into a great film? Yet the reason this film works is "time"...The story itself is well known: At the home of some friends one "midsummer Sunday," a successful, middle-aged advertising executive named Neddy Merrill decides, peculiarly perhaps (though with much symbolism, Freudian and otherwise), to swim the length of suburbia, from one friend's pool to another, until he reaches home, where his wife and daughters (he believes) are waiting for him. At each pool, however, his friends appear a little less friendly (and, by the end, downright hostile), and we begin to see that time is passing a little too quickly, that midsummer is turning into late fall, that there is a chill in the air and storm clouds in the sky, and that, by the time Ned reaches the end of his journey, his life is in ruin, and that his entire existence has been "drained" in the course of a single afternoon. Funny how realizations of a wasted lifetime creep up on us that way.So here, perhaps, is the rub. In Cheever's story, a whole lifetime passes in one day, which passes in eight pages. In Frank Perry's movie, a whole lifetime passes in one day, which passes in about an hour and 40 minutes. The fifteen minutes or so required to read the original is too short, the time goes by too swiftly. This is a story that longs to be fleshed out (okay, pun intended), so that the shifting of Ned's fortunes and his realization of just how much he's lost seem more gradual, more subtle.Each encounter at each pool is like a variation on a theme. As the people from the first pool come walking over to the second while Ned swims away, we get a superb sense of temporal dislocation (the original theme is still perceptible in the background, but already the changes are being wrought): It is still the same morning in the friends' world, but years have passed in Ned's life, and this is emphasized by his encounter at the third pool, where he finds himself unwelcome at the house of an old friend who has since died. Ned not only fails to realize this at first, he doesn't even remember his friend having been sick. Although the camaraderie is recovered at the next pool, the dark clouds have made their presence felt.The encounter with his daughters' old baby-sitter, Julie (a naively beautiful Janet Landgard [and what an ironic name in this context!]), is a deviation from the original story, but works superbly as it serves at least two purposes: to bring home the unstoppable passage of time (as when Ned asks Julie if she can baby-sit his daughters that weekend even though, in "real" time, they've grown up already), and, when she flees his overweening embrace, to further illustrate just how much has escaped him, both figuratively and literally.The most haunting scene, however, occurs when Ned reaches an empty swimming pool guarded over by a young, towheaded boy playing the flute, a vision that conjures up images of lost innocence and invokes an extraordinary emotional yearning (and as much emptiness as the cracked concrete below him can provide) that the original story could not quite match.And who could fail to be moved by that final image of an irrevocably broken man, crouched in the fetal position and weeping in front of a house long-ago abandoned and left to molder, or the scene just before it, where Ned has to swim through the final dirty, crowded, but too-heavily chlorinated public pool (my, how the mighty have fallen!)? "Stings, doesn't it?" Jan Minor asks, and the line stings as well.Burt Lancaster, by any stretch one of stardom's most exceptional actors, here gives the performance of his career. The gleam in the eye, that unrelentingly toothy grin, that look of sheer obsession. At first so full of the vigor of youth, but by the end a (self-)defeated, frightened man, straining against himself to understand what happened, when and where literally everything went wrong. Who but Burt Lancaster could have pulled off such a miracle? Kudos, too, to Janice Rule for her portrayal of Shirley Abbott, a one-time lover: a character in a situation that could so easily have seemed cliche here achieves the status of classical tragedy. And note the cameo appearance by John Cheever himself, looking somehow peculiarly diminutive but ever dapper; a standout in the type of crowd he so brilliantly portrayed.And was there ever a more poignant score than that which Marvin Hamlish provided?"The Swimmer," the short story, is a great work of fiction, but "The Swimmer," the movie, is a great work of art. "One man's shattering Sunday odyssey through suburbia," as TV Guide once so unforgettably put it. Cheever couldn't have said it better himself."
Lancaster reveals despair found in modern suburbia
Kathy Fennessy | Sacramento, California | 10/14/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a beautiful, underrated film, as relevant today as it was in 1968. Burt Lancaster's swimming journey though the emptiness that defines suburban life stings the viewer. Lancaster's performance as the man who cannot connect with anyone, is perfection. The vapid emptiness of his friends and neighbors stands in sharp constrast to his pain. A sensitive, beautiful and emotionally draining score by Marvin Hamlisch adds to the film's luster."
Unforgettable after...25 years
ancphat | Gainesville, FL | 06/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first watched this film..in another language when I was a kid. How best to illustrate the impact it had on me? After 25 years I still remembered the story of it. Of a man swimming home and of the last scene where he coming home to find an empty, isolated house.Flash back to the present. I found this movie by accident in the library. Wondering if it's the same one stuck in my mind for so long so I checked it out. The impact of watching it this time was still there (just a bit less since I already know the ending).All in all it's really worth seeing. It left an unforgettably emotional impact on me..as a 10-year-old child. That's how best I could put it to say how good the movie is."