Directed by Frank Perry. USA. 1968.

Talking Pictures alias







About Us



In a wealthy Connecticut suburb, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) jumps into a backyard swimming pool, then dries himself off and heads for the nearest martini. Proudly announcing to his neighbour "This is the day Ned Merrill swims across the county", he tells his friend that he has decided to swim from pool to pool, revisiting friends and acquaintances at each pool on his way to his posh hillside home. Based on a short story by John Cheever, Frank Perry's, The Swimmer, is a brilliant and disturbing thriller in which an odyssey of suburban pleasure turns into the journey from hell.

At the outset, Ned seems comfortable with his body and with nature. He runs along side a stallion and races through the trees. On the surface, all is well. When asked about his wife, he repeatedly tells everyone that she is "fine" and that his daughters are "playing tennis," and "love their father." As he begins swimming home via his neighbour's pools, troubling layers begin to emerge beneath his smoothly polished exterior. The neighbours are friendly and there is a good deal of animated chitchat but Ned's responses seem strangely automated. He is very giving with his compliments but his constant promises and appointments raise questions about whether he is just putting people off. As he visits his neighbours, we begin to see Ned through the eyes of the people he has ignored or rejected and feel the hurt that he has caused them in his life. As he progresses, his neighbours become increasingly hostile and the small talk takes on an undercurrent of meanness. 

He meets a former mistress (Janice Rule) who is tempted to pick up where she left off but decides that she does not want any more to do with him. There is also the sexy wife of one of his old friends who makes a play but is quickly turned off. Two chance encounters that at first seem quite innocent take on the feel of a neurotic obsession. One is with a former baby sitter, twenty-year old Julie Ann (Janet Landgard) who claims to have had had a crush on Ned years ago but is frightened and runs away when he makes advances to her. The other is with a lonesome boy whom he befriends beside an empty pool and invites to his house but there are dark overtones that mercifully are unexplored.

Clad in only a pair of black swimming trunks, Ned reaches each neighbour's pool one by one: the Grahams, the Lears, the Hallorans, the Gilmartins, the Biswangers. The pool parties he encounters describe an affluent way of life that has been stripped of meaning, foreshadowing later films about the moral decay of suburbia such as Ordinary People and American Beauty. Ned Merrill is the prototype of the successful upper middle class American man: virile, handsome, and charming. His appearance bares his body but his soul has gone missing. Little by little the layers of deception are pulled away and what remains is frightening. His is a world apparently built upon prestige and affluence and the importance of appearances. He has no true friends. Ultimately, he is barred from the status symbols of the well to do and crosses through a public pool where he has to borrow fifty cents from a stranger to get in, then take repeated showers and have his feet checked. Exposed to the elements, he begins to shiver, his feet are sore and he is limping. By the time he reaches home, he is a broken man. 

Following up on his Oscar-recognized performances in From Here to Eternity, Elmer Gantry and Birdman of Alcatraz, Lancaster is mesmerizing in portraying the slow disintegration of a once proud man. Backed by Oscar winner Marvin Hamlish's very lush first film score, the film flirts with melodrama but is saved by outstanding performances. The film raises many questions and suggests that there may be other interpretations besides a literal one. The out of focus photography (done to wretched excess) telling us that Ned is confused creates a surreal atmosphere that hints he may be dreaming or indeed may already be dead. Whatever the interpretation, The Swimmer is an original, a film that brings us right up against the façades we erect to prevent others from truly seeing us. Bring some towels and warm clothes. This swim will give you one big chill.

Howard Schumann
Search this site or the web        powered by FreeFind
Site searchWeb search

   Home | News | Features
    Book Reviews | About Us