Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) appears out of nowhere at a friends house wearing nothing but his swimming trunks. He seems to be a well liked bloke and his upper middle class friends welcome him. While they sit around the pool moaning about getting old Ned looks out across the valley and decides its possible to cross the county going from garden to garden and stopping off along the way to swim in each pool he comes across. Most of his mates think he's kidding until he ups and leaves. The film follows Ned in his journey as he encounters people along the way and as he does we learn a little more about him. The closer he gets to home the darker things become, leading to a genuinely devastating conclusion.
The Swimmer is a great example of how to deal with exposition in screenwriting. At no point does anyone sit and explain things for the audience. Instead we learn more about Ned as he travels from pool to pool through his encounters with other people. I don't want to get too into the plot however as I'm trying real hard here to give nothing away as the film works most effectively if you go into it blind.
Nonetheless The Swimmer is a clever film that is surprisingly bleak and pessimistic about human nature for a typical studio picture. It still feels like an odd selection for Grindhouse but it's a film that's well worth seeking out.
Needless to say being a grindhouse disc its jam-packed with extras including over 2 hours of documentary detailing the production of the film. As with all previous Grindhouse blu-rays it's also totally region free. The transfer is excellent and once again Grindhouse give the film first class treatment.
Frank Perry's offbeat ode to middle-class nervous breakdown is a favourite of mine, and Grindhouse Releasing have certainly done justice to it with their bluray release. Fabulous picture quality, with a wonderfully in-depth two-and-a-half hour(!) retrospective, amongst several other extra features.
If you're buying from the UK, this is coded for all regions (region free), so there's no reason not to indulge.
"The Swimmer" is a dream/nightmare rolled into a simple mission of memory evasion, taking the viewer on a journey of self-delusion and nostalgia that gradually exposes a richly tortured main character as he attempts to immerse himself in a life that's no longer available to him. Strikingly made and outstandingly performed by Burt Lancaster. Beautifully filmed and the blu-ray transfer is excellent. Supplements: - Booklet contains ten pages, featuring essays from Stuart Gordon and Chris Innis. - "The Story of 'The Swimmer'" (148:53, HD) is a miraculous five-part documentary from Innis that dissects the feature in full, with specific attention to Lancaster's star power and the BTS strife that almost prevented the movie from being released. Detailed with anecdotes and memories, most recalling the star's presence. It's an exhaustive documentary, but there's never a dull moment. - Interview (17:55, HD) with actress Marge Champion takes place at a TCM revival film festival, conducted by director Alison Anders. Champion only has a small part in the movie, but she shares her history with the role and her one-set experiences. - "John Cheever Reads 'The Swimmer'" (25:41) is an undated recording of the author. - "Title Sequence Outtakes" (4:04, HD) collect scenes of nature and animal wrangling, scored to Hamlisch's music. - And more.
Very strange and poignant drama about a man who likes swimming. In fact, he likes swimming more than he likes people. The films starts like a very old fashioned 1950's soap-ish drama, Ned seems like a man living the American Dream, rich, in an affluent neighbourhood, everybody loves Ned. But all is not as it seems and slowly the grim reality emerges and the film begins the psychological unravelling of the American Everyman. Surely this must be the greatest film Grindhouse Releasing will ever put out and is certainly their best "FILM" film to date. It can be taken as a very serious and sad film or possibly even as an unintentional black comedy. I couldn't help but break out laughing at poor Ned's plight as it unravelled totally unexpectedly before my eyes. The film has a delicious cynicism I think. You could write entire academic theses about The Swimmer and its intended or possibly unintended inflections. The presentation of the film is stunning.
I watch this film about once a year and it gets me everytime. Multi layered and original, you can take it as a straight up 'Tales of the Unexpected' style tale or a whole life story set in an afternoon. Taking place amongst wealthy americans in the 1960's and the film stock colouring all just seem to add to the atmosphere (although Some of the filming techniques are very of it's time). The extras are probably only for fans of the film, old LA types talking about production is a bit repetitive, but the revelations about the troubled shoot are interesting and actually explain some of its very few flaws. Also the original narrated short story on which it is based is a nice addition. Wonderful and melancholic.
This is an unusual film. Burt Lancaster decides to swim home one day using the swimming pools of his friends across the county. It is initially sunny but gets darker as the underside of his life gets revealed. A terrific acting performance by Lancaster makes it believable to the end. Quick delivery all the way from Florida.
When I first saw the movie of John Cleever’s short story “The Swimmer” in 1968, I lacked the life experience to understand what an extraordinary piece of work this is. Thankfully though, it stuck on me throughout my life, but I didn’t quite know why. Fast forward to the bog standard DVD release of 2003, and still the story didn’t really click, but its secret door was beginning to creak open. Now, thanks to Grindhouse’s incredible 4K Blu-ray restoration with amazing extras, the door has finally swung open to reveal a masterpiece of American cinema.
The key to fully enjoying “The Swimmer” is in knowing the back story of Burt Lancaster’s rich and complicated character Ned Merrill BEFORE seeing the film. That said, Director Frank Perry does allows us a slight taste of what’s happening fairly early on in the picture, but it’s rather like knowing there’s some sunken treasure in the lagoon, but not exactly where it is.
The story is about loss of power, and centres on former stockbroker and athletically charged Ned Merrill. Until recently, family man Ned was the life and soul of a small wealthy community shacked up in the swimming pooled mansions of a Connecticut valley. Loved and admired by his vacuous party loving chums, Ned’s huge financial success meant untold wealth and privilege for his wife and two wayward daughters. Additionally, a man with Ned’s physique was much sought after by the valley’s idle band of heaving bosoms, and this had encouraged our hero to deliver some interesting extracurricular services.
About a year previously, Ned had fallen on hard times, resulting in a nervous breakdown, and his release (or escape) from a psychiatric hospital is where we join him on an early morning run. Even without knowing the back-story, the sight of a man running through the autumn woods in swimwear is somewhat odd, but this is soon converted to reasonable normality when we hear of Ned’s mission to swim home to his beloved family by way of the valley swimming pools. What he doesn’t know is that his wife, stripped of the good life, sold their mansion long ago and disappeared into the ether. The former family home now lies empty and broken, a cruel metaphor for Ned’s delusional nightmare.
By knowing this background, we can now witness Burt Lancaster’s extraordinary performance in a completely new light. The off-centre energy so often seen in those with serious mental illness is so finely portrayed by Lancaster, one finds it hard to believe that this is in fact an actor at work. The character’s manic commitment to the goal ahead is laden with tension and foreboding, and the awkward bewilderment of the supporting company of players is a classic in its own right.
In the mammoth documentary extra “The Story of The Swimmer”, members of the surviving cast and crew reveal the up’s and down’s of the sometimes troubled production. However, I can’t help feeling that this probably added to the edgy nature of the performances, and contributed to what I now at last recognise as a true masterpiece. Also in the documentary, watch out for Lancaster’s love interest - the delectable Janet Landgard, quirkily beautiful then as now, and teasingly full of delicious Hollywood stories. Although she has an all knowing demeanour, that sense of youthful wonder so much a part of her role as the teenage Julie Hooper, is clearly still alive and well. A great value region free BD/DVD combo package from Grindhouse who have quietly become the Criterion of cult movies. An absolute must buy!
They don't make them like this anymore (well, not many) more's the pity. An absolutely gorgeous transfer to bluray with cast and crew at the top of their game. I was too young to fully appreciate this at the time of release but remembered I wanted to understand it. What an amazing actor Burt really was.