Burt Lancaster: 'The Swimmer'

Burt Lancaster: 'The Swimmer'

Posted in the Spenard Forum

Chris Deile

Topeka, KS

#1 Nov 9, 2013
Caught some of the film 'The Swimmer' starring Burt Lancaster the other night and although didn't see it in entirety it's definitely one of my very favorite films. The Wiki synopsis is pretty good--here's a snippet:

The Swimmer is a 1968 American film directed by Frank Perry and starring Burt Lancaster, with Janet Landgard and Janice Rule in featured roles. The surreal, allegorical tale is based on the 1964 short story by John Cheever, adapted by Eleanor Perry, the director's wife.

On a sunny early autumn day in an affluent suburb in Connecticut, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), a seemingly successful, appealing and popular middle-aged advertising executive, clad only in swimming trunks, runs through the forest. He walks out of the woods and into the backyard of some old friends sitting by their swimming pool. He chats with them, then he has a sudden idea: he tells his friends he intends to "swim" home across the county by dropping in on friends' swimming pools which form a consecutive chain leading back to his house. He dives into the pool, emerges at the other end and starts his journey.

At first Ned gets warm welcomes as he meets old friends, mostly upper middle-class, well-to-do people with homes in the upscale outer suburbs. However, there are hints that Ned has been away for up to two years, and he brushes off any questions about himself. Each stop brings him face to face with some aspect of his life. The first one is with his youth when anything was possible, while the last one exposes the current collapse of his family life and where everything seems lost.

As the day wears on and Ned sees those who have been closer to him more recently, the welcomes begin to sour. Ned's proud boasts about his wife, daughters and home are met with strong mixed feelings, jeers, suspicion and even anger - especially from women. In one backyard Ned meets a 20-year-old girl (Janet Landgard) who, years ago, had babysat his daughters. She leaves with him, at first thrilled to do so owing to an unspoken crush she had for him in her early teens. But when Ned rather clumsily tries to woo and kiss her, she flees. He carries on with his "swim," dropping by the pools of sundry other friends as it slowly unfolds that his life has somehow gone quite wrong. He crashes a party at one pool. Although his presence there is tolerated for a while, Ned is thrown out when he has an outburst after spotting a hot dog wagon he had once bought for his daughters, but which had recently been sold in a white elephant sale. He then shows up at the backyard pool of Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), a stage actress with whom he'd had an affair several years earlier. She is still feeling bitter and hurt. When Ned tries to rekindle things, this poolside meeting ends badly for both of them.

As the day ends, Ned winds up in a crowded public swimming pool where he is shamed by local shopkeepers to whom he still owes money for unpaid grocery and restaurant tabs. When some of them comment about his wife's overall snobbish attitude and his out-of-control daughters' recent troubles with the law, he angrily flees. As the sun goes down, a shivering Ned at last staggers up a rocky hill, shoves open a rusted gate and walks through an overgrown garden with an unkempt tennis court. A thunderstorm begins as Ned knocks on the front door of a locked, dark and empty house. He then breaks down on the front stoop and cries.
Chris Deile

Topeka, KS

#2 Nov 9, 2013
The Swimmer was made by Columbia Pictures and filmed largely on location in Westport, Connecticut[2] during the summer of 1966, but not released until 1968. Lancaster took swimming lessons to prepare for the film, along with a rigorous exercise regimen, since his entire wardrobe consisted of swimming trunks; he also had a secret fear of the water. Lancaster and Perry did not get along, and Perry eventually left due to "creative differences"; less than half of what he shot appeared in the film. The studio brought in other directors to finish the film, including Sydney Pollack, who shot the scenes with Janice Rule, whose character was originally played by Barbara Loden. Her scenes were uncompleted when Perry left.[1]

The film was Janet Landgard's first featured cinematic role. It features cameos by Kim Hunter, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Joan Rivers, and Diana Muldaur, among others. The musical score by Marvin Hamlisch has dramatic passages for a small orchestra along with a mid-1960s pop sound.

According to Lancaster, when the film needed an additional day of shooting, he paid $10,000 for it out of his own pocket. He considered it one of his favorite roles.[1]

The box office response to the film was "lackluster",[4] but the critical response was somewhat better. Vincent Canby in the New York Times wrote "Although literal in style, the film has the shape of an open-ended hallucination. It is a grim, disturbing and sometimes funny view of a very small, very special segment of upper-middle-class American life", but Variety said "a lot of people are not going to understand this film; many will loathe it; others will be moved deeply. Its detractors will be most vocal; its supporters will not have high-powered counter-arguments."[1]
Chris Deile

Topeka, KS

#3 Nov 9, 2013
The scene when he's talking with the other nudists is quite comical, especially when Burt lancaster walks away showing his bare butt.

There is much more that could be said about the film than what Wiki describes--it's very thought provoking, a realistic portrayal of a human being bringing to mind many of Dostoyevsky's characters. I'd like to read the story.

Glad to read Lancaster though so much of the film to give it $10,000 of his own money. That may say alot about Lancaster valuing that role with its human portrayal. He's got a great quote about Anna Magnagni on her Wiki page. It's dead-on.

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