The Swimmer (1968)

FRANK PERRY

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.   

USA, 1968Screenplay by , based on the story by .   Cinematography by .    Produced by , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by , , .  

Burt Lancaster shows up at in neighbour’s backyard clad only in swim trunks, looking across the valley upon which their swanky community is built and declaring that he’s going to do something fun on this beautiful summer day: all the properties between this house and his own have a pool, and he’s going to “swim home” by hopping from one to the next. Dipping in and out of the backyard pools of the various residences in this gated Connecticut area turns out to be a complicated experience, one which brings on a series of ever more disturbing encounters that slowly unveil details of Lancaster’s life that he has been ignoring. In one he flirts with a teenaged girl who was once his children’s babysitter, taking her along on his journey until alienating her with his intense behavior, in another he crashes the party of a group of people who no longer consider him a friend (and which includes a fascinating encounter with a marvelous in her feature film debut) and, in a terrific two-hander of a confrontation in another pool, he reconnects with as a woman with whom he once had an affair. Lancaster starts the film out seeming Olympian and godlike, his fine physical form overpowering everyone else with its brazen beauty (Lancaster at 52 looks great in so little clothing, including a scene where he visits nudists in their garden) but as things progress and the details emerge, he starts to look smaller and more vulnerable. His secrets unveil the dark side of the aspirational American suburban life in a way that feels quite familiar as a film subject now, but in 1968, before Watergate and Vietnam had really penetrated the culture and made cynicism cool, this movie would have stuck out like a sore thumb (and its failure at the box office confirms this). While a bit uneven and perhaps not fully fleshed out, it makes for an interesting, somber companion piece to The Graduate, more serious about piercing the beautiful bubble of upper-crust culture and less desperate to be loved.

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