The Swimmer (1968)
Reviewed on 2011 April 23
I had heard a lot about this thing but never got to see it all until last night, and it’s one of those movies where the acting carries it. Burt Lancaster hauls it along on those tanned shoulders very well.
Ned Merrill (Lancaster) looks like one of those golden boys who had a charmed life and who’s going to cruise through middle age and beyond just as neatly as he glided through the earlier years: he first shows up unannounced and seemingly out of nowhere at a wealthy friend’s pool, and leaps right in. The couple is astonished to see him, asking him where he’s been keeping himself, but they seem genuinely delighted to hand ol’ Neddy a cocktail and catch up. When Ned learns that some hold-out neighbors finally broke down and added a pool to their yard, making a chain of pools, or as Ned the wannabe poet says, “a river home”, he gets an idea. He’s going to swim all the way home, to his wife and beautiful daughters, going from pool to pool. The wife can’t believe it, but her husband just figures it’s Ned being Ned, and offers him another cocktail. Ned the golden boy declines, wanting to get started. As he progresses not everyone is delighted to see ol’ Neddy, and we learn more about him. Painfully.
I was channel-surfing one night a year ago and caught the last bits of the movie, and that still didn’t lessen its impact. The only weakness is you can tell right away this is an older film. The hurdle sequence with Julie Ann just screamed “Sixties movie! We got a Sixties movie here!” and not in a good way, and the “hip” music for the party sequence for the amazing pool by that incredible house was just silly. (Don’t worry, your drooling over that slice of real estate will tell you what I’m talking about.) It’s still very good, with lots of observations about the trappings and emptiness of the upper class way of American life throughout. Watch for Joan Rivers at the big poolside bash.
Three chocolate morsels. Dated in the presentation but not the message, and the ending is still a kick in the guts.