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The Swimmer Review

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Connecticut. Ned Merrill drops into a friend’s pool for a dip, then works out that he can swim home using his neighbour’s pools. As he gets nearer his ‘house on the hill’, it becomes obvious that there’s something seriously wrong with Ned’s apparently i

★★★★

Connecticut. Ned Merrill drops into a friend’s pool for a dip, then works out that he can swim home using his neighbour’s pools. As he gets nearer his ‘house on the hill’, it becomes obvious that there’s something seriously wrong with Ned’s apparently ideal life.

An enigmatic, poetic, disturbing, interestingly pretentious 1968 fable from a John Cheever story, this has Burt Lancaster, naked but for Speedo trunks, ‘swimming home’ via a river of backyard pools, with spells of ‘portage’ through the woods in between. With each pool, he encounters different people from his past and the apparent perfection expected at the end of the swim seems more in doubt.

It’s a memorable premise, and sets up a series of elliptical scenes which drop hints about the state of things without coming out and saying anything. Lancaster shows off his ageing physique and crawls inside his cracking-up character, playing off a series of friendly, hostile, naïve, lost, hard-bitten, cruel or kindly folks, who wrongly assume he’s back on track after a collapse, are still upset with him after unspecified wrongs, react with muted concern as he talks about the way things used to be as if all was still well, turn viciously on him as a deadbeat or sympathise with his plight but can’t do anything to help.

Standing around pools are the likes of Kim Hunter, Diana Muldaur, Joan Rivers (a young Joan Rivers!), Bernie Hamilton, Gower Champion and House Peters. Director Frank Perry – assisted by an uncredited Sydney Pollack, who stepped in to handle a scene between Ned and a former mistress (Janice Rule) inserted in order to add some explanation -- finds sylvan beauties and suburban crassness along the way, leading to an oblique but powerful homecoming finish. Incidentally, Falling Down is what you’d get if you remade The Swimmer with guns and action scenes.

An enigmatic, poetic, disturbing, interestingly pretentious fable.

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