|THE NEW REVIEW|
Official website for the DVD release of the film
Books & Stuff
Hand Picked Lit Links
Lit Mag Central
The New Review
Punk @ laurahird.com
Save Our Short Story
Order ‘The Collected Stories of John Cheever’
Order Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’ on DVD
Order Richard Brooks’ ‘Elmer Gantry’ on DVD
Order Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ on DVD
Order Bill Forsyth’s ‘Local Hero’ on DVD
Order Fred Zinnemann’s ‘From Here to Eternity’ on DVD
Order Louis Malle’s ‘Atlantic City’ on DVD
Order Visconti’s ‘Conversation Piece’ on DVD
Order Frank Perry’s ‘Mommie Dearest’ on DVD
Order Fellini’s ‘8 ½’ on DVD
Order Sidney Lumet’s ‘A Long Day’s Journey into Night’ on DVD
Based on a classic short story of the same name by American writer John Cheever,
‘The Swimmer’ is a beautiful film that boasts a fine performance from Burt
Lancaster as Ned Merrill, the man who decides on a whim that he will swim home
across the Connecticut countryside, via his neighbours pools.
The premise of the film is simple enough, and Merrill’s character at first seems impulsive, youthful, in contrast to his old summer camp friend who turns up just before he sets off on his swimming escapade. His old friend is a year younger, and yet Merrill comes across as the more youthful of the two, and the more prosperous and successful. But everything is not as it seems in this story. The initial bewilderment of those around him who listen to his plans to swim across the county are rooted in more than an understandable reaction to a wild idea. As Ned goes from property to property, pool to pool, meeting one set of characters after another, including a couple of elderly nudists, the beautiful summer landscape, glittering blue pools and the wealthy suburban locations soon become a background for an altogether darker tale. Because Ned does not appear to be aware of some of the things that have happened in the last three years. It’s a truth that creeps up slowly.
Initially welcomed by neighbours whose subtle bewilderment hints at deeper concerns, he soon moves on to less welcome terrain where he is snubbed or asked to leave. The picture we have of Ned Merrill, the athletic, successful businessman begins to crumble, and it crumbles too for Ned who clearly does not fully understand the reactions. He constantly talks about swimming home, through the Lucinda River, the name he gives to the chain of pools that lead to his property. Lucinda is his wife’s name. His girls are at home waiting for him, playing tennis. It’s a rosy picture that perfectly encapsulates the American Dream. But it’s all an illusion.
Along the way Ned meets his ex-mistress, a woman he dumped in a fancy restaurant in New York because he thought she’d be less likely to make a scene in such a place. Ned wants to take up with her again, suggesting they go away on a trip, apparently unaware of the harm he’s caused her. At a public swimming pool he’s turned away because he has no money. All through the film, he’s dressed only in swimming trunks. Someone else pays his entrance fee, though they do so reluctantly, apparently bearing him some kind of grudge. At the public pool he meets hostility, and creditors, ordinary working people he owes money to. Already snubbed by some of the rich, it’s here that the truth really starts to come out. When Ned finally makes it “home” it’s to a deserted property with a broken window. As a storm breaks out, he bangs on the front door, but no one answers. The camera looks through the broken window to the empty, desolate rooms. Ned Merrill is a man who has fallen foul of the American Dream. As the people at the public pool point out, his beloved daughters are out of control, and generally regard their father as a joke. Lucinda, whom we never meet in the film, though she appears briefly at the beginning of the short story, is clearly a snob with expensive tastes.
Ned is a likeable character, and in spite of the truth that emerges, he remains sympathetic. His troubles, though, are of his own making: his arrogance, his snobbery, his choice to live in a loveless marriage, and the financial recklessness of his family. The respectable front he presents masks something else. But he is a man in the process of a breakdown. Immature, impulsive, the qualities that motivate him to swim across the county are also his faults.
John Cheever, the author of the original short story, has been compared to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, without the glamour. Many of Cheever’s stories appeared in the New Yorker. The short story is well worth a read and a comparison of film and story shows that the film makers have changed the order of some of the events, and added in more characterisation, more explanation, and more hints about the back story. But this does not detract in any way from the film’s power. In fact, the changes make perfect sense for the cinematic medium.
‘The Swimmer’ is a wonderful film that perfectly illustrates how a simple idea can pack a powerful punch. It relies on characterisation and dialogue rather than the usual Hollywood tricks of car chases and acts of violence. Ned’s character is revealed through his encounters with others. Burt Lancaster is perfect for the role too because his affability and athleticism embody the outer persona of the wealthy suburbanite, while the subtle power of his acting conveys a man who is physically and mentally cracking up, bit by bit. He is believable both as the friendly, likable Ned, and the snobbish, ruthless businessman we only catch glimpses of through the memories of others. The film’s cinematography too is fantastic. ‘The Swimmer’ is a truly beautiful film, backed up by a great soundtrack and comes highly recommended.
Reproduced with permission
Kara Kellar Bell is a film and media graduate from the West of Scotland, with a passion for European novels, French films, silent cinema, and Brazilian music (everything from Daniela Mercury and other pop stars through to bossa nova). As a writer, she likes to have room to move around creatively, so she’s not located in one genre. She writes realism and also stories of a more fantastic nature, usually grounded to some extent in the real world. She also takes delight in writing across the sexual spectrum, and as a bisexual, considers it important to remind people that things are not always black and white, either/or, in sexuality or in gender. She is currently completing her first novel. For a selection of Kara’s writing on the Showcase section of this site, click here or to read more of Karen's film, book and music reviews, click
Dir: Frank Perry
Reviewed by: Kara Kellar Bell
|If you would be interested in reviewing films/books for the site, please contact me here|