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The Swimmer (1968 film)

The Swimmer
theatrical poster
Directed by Frank Perry
Sydney Pollack (uncredited scenes)
Produced by Frank Perry
Roger Lewis
Sam Spiegel (uncredited)
Written by Eleanor Perry
Based on The Swimmer (short story)
in The New Yorker (1964) 
by John Cheever
Starring Burt Lancaster
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Cinematography David L. Quaid
Edited by Sidney Katz
Carl Lerner
Pat Somerset
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray/DVD)
Release dates
  • May 15, 1968 (1968-05-15)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Swimmer is a 1968 Technicolor American surreal drama starring Burt Lancaster with Janet Landgard and Janice Rule in featured roles. The film was written and directed by Academy Award-nominated husband and wife team of Eleanor Perry (screenplay adaptation) and Frank Perry (director). The allegorical story is based on the 1964 short story "The Swimmer" by John Cheever, which appeared in the July 18, 1964 issue of The New Yorker.[1]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Soundtrack 4
  • Response 5
  • Home media 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


On a sunny day in an affluent suburb in Connecticut, a fit and tanned middle-aged man in a bathing suit, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), drops by a pool party being held by friends. They offer him a cocktail while nursing hangovers from the night before. As they share stories, Ned realizes that there is a series of swimming pools that form a "river" to his house, making it possible for him to "swim" his way home. Ned dives into the pool, emerging at the other end and beginning his journey. Ned's behavior perplexes his friends, who know things about his recent past he seems to have forgotten.

As Ned travels he encounters other neighbors. He meets 20-year-old Julie (Janet Landgard), who used to babysit his daughter, and reveals his idea to her; she joins him. Together, they have several experiences, including crashing another pool party and sipping champagne. While chatting in the forest, Julie reveals that she had a schoolgirl crush on Ned, who begins talking about how he will protect her, making plans for the two of them. Discomfited, Julie runs away.

The neighborhood is full of judgmental, well-heeled people intent on one-upsmanship, and Ned continues to be confronted by reminders that his past was not always as he remembers it.

Ned meets a wealthy older couple, unbothered by his eccentric behavior but also unimpressed by his posturing, and a lonely young boy with whom Ned spends a short time. He fails to make any real connection with the people he meets, being obsessed with his journey, and becoming increasingly out of touch with reality.

Ned carries on with his plan. He walks into another party where the hostess, who seems to have had a past encounter with him, playfully calls him a "party crasher". He encounters there a bubbly girl, Joan (Joan Rivers), who does not know him. Ned asks her to join him, and Joan is intrigued until she is warned off by a friend. Ned jumps into the pool, grabbing the attention of the guests. When he gets out of the water, he notices a cart that used to be his, being used to serve hot dogs. Ned gets into a spat with the homeowner, who claims to have bought it at a white elephant sale.

Ned then shows up at the backyard pool of Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), a stage actress with whom he had an affair several years earlier. His warm memories of their time together are not in agreement with her own experience of having been "the other woman". Unable to reconcile his feelings with the pain he has caused, Ned wades into the deep end of the pool.

Ned continues on, winding up at a crowded public swimming pool. He is confronted by local shopkeepers who ask him "How do you like our water?" and ask him when he will settle his unpaid bills. When some of them let loose vicious comments about his wife's snobbish tastes and his out-of-control daughter's recent troubles with the law, it is too much for Ned and he flees.

Near sunset, a shivering, limping Ned staggers home, as rain pours down, and finds his house locked and deserted. Peering in through a window, he sees that it has been emptied of furniture, and appears to have been abandoned for some time.


Burt Lancaster and Janice Rule in The Swimmer

Cast notes

  • David Garfield was the son of actor John Garfield, and is billed as "John Garfield Jr."[2]
  • Janice Rule replaced Barbara Loden in the part of Shirley Abbott
  • The Swimmer was comedienne Joan Rivers' film debut as an actress – she had appeared as herself three years earlier in Hootenanny a Go Go, also released as Once Upon a Coffeehouse.[3] In The Swimmer, her short scene took more time than necessary to shoot, which she blamed on Lancaster, writing in her autobiography that, "He redirected every line ... Frank (Perry) wanted a happy girl who then got hurt. Lancaster was going to be Mr. Wonderful who came up against a mean bitch, and was right not to go off with her. Trying to please both men, I was going back and forth between line readings, and nothing made sense."[2]
  • After working on several television series, the film was Janet Landgard's first featured cinematic role. It also features short appearances by Kim Hunter, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and Diana Muldaur, among others.


The Swimmer was produced by Sam Spiegel, a three-time Academy Award for Best Picture winner, who ultimately removed his name from the film (although the logo of his company, Horizon Pictures, remains). It was filmed largely on location in Westport, Connecticut, hometown of director Frank Perry.[4] Principal production took place during the summer of 1966, but the film was not released until 1968.

Although he was a trained athlete, star Burt Lancaster had a fear of the water, and took swimming lessons from former Olympian and UCLA water polo coach Bob Horn to prepare for the film.

According to Rivers, Lancaster and Frank Perry had confrontations on the set. Perry was ultimately fired by Spiegel sometime after the first cut of the film was screened. The producers then brought in Lancaster's friend, the young director Sydney Pollack. Pollack reportedly reshot several transitions and scenes, including the Shirley Abbott scene with Janice Rule now playing the part originally played by Barbara Loden. According to Lancaster, when the film needed an additional day of shooting, he paid $10,000 for it out of his own pocket.[2]


The Swimmer
Soundtrack album by Marvin Hamlisch
Released March 2006
Label Film Score Monthly

The score was composed by a first-time film composer, 24-year-old[2] Marvin Hamlisch, and was orchestrated by Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes. The music has dramatic passages for a small orchestra along with a mid-1960s pop sound.[5] Hamlisch got the job after Spiegel hired him to play the piano at one of his legendary parties.[2] The soundtrack album was originally released as an LP by CBS Records in 1968, while the complete score was released in 2006 by Film Score Monthly.[6]


The initial box office response to the film was "lackluster"[7] but the critical response has improved in recent years, with the movie gaining cult film status. Film critic Roger Ebert called The Swimmer "a strange, stylized work, a brilliant and disturbing one."[8] 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". 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."[2]

After the film's restoration and re-release by Grindhouse Releasing in 2014, Brian Orndorf of gave the Blu-ray release five stars, commenting that "It's a strange picture, but engrossingly so, taking the viewer on a journey of self-delusion and nostalgia that gradually exposes a richly tortured main character as he attempts to immerse himself in a life that's no longer available to him", commenting that Lancaster gives a "deeply felt, gut-rot performance ... and communicates every emotional beat with perfection".[9] Commenting on the same release, Ain't It Cool News reviewer Harry Knowles commented "This is also Burt Lancaster's journey to ... The Twilight Zone ... it is friggin brilliant! ... It is fascinating! Spectacular film!”[10]

The aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 100%, based on 22 critic reviews.[11]

Home media

The Swimmer was originally released on DVD in 2003 and had been in "home video limbo" after going out of print.[12][13] The 2003 release was considered a "ho-hum looking widescreen transfer ... (with) a number of imperfections (including grain and dirt aplenty)", the image suffering from "a true lack of detail and bleeding colors" and was criticized for having few special features.[12][13]

In March 2014, Grindhouse Releasing/Box Office released The Swimmer on Blu-ray in high definition. The release received positive reviews, with giving it a rare five stars.[9] Eccentric Cinema praised the company, saying "Grindhouse have been establishing themselves as the Criterion of offbeat cinema... They have taken a previously rare, and quite obscure, title and given it the special edition treatment that its fans have long dreamt of. The two-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo pack is attractively packaged and is stuffed to the gills with extras, but first things first: the film itself looks stunning in a new high definition, 1.85/16x9 transfer."[14]

Extras on the release include a five-part documentary, The Story of the Swimmer, which includes comments from surviving production and cast members including Janet Landgard, Joan Rivers, Marge Champion, first and second assistant directors Michael Hertzberg and Ted Zachary, Bob Horn, as well as Lancaster's daughter Joanna, and archival interviews with composer Marvin Hamlisch and editor Sidney Katz.[15] Reviewer Troy Howarth of Eccentric Cinema remarked: "It's a brilliant piece of work by editor/director Chris Innis and it definitely raises the bar of what one can expect with such retrospective featurettes."[14] Brian Orndorf of commented: "The Story of The Swimmer (148:53, HD) is a miraculous five-part documentary from Innis that dissects the feature in full ... the candor put forth here is outstanding, generating a riveting tale of a Hollywood tug of war ... It's an exhaustive documentary, but there's never a dull moment."[9]

Also included in the release are title sequence outtakes, Frank Perry's storyboards, production stills (including Loden's deleted scene), trailers, TV spots, an audio recording of Cheever reading the original short story, as well as a 12-page color booklet with essays by filmmaker Stuart Gordon and Innis.[9][15][16] The cover sleeve comes with new cover art from illustrator Glen Orbik.[17] There is also a separate 2013 interview with Champion.[9] The International Press Academy has recognized Grindhouse Releasing's restoration of The Swimmer with a 2015 Satellite Award for "Outstanding Overall Blu-Ray/DVD".[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Screenplay info"
  2. ^ a b c d e f Jeff Stafford. "The Swimmer" on
  3. ^ Robinson, Tasha (November 5, 2012). o teaches us that boats and folk songs are the key to getting lucky"Hootenanny A Go-G"1965’s .  
  4. ^ "Notes" on
  5. ^ "Music" on
  6. ^ The Swimmer (1968).
  7. ^ Michael Hastings. "Review" at
  8. ^ Roger Ebert The Swimmer]
  9. ^ a b c d e Brian Orndorf (March 24, 2014) “The Swimmer Blu-ray & DVD Combo Pack” review.
  10. ^ Harry Knowles (March 25, 2014) Ain't It Cool News “Last PICKS & PEEKS of March 2014” The Swimmer”. Blu-ray/DVD review
  11. ^ "The Swimmer" on Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ a b Patrick Naugle (April 2003) “The Swimmer” 2003 DVD Review. DVD Verdict
  13. ^ a b “THE SWIMMER (Grindhouse Releasing Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)”, Schlockmania review March 27, 2014
  14. ^ a b Troy Howarth (April 4, 2014) “The Swimmer” Blu-ray/DVD combo review. Eccentric Cinema
  15. ^ a b Andy Dursin (March 24, 2014) “Aisle Seat 3–25: The Swimmer, Wolf of Wall Street”. Film Score
  16. ^ Ken Kastenhuber (April 10, 2014) “The Swimmer” Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review, McBastard's Mausoleum
  17. ^ Sean McClannahan (April 4, 2014) “THE SWIMMER Blu-ray Review” Agents of Geek
  18. ^ Current Nominees – 2014 Awards. International Press Academy

External links

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