The Swimmer

1968 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy decides to swim home. Through a series of pools close to his house.

Joan Rivers is in this movie, and it's still something I liked a lot. That should tell you everything you need to know.

I was reminded of Falling Down with Michael Douglas, and when I checked things out online, I noticed that other people had made the same connection. Both movies about journeys home. One has a lot of water while the other ends with water. Only one has a 50-something guy with an impressive physique though. And that's The Swimmer! I hope I look half as good in a bathing suit when I'm in my 50s as Burt Lancaster looked here. Hell, I wish I looked half as good now. And those dazzling blue eyes of his! They were downright hypnotic!

This is a strange little movie, sneakily dreamy. It's the kind of movie you watch and realize quickly that nothing is really happening the way it's portrayed on the screen. Gradually, you learn the truth about this character, probably long before he does, and what starts as a wacky misadventure swimming in other people's pools--a river of pools all the way to the guy's house--grows more and more depressing as pieces are put together. Other than Falling Down, it reminds me a little of a short story I once read--The Young Man Who Flew Past--a character study in fragments that requires some gap-filling. You watch the movie and wonder why all of this seemingly extraneous dialogue and encounters Lancaster's swimmer has are even necessary. Various friends, a babysitter (a very cute Janet Landgard, who I'm surprised didn't go on to be a huge star), nudists, some kid with a pool empty of water, an angry woman, traffic, a shower Nazi at a public pool ("Spread your toes."). Eventually, you realize that it all matters! It all helps shape this character who just wants some sugar on his strawberries. The film's denouement is just about the most depressing ending to a movie I can remember seeing, and it's partially because of how this character is created in this completely original episodic way.

Parts of this are a little dated. I did really enjoy the cool score, one that was big and classical and epic when it didn't really need to be at all. There's some weird stuff with horses where Lancaster has a race with one and later pretends to be one in a too-long steeplechase sequence. There are also these weird impressionistic transition scenes that I enjoyed although it placed the film firmly in that late-60s/early-70's range.

There's not much story here, but with a good Burt Lancaster performance and a unique storytelling structure, this is recommended. It's not very happy though.

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