Plot: What’s it about?
Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) has been gone most of the summer, but now he has returned to his affluent suburb. While he is back in the physical sense, he is still gone in some ways and has always been absent in those respects. Ned has neglected some of the people he holds dearest to his heart, which has caused him immense anguish. He has lied, betrayed, and ignored those he most loved, including himself. Some of his dreams have been crushed and buried, sometimes due to various deceptions of his own creation. But all those lost dreams and deceptions have taken a toll on him, one which he cannot bear much longer. So when he arrives back in his suburb, he takes notice of the string of swimming pools that line the area. He has been in each one and knows the owners, so the pools form a kind of memory lane for Ned. He decides to go home, but instead of taking the sidewalk, he will swim his way back to his residence. As he passes through each pool, a portion of his life is retold and as he revisits these memories, he also confronts the people involved, for better or worse. His passions, deceptions, and humiliations all come back to the surface, as he remembers the steps he took to reach this place. But when he finally reaches his own house, what will he find there and how will this unusual excursion impact his life?
I’ve seen a lot of movies that people described as one of a kind, but not very many manage to live up to that reputation. But a rare selection of movies actually stand as unique, one of a kind productions and this is one of those pictures. The premise is an unusual one, but it allows for such intense emotion, you’ll be stunned almost right from the start. There is such a sense of despair that hangs over this material, its a relief when we’re taken under the surface, which is where our main character finds his solace. As with most movies about the suburbs, The Swimmer deals with the social caste and its consequences, but this is not the typical satiric look at yuppies and their suburban existence. Instead, we’re shown a man’s journey through an incredible emotional breakdown, even as he continues the facades of his lifestyle. He still goes through the motions, at least for a while, but you can tell it is all an act, just a method to rush through the idle social content, so as to get into the water at each household. The concept seems kind of odd and it is, but it is executed to sheer perfection, no doubt about it. The terror isn’t the kind you find in horror movies, as it is very natural and realistic, which is much scarier, if you ask me. I cannot recommend The Swimmer enough.
As good as this material is, without the right person in the central role, it would have sunk to the bottom of the pool. But in this case, the filmmakers landed Burt Lancaster, who hands in a superb performance. Lancaster has been in countless movies and delivered numerous great efforts, but even so, I have to rank his work here among his finest. In truth, I was stunned the first time I viewed The Swimmer, as his presence is so unnerving. He is able to bring across a sense of despair with just enough terror, never pushing it too much. We need his character to be chilling, but never too much of a threat, given his place in the social realm. His mind has been broken and battered, but his relief comes in an unusual ritual, not violence or what not. Lancaster knocks it out of the park in this picture, with a simply flawless overall effort. He went through a lot to keep in prime condition for this movie also, so he worked hard to nail this role and it paid off, with one of the best performances of his storied career. Other films with Lancaster include The Unforgiven, Separate Tables, The Killers, Field of Dreams, and Ulzana’s Raid. The cast also includes Janice Rule (Bell Book and Candle, The Chase), Kim Hunter (Two Evil Eyes, Planet of the Apes), and David Garfield (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, White Line Fever).
Video: How does it look?
The previous standard DVD featured a widescreen release of this movie, though this new 1.85:1 AVC HD image looks heads and tails better than that release. While the movie seems to have a soft visual look and feel to it (think Love Story), it seems natural throughout. Detail has been improved a bit as well and though colors are bright and natural in scope, the flesh tones remain warm and normal. The softness does lessen the black levels a shade, but contrast is still more than solid at all times. All in all, this is a terrific presentation and the material has held up well.
Audio: How does it sound?
A DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack has been offered here, though it’s a mono one at that. The previous DVD had a stereo offering, though I feel this one is a bit more naturalistic. Even so, the music and sound effects are in fine form, so no reason for complaint in the slightest. The dialogue is smooth and clean also, so no muffled moments or volume troubles can be detected. This disc also includes subtitles in English, French, Korean, and Japanese.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The previous DVD offered up only a trailer, but this release features all sorts of extras that warrants a purchase, for sure. Let’s dive right in (sorry, couldn’t resist) and check them out.
- The Story of The Swimmer – Without question, the most robust supplement on this disc is the five part documentary about the making of the film. Running at nearly 140 minutes, they’ve truly put together something really interesting here. Interviews with the cast and crew are shown, even down to UCLA swim coach Bob Horn. Lancaster’s daughter, Joanna, is interviewed as well and we get a sense for what a really troubled shoot this film was. If you’re a fan of this movie, then watching this is a no-brainer.
- Allison Anders Interviews Marge Champion – From April 2013, Anders interviews Marge Champion, who had a small part in the film, and her role in the movie as well as her subsequent career are covered.
- John Cheever Reads The Swimmer – An audio only supplement, the 26 minute feature is read by Cheever.
- Still Galleries – With over 300 photos under several different categories, this is something to check out.
- Trailers and TV Spots – The US trailer and several television spots are shown.
- Title Sequence Out-takes – We see the footage used for the opening sequence of the film.
- Filmographies – Frank Perry, Eleanor Perry, and Janet Landgard are all featured.