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Case Number 02831: Small Claims Court

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The Swimmer

Sony // 1968 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 29th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of The Swimmer (1968) (Blu-ray), published March 26th, 2014, is also available.

The Charge

Pool by pool they form a river to his house.

The Case

Out of nowhere (well, the hedges actually) comes Neddy Merrill (Burt Lancaster, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), a well-to-do family man who's out for a leisurely swim. Upon visiting some posh Connecticut suburbanite friends while sunbathing, Ned comes to the realization that all of the houses lining his pathway home have pools attached to them. Devising what he considers to be a grand adventure, Ned formulates an attempt at a communal swim home—in other words, a walk from home to home, swimming in each pool until he reaches his destination. As Ned's journey begins, he meets up with various women from his past: Julie Ann (Janet Landgard), a strikingly cute girl who is just entering womanhood; a sexy wife married to an old friend (Kim Hunter); and a scorned ex-mistress (Janice Rule) who wants nothing more to do with Ned's married ways. As Ned moves from patio to patio, pool to pool, he finds a wealth of friends and neighbors who seem dazed (and sometimes frustrated) to see him. Is Ned really who we think he is? Or could there be something running just under the surface of this complex main character in The Swimmer?

The Swimmer has one of the most unique—and bizarre—plot ideas I've seen in a long time: a guy just wants to wander in and out of his neighbors' pools and swim across them on his way back home. Along the way he learns things about himself and his friends/acquaintances/lovers, leaving a wake of humiliation and embarrassment in his path. The Swimmer is a movie that doesn't say what's going on right away—in fact, by the time the credits are rolling you'll most likely still be in the dark as to what's really going on in Ned's life. Was there some kind of mental collapse in the last year or so? Family issues? Whatever the trouble, it's clear that Ned's not exactly who we think he is, nor is he as charming as he comes off. But maybe that's the point—the story's vagueness is what keeps us engaged until the surprise (for its time) ending. Burt Lancaster's performance is filled with a lot of hollow smiles and faux laughter. As he pats various "friends" on the back and makes empty promises for golf games and BBQs, we recognize that he lives in a world that is made only of prestige and money—none of these people are his true friends, just ways for him to solidify his existence. Though I didn't need to see Burt prance around in his swimsuit all day, his performance here is quite good (and unless he's stuffing socks in his shorts, they guy was most likely very popular with the ladies…ifyouknowwhatImeanandIthinkyoudo). The supporting cast is made up of various faces that weave in and out of the picture (the only one I recognized was Dolph Sweet from the 1980s TV show Gimme a Break! as an irate party host). Derived from a short story by John Cheever and directed with sometimes a little too much '60s fluffiness by Frank Perry (there are rumors that Sydney Pollack also had an unaccredited hand in the production), what The Swimmer lacks in '60s hoopla it gains in being a fascinating study about a day in the life of a man with a crackling façade. It's worth seeing for that reason alone.

The Swimmer is presented in an only ho-hum looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Unfortunately, this isn't a great looking picture—there are a lot of worn colors and images in this transfer, as well as a number of imperfections (including grain and dirt aplenty). While the colors and black levels are generally solid, the image suffers from a true lack of detail and bleeding colors, among other flaws. For the film's age (over 30 years) I guess the problems can be forgiven, but couldn't Columbia have cleaned up this print just a bit more? The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. There's nothing exciting or fancy about this audio mix—the bulk if it is very monaural and very bland. There aren't any surround sounds or directional effects present, though the mix was free of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French, Japanese and Korean subtitles.

Alas, this edition of The Swimmer is an empty pool—the only supplements fans can dive into are a few theatrical trailers for various Columbia titles.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 86

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Japanese
• Korean
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Classic
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailers


• IMDb

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