Ned (Burt Lancaster) decides that it's such a beautiful day that he'll make his way home by swimming in the pools of his affluent neighbours. But as his journey goes on, things don't go as swimmingly as he'd hoped...
Frank Perry and Eleanor Perry adapted John Cheever's short story for this barmy 60's psychodrama. Part of the film's curious appeal is that it doesn't really explain itself - as it goes along it becomes clear that Ned's life is in a very sorry state indeed, but we never find out exactly what has happened to him or why everyone he meets seems to think that he's disappeared for at least a couple of years.
Burt Lancaster is perfectly cast here: tall, tanned, virile and beaming, he gradually shows the cracks in Ned's optimistic, self-satisfied facade until he ends up shivering, cowering and crying; a wreck of a man. At first, most people are pleased to see him, but eventually they're embarrassed or even upset by him.
Watching The Swimmer now, there is a definite element of camp there; for example, Lancaster spends the whole film wearing only swimming trunks (except when he takes them off to meet the nudists). And Ned seems equated with nature: he emerges from the forest at the start, he runs through the trees, he has visions of sunsets and a stallion, he races a stallion, he even pretends to be a stallion at one point. Yet by the end even nature has turned against him. And the dialogue is priceless, especially when spoken in Lancaster's measured tones - "Here's to sugar on the strawberries".
The whole film seems unimpressed with the hollow, soulless, hypocritical, middle class world it portrays. Is it this world that has worn Ned down, has he had some kind of mental breakdown under the pressures of contemporary life? Is this some kind of midlife crisis where his youthful dreams have come back to haunt him? Is he amnesiac? Is he even alive? Well, you could analyse this one until the cows come home. It's all very much of its time, and still unique.
American director who worked closely with his wife Eleanor Perry to create some curious work throughout the sixties: David and Lisa, Ladybug Ladybug, The Swimmer, Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife.