Kelly Olsson (Ann-Margret) wishes to become a writer, but times they are a-changin' and her prim stories and articles that she is attempting to sell to publishers aren't going to cut it when racier material is now the order of the day. She discovers this when she visits the offices of Girl-Lure magazine, and though she is carrying a portfolio of her work, she is mistaken for one of their models and ushered into a studio where she is instructed to take off all her clothes and put on a tiny costume for a photo shoot. She protests, but editor Ric Colby (Anthony Franciosa) explains if she shows too much they can always retouch the picture for publication until she puts her foot down and makes it clear she is there as a writer...
The Swinger was the third cult movie of the nineteen-sixties to feature a collaboration between director George Sidney and star Ann-Margret, but unlike Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie, it proved a flop with audiences in much the same way the lead character's writings were regarded as out of touch. The kids of the day didn't want to hear about their youth culture from a bunch of old geezers like Sidney, and Ann-Margret, for all her sex symbol image, was a shade too square to convince as an exponent of letting it all hang out that the hippy era was welcoming in, especially as there was a very serious side to the movement films like this wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Take the music, largely from Marty Paich, not much different from what was popular in cabaret in the fifties.
All that said, the sight of the tacked on prologue and epilogue featuring Ann-Margret gyrating and belting out a tune by Andre Previn and his wife Dory Previn nowadays holds a definite camp appeal in a way that the nineties would have appreciated, though even then The Swinger was a rather obscure effort compared to her other hits. With its bright colours and air of determined fun, a nostalgia for the trappings of what was regarded as sophisticated amusement when it really wasn't can have an allure, even if it's only a sense of looking down on how hopeless they were at straining for cool. What underlined that was its pose as taking an ironic look at the selling of sex to the American public which was far more invested in getting turned on than it would care to admit.
Therefore the tone could be summed up in the phrase "Ha ha! (Phwoar!)" as the camera leered over its leading lady's curves, and given one of its repeated gags was of a man chasing a woman around the room with the aim of having his wicked way with her, this could be viewed as more a middle-aged man's fantasy of what he could get away with now the younger generation were growing looser in their morals, or at least that's how movies like this depicted them (males getting a bit rapey = hilarious according to the humour here). The magazine was obviously a send-up of Playboy, but there was a decided envy of the Hugh Hefner lifestyle on display even as it sent it up, taking it all in with a would-be irony (Robert Coote as the skirt-chasing owner admits he's actually not up to taking any of the women he pursues to bed) but not able to hide a real lust.
Sidney and his screenwriter Lawrence Roman dreamt up a selection of setpieces to show off their star to her best advantage, and she was a lot more upbeat than the role demanded when she was requested to roll around in multicoloured paint to render a curious notion of an orgy that featured no sex, all the better to fool the spying Ric that Kelly is in fact a wild woman and not the buttoned down lady writer that she actually is. Though he has a fiancée, British import Yvonne Romain, we can tell he and Kelly are on a collision course romantically as he mistakenly tries to reform her non-existent party lifestyle, though she does seem to live with a bunch of proto-hippies who are not sure what they are protesting, but will do it anyway and are best friends with the local Sergeant (Horace McMahon), a rather desperate attempt to chime with a fast-changing audience that would see through this a mile off. Naturally, with all this conflict unconsciously brought to the fore, undecided whether they wanted to strip Ann-Margret or take her seriously as a person with a keen intellect, The Swinger was pretty fascinating, if uneasy.