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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Swimmer (1968)

"Pool by pool they form a river, all the way to our house."
- Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: June 05, 2003

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule
Other Stars: Tony Bickley, Marge Champion, Nancy Cushman, Bill Fiore, David Garfield, Kim Hunter, Rose Gregorio, Charles Drake, Bernie Hamilton, House Jameson, Jimmy Joyce, Michael Kearney, Richard McMurray, Jan Miner, Diana Muldaur, Keri Oleson, Joan Rivers, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Dolph Sweet, Louise Troy, Diana Van der Vlis
Director: Frank Perry, Sidney Pollack

MPAA Rating: PG for (mature subject matter)
Run Time: 01h:35m03s
Release Date: April 29, 2003
UPC: 043396100442
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AA C-

DVD Review

In 1966, after already securing Oscar® recognition for his roles in From Here to Eternity, Elmer Gantry and Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster signed on to his biggest acting challenge to date in The Swimmer. The production would span two years, and see original director Frank Perry and his wife, Eleanor—who wrote the screenplay based on a short story by John Cheever—leave due to artistic differences, with Lancaster putting up his own money and bringing in Sydney Pollack to complete the picture. Fitting for its time, The Swimmer reflected the end of the American Dream, as the late 1960s, with their social and political upheavals, forever changed the face of western society. Featuring Oscar®-winning composer, Marvin Hamlish's (The Way We Were, The Sting) first score, it is a haunting and unforgettable character study that resonates to this day.

"If you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you." -Ned

On a late summer afternoon in an affluent Connecticut suburb, a middle-aged man clad only in swimming trunks winds his way through the foliage, which breaks poolside in the back yard of Donald and Helen Westerhazy. He plunges into the inviting waters, swims a lap, and is greeted by an iced martini. At first glance, Ned Merrill is the archetypical all-American male, with a million dollar smile, a physique admired by men and irresistible to women; strong, virile, and full of vigor. It seems Neddy has been a stranger, as his hosts laze on their chaise lounges, trying to wear off the effects of last evening's indulgences, the pool parties a way of life in this community. After the requisite small talk, and the arrival of more old time acquaintances, conversation turns to the afternoon's activities, where the group is heading to another neighbor's to check out their new pool. As Ned gazes out across the valley, he takes stock of the string of pools—the Grahams, the Lears, the Hallorans, the Gilmartins, the Biswangers—that step their way across the countryside, and over the hill to his house, and to his friends' bewilderment, announces that he is swimming home.

"This is the day Ned Merrill swims across the county." -Ned

As quickly as he had arrived he is gone, off to his next stop on his journey home. Again he is greeted warmly, reminiscing while being informed of his neighbors' latest acquisitions. On the surface, Ned's life seems perfect—his loving wife and two daughters waiting at home—but those he encounters know something more, as a confused reaction betrays the unspoken truth. As Ned continues on his way, not all are happy to see him. Along with the many neighbors from Merrill's past, his travels reunite him with his family's former babysitter (Janet Landgard) and an ex-lover (Janice Rule), who deepen our understanding of what has happened in Ned's life and where he is now. As the deceptions of his situation are peeled away, the complex and confused remnants of a man begin to be revealed, with each new encounter further shattering the illusion, and exposing him for who he really is.

"Funny the way things turn out, isn't it?" -Betty Graham

Merrill's transformation is brilliant, as Lancaster embodies the character of a man consumed by the delusions of the ideal life he once lived, in perhaps the most commanding performance of his career. His costars add to the atmosphere perfectly, with enough ambiguity in the script to keep things unsettled. The cinematic style betrays its vintage, but the soft-filtered segues suit the film implicitly, echoing Merrill's state of mind as he wanders through a world of make believe. The effect is chilling and surreal. Although I've seen this film dozens of times since first discovering it over thirty years ago, it still packs the same emotional impact today.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: After watching this film on VHS and laserdisc for years, Columbia's new release is a revelation. For the first time ever on home video, The Swimmer is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, in a gorgeous anamorphic transfer. Colors here come off wonderfully, with depth and definition, showing off saturated 1960s yellows, reds, and blues, and a lush green countryside, with no murkiness and perfect contrast. Detail level is excellent, and the clarity is amazing, with none of the compression problems that often plague intricate exterior locations or foliage. The print is remarkably clean, with only a couple of shots looking worn, and one in particular having fairly severe damage, but the rest is near pristine, save for minor dust and scratches. There is no edge enhancement whatsoever, and film grain looks very natural. Fans of this film are in for a treat.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in the original English mono sountrack, and here, too, this release excels. There are no technical problems to speak of, the sound is full with a satisfying, but not exagerated low end, and the highs are clear without being brittle. Marvin Hamlish's score comes across cleanly, with better definition than I have ever heard before.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Korean, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring From Here to Eternity, The Professionals
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: "Here's to sugar on our strawberries."

While I had hoped to see the collection of TV spots available for the film, I am happy to finally have the theatrical trailer, which is presented alongside those for From Here to Eternity and The Professionals.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

The Swimmer has long been one of my "holy grail" titles, a rare gem that captures the essence of its time, as a powerful and compelling commentary on the decay of the American ideal, and of one man's odyssey of self-realization. Surrounded by the decadent aura of late-1960s upper-middle-class suburbia, Lancaster delivers a superb performance in this gripping character study. Columbia has done the film justice with a beautiful new transfer, which should make fans very happy. I can not recommend this more highly.

"When you talk about The Swimmer, will you talk about yourself?" -promotional tagline


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