This is my wagon, man!
(1) The Swimmer feels like a feature length Twilight Zone episode. You can’t be sure what to expect but you will want to find out what’s going on after the first few minutes. Even the title gives away very little.
(2) One of the best things about this movie is that while the mystery does unfold, you aren’t burdened with specifics. You learn about what happened in a general way. You learn about the character through the eyes of others. You don’t get an off-screen narrator explaining it all or tiresome flashbacks. It’s not obtuse, it’s just that some of the blanks you have to fill in for yourself.
The Swimmer is adept with an often lost but important element of effective and intelligent storytelling: the importance of what you aren’t told.
(3) Joan Rivers makes her first film appearance here, stretching out as a character named “Joan”. It’s said that her short appearance took days to shoot.
(4) The making of this film was tumultuous: director Frank Perry (Mommie Dearest) was replaced part way through filming by Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor). The film doesn’t seem to suffer for it and the troubled nature of the film ends up suiting the troubled nature of the main character. Depending on who you ask, credited director Frank Perry may have been responsible for less than half of the final cut of this film.
(5) Burt Lancaster maintained that this was the favourite of his films and his best performance. I’d have to agree.
Too bad about that hot dog wagon.
The Swimmer was recently released in a spectacular Blu-Ray edition that includes a lot extras. There is a making of documentary that is longer than the film itself. If you’ve never seen The Swimmer, check it out.