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The Swimmer (1968)

Approved | | Drama | 9 August 1968 (Finland)
A man spends a summer day swimming as many pools as he can all over a quiet suburban town.


Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (uncredited)


Eleanor Perry (screenplay), John Cheever (story)
1 win. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Burt Lancaster ... Ned Merrill
Janet Landgard ... Julie Hooper
Janice Rule ... Shirley Abbott
Tony Bickley Tony Bickley ... Donald Westerhazy
Marge Champion ... Peggy Forsburgh
Nancy Cushman Nancy Cushman ... Mrs. Halloran
Bill Fiore Bill Fiore ... Howie Hunsacker
David Garfield David Garfield ... Ticket Seller (as John Garfield Jr.)
Kim Hunter ... Betty Graham
Rose Gregorio Rose Gregorio ... Sylvia Finney
Charles Drake ... Howard Graham
Bernie Hamilton ... Chauffeur
House Jameson ... Mr. Halloran
Jimmy Joyce Jimmy Joyce ... Jack Finney
Michael Kearney Michael Kearney ... Kevin Gilmartin


Neddy Merrill has been away for most of the Summer. He reappears at a friend's pool. As they talk, someone notices that there are pools spanning the entire valley. He decided to jog from pool to pool to swim across the whole valley. As he stops in each pool his interactions tell his life story. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The famed John Cheever short story appeared in the New Yorker and people talked. Now there will be talk again. When you sense this man's vibrations and share his colossal hang-up . . . will you see someone you know, or love? When you feel the body-blow power of his broken dreams, will it reach you deep inside, where it hurts? When you talk about "The Swimmer" will you talk about yourself? See more »




Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

9 August 1968 (Finland) See more »

Also Known As:

The Swimmer See more »

Filming Locations:

Westport, Connecticut, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Horizon Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Cornelia Otis Skinner: As Mrs. Hammar. See more »


Julie's hair goes from brushed to windblown and back again several times in the same sequence. See more »


[first lines]
Donald Westerhazy: Where have you been keeping yourself?
Ned Merrill: Oh, here and there. Here and there.
See more »


Referenced in Baywatch: The Swimmer (1998) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

still swimming the American dream...
15 June 2016 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

I liked that Burt Lancaster called The Swimmer, about a man who decides to "swim to home" across the relatively quiet upper-middle class suburbia by taking a swim in each of his neighbors swimming pools (and one rec center), "Death of a Salesman in swim trunks." I can still see the connections with the disillusionment of, and a critique by others, of the American (white) middle-class male in the promise of having it "all", but having the connection to Willy Loman and the story of falling so completely from grace and promise (and failing himself repeatedly) marks this as something special in American cinema at the time. And Burt Lancaster, in his 50's by the time he made this, is fit for the part (in more ways than one) and really gets into how this man is so happy to be doing this "adventure" as he calls it, like he's some sort of explorer.

But what is he exploring? Actual places, or people's hearts and minds? A lot of this can be (or should be, or both) read as an allegory, or some kind of surrealistic dive (no pun intended) into the well-off. These people have such lavish homes and places, none of them have to worry about being without (though a little boy may be taught to value his money early on with a lemonade stand), and of course their pools and/or tennis courts. So with a story like this, adapted from a short piece of prose by John Cheever, the plot isn't really of significance. Although, to that point, it is fascinating for me in watching this how it feels like he *must* swim at each of the places he stops at, even if it's only for several seconds. And at one point when he discovers one pool that's been drained of water - the lemonade entrepreneur can't swim - he mock-swims it. Not great, but close enough.

So with this extremely basic through-line we get what is more closely related to European cinema of the period: it's a mood piece, all about expressing how this man goes across the spectrum. He is jubilant, happy, accomplished, serious, focused-determined, downtrodden, sad, angry, kind of crazy, bewildered (watch out for those cars in that heavily edited walking-across-a-highway sequence!) and melancholy. The conflicts of the movie come from whether or not those he comes across will be good to him or not; it seems like, for the most part, everyone at least has some familiarity with him and at most they've even had relationships - in one woman's case, Shirley (a fantastic ten minutes for Janice Role), a former lover... on the side, as it were.

If it has any closer relation than Death of a Salesman, which may have been what was most comparable at the time for Lancaster, it's Mad Men: I could have see Don in a sort of dream episode like this, where everything from masculinity to ethical codes to psychology and how men treat women and objects and possessions comes into question. And Lancaster is the one here going through these emotions, to plumb the depths to get at what this man may be all about, to excellent effect. There are moments it feels like he could become, well, affected in his delivery but it doesn't happen; he's a passionate person and comes off as such in whatever he's talking about (and it may even come close to being uneasy, like a walk and talk with a much younger woman, an ex "babysitter"). If Lancaster doesn't work than neither does the movie, in large part. I'm glad he gets to deliver here and it's certainly one of his three or four major pieces of acting in a career full of wonderful roles.

If I don't quite love the movie as much as some out there - a flop on release initially it's gained a following over time (youtube Gilbert Gottfried and TCM, of all people, to see a good talk about the film) - it may be because certain little things make it awkwardly dated. When Ned is walking through the woods to go from place to place it's shot and edited to be fairly dream-like and hallucinatory, which may be fine thematically, but in how it looks today it's stuck in that 60's way of messing with lenses and filters and shots far off with actors speaking ADR that doesn't totally work for me. And there's a short scene at one of the houses where a young Joan Rivers pops up and it feels misdirected (and according to her she was).

These small misgivings aside, it is a film that is lucky to get its audience over the years. It's at times strange and borderline, darkly, comical, and then by the last half hour as things get grimmer and more oppressive (and that last several minutes when he does get 'home'), it has the feeling of some fable that's gone into the realm of tragedy. We may not understand fully what Ned's gone home to, but there's some intuition that failure is at the heart of it. And maybe the river will flow for someone else some other time...

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