May 6, 2018

"I'm a very special human being. Noble. And splendid."

Says Burt Lancaster to Joan Rivers in "The Swimmer."



The movie came out 50 years ago — in May 1968. I saw it at the time, when I was 17 and interested in figuring out what the adults viewed as high-class film art.

And I DVR'd it when I saw that it was on Turner Classic Movies this week, and Meade and I ended up watching it straight through last night.

We laughed at it a lot — the Marvin Hamlisch music, the nature photography, the endless observation of the torso of Lancaster, the taking seriously of a type of man no one today takes seriously — but we've been talking about it seriously for a long time this morning, and I took the trouble to read the 1964 John Cheever story and a contemporaneous Roger Ebert review:
As "the swimmer" has a drink with his friends, it occurs to him that a string of other backyard pools reaches all the way across the valley to his own home. Why not swim every one -- swim all the way home, as it were?....

The movement of the film is from morning to dusk, from sunshine to rain, from youth to age and from fantasy to truth. It would also appear that the swimmer's experiences are not meant to represent a single day, but a man's life.

What we really have here, then, is a sophisticated retelling of the oldest literary form of all: the epic. A hero sets off on a journey. He has many strange adventures along the way, during which he learns the tragic nature of life. At last he arrives at his goal, older and wiser and with many a tale to tell. The journey Cheever's swimmer makes has been made before in other times and lands by Ulysses, Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn and Augie March.
Joan Rivers has only a very small part, and this was her first acting role. She wrote in her autobiography:
"Frank [the director, Frank Perry] wanted a happy girl who then got hurt. Lancaster was going to be Mr. Wonderful who came up against a mean bitch, and was right not to go off with her. Trying to please both men, I was going back and forth between line readings, and nothing made sense."
That's quoted in Wikipedia, which also says:
After the film's restoration and re-release by Grindhouse Releasing in 2014, Brian Orndorf of Blu-ray.com gave the Blu-ray release five stars, commenting that "It's a strange picture, but engrossingly so, taking the viewer on a journey of self-delusion and nostalgia that gradually exposes a richly tortured main character as he attempts to immerse himself in a life that's no longer available to him", commenting that Lancaster gives a "deeply felt, gut-rot performance ... and communicates every emotional beat with perfection". Commenting on the same release, Ain't It Cool News reviewer Harry Knowles commented "This is also Burt Lancaster's journey to ... The Twilight Zone ... it is friggin brilliant! ... It is fascinating! Spectacular film!”

The aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 100%, based on 22 critic reviews.
Amazing really, because it seems just as likely that everyone could say it's a ludicrous, terrible mess. Where's the line between reality and fantasy? It's never revealed. You'll have to puzzle over it, and reading the original story won't hand you the answer.

I am still working on the theory that "the swimmer" was a sperm cell (or salmon swimming upstream to mate). Don't you think a sperm cell — if it could think — would think, "I'm a very special human being. Noble. And splendid"?

Back in the 60s, it was understood that literary fiction revealed the complexities of the mind of wealthy suburban males. We the theater audience spent 2 hours gazing at the near-naked and naked body of a 54-year-old man. Nowadays, Harvey Weinstein/Louis C.K. begs an audience of one to please look at him naked, and the theater audience is captivated by a swimmer who isn't a very special human being. He's not a human being at all.



Noble and splendid!

112 comments:

rhhardin said...

Intra-uterine fish ladders would help with fertility

rhhardin said...

Woody Allen Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex has a sperm saga.

rhhardin said...

I've found I bail out of pre-60s films owing to the line-delivery conventions of the time; and 60-70s films with broad gags. Broad is too broad these days.

Bay Area Guy said...

Hey, if Charlton Heston can run around with his shirt off in "Planet of the Apes" with his noble simian friends, so can the noble swimmer, Burt Lancaster.

Rory said...

If you want to see Lancaster from that era, watch him in "The Leopard."

Ann Althouse said...

"Most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. It is for this reason that we all have twice as many female ancestors as male (imagine that all the women who have ever lived have averaged one child. Now imagine that half the men who have ever lived have fathered two children, if they had any, while the other half fathered none). It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date. Human female choosiness is also why we are very different from the common ancestor we shared with our chimpanzee cousins, while the latter are very much the same. Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are. It is Nature as Woman who says, “Well, bucko, you’re good enough for a friend, but my experience of you so far has not indicated the suitability of your genetic material for continued propagation.”"

Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 40). Random House of Canada. Kindle Edition.

rhhardin said...

There's a formal verification test called "no odysseys," roughly that the system always eventually returns to a given state.

rhhardin said...

Harvey Weinstein did okay.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

I saw this movie many years ago on TV. I'm not sure why I watched it, probably because I had read the big John Cheever book of short-stories, but I recall being fascinated by it but not understanding exactly what it was all about. I wasn't aware that it was a "high class art film" but I did know it was an unusual film, after I watched it. I was 17 in 1978 and that's probably about when I saw it. It would be interesting to see it now that I am 58, doing CrossFit and trying to manage the decline, and probably having much more in common with the character than I did back then.

rhhardin said...

Life isn't easy for male pigeons either. Persistence is necessary.

"It's been a minute. Maybe she's changed her mind."

Bay Area Guy said...

Swimming in LA
Nobody swims in LA

The movie kinda reminds me of The Graduate, but for 40-year old mid-life crisis types.

tcrosse said...

It should have been Victor Mature.

rhhardin said...

The WSJ long ago (70s?) had an essay by a woman studying birds who stumbled onto a cheating cardinal who had nests all over, leaving the lady in each to feed the kids alone.

He went right back to his bachelor song each time and got another wife.

Written with mock disapproval.

Roughcoat said...

"the taking seriously of a type of man no one today takes seriously"

I don't understand this. What type of man is he? Is it the man or the character that no one takes seriously?

I saw the movie a long time ago. Didn't like it. It was one of those "bummer movies." The sort of story a college student at the time would write in a short story writing class. Pretentious and boring, obvious, pseudo-profound. Reminded me of "Seconds" in that regard.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

For people older than the boomers, there was this question how the comfortable life in the suburbs can be related to the great themes of literature and life. "Back in the 60s, it was understood that literary fiction revealed the complexities of the mind of wealthy suburban males." Several famous New Yorker writers come to mind. With Albert Brooks at his best, you get the question: do boomers even have any language, or any matching thoughts, that can put them in touch with intelligent, articulate presentations on the great themes of love, God, and death? Is there anything underneath the cliches and psycho-babble? Woody Allen (born 1935) too, I guess, although you soon get to: living in New York and falling in love with a younger person is the answer; what was the question? The whole idea that only non-human creatures can be noble leaves me cold.

Sebastian said...

"the theory that "the swimmer" was a sperm cell (or salmon swimming upstream to mate)"

You're not trying to reinvent evolutionary theory with a universal explanation of Man, are you?

Every epic starts with a mating call. It answers Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!”

We're swimming upstream to mate 24/7.

If Darwin and Lancaster and Peterson are right, what does this entail for the "feminist" notion that men and women are "equal"? Discuss.

tcrosse said...

I forget. Did The Swimmer have to deal with "shrinkage"?

buwaya said...

Re the sperm cells that are "noble and splendid" - well, obviously mine are, based on the results.

They do good work.

I used to carry the kids around on my shoulders everywhere. My wife would joke that I was advertising - "see, I do good work".

tcrosse said...

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Bay Area Guy said...

One good rule of thumb in life is that if you feel the need to tell a gal, in all seriousness, that you are "noble and splendid", well, then there's a good chance that you lack self-awareness and are probably just "goofy and delusional".

The 60s had some really stupid ideas wafting about.

the 4chan Guy who reads Althouse said...

This film is, like, 'Easy Rider' for affluent suburban dudes and shit. Except he doesn't get shot in the end. In the late Sixties and early Seventies the dudes had to get shot at the end to make it, like, true, because that shit happens, man.

The most epic of this was Robert Blake in 'Elektra Glide in Blue', where the fucking hippies shoot him off his bike and he's dying in the middle of the highway and the camera keeps pulling back until he disappears in the distance of, like, Monument Valley, it fucking rocks. Shit happens at 1:50 and shit.

Anyway, Burt Lancaster is a babe-magnet to all the chicks he comes across, like Peter Fonda is in 'Easy Rider', except Burt Lancaster is in swim trunks and Fonda is in that bad-ass leather jacket with the American Flag on the back. And, like, they are both finding out about America and themselves, except the old dude is really just in the suburbs.

It's like the two films are from two different eras, except 'The Swimmer' was in 1968 and 'Easy Rider' was made in 1969 so, like, they were only a year apart. But they both are about journeys, but Burt Lancaster was a lot older than Peter Fonda, so his journey was more of a dad-journey, like all mid-life crisis and shit, where Fonda was having a young dude's journey while wearing that bad-ass leather jacket with the American Flag on the back.

So, both are kinda about disillusionment and shit, except the old dude drinks while the young dude smokes pot, but they both kinda feel like the American Dream isn't really there anymore. But in those days the old dudes suffered on the inside, while the young dudes let that shit hang out, I think this was, like, symbolized in their haircuts and shit.

I post my shit here.

Levi Starks said...

I’ve watched it twice in the last few years. It is compelling, but I find it has more of a cruel nature to it than anything. A man who has almost miraculously maintained physical vigor seems to have lost everything else. He’s trapped in a past that refuses to release him. my 2 favorite sceneswere when he’s refused entry to the public pool on the grounds that he doesn’t have the very modest entry price, and is reduced to panhandling, and is then forced to participate in the ritualistic pre swim shower. Even though he’s been swimming all day by this point.
Also cruelly amusing was the scene where he bargains to buy back his pool cart that his wife sold at a garage sale, but he for some reason still seems to cherish.

Roughcoat said...

Althouse @8:12 AM:

Not sure Peterson's right about all that. The usual public intellectual babble. Clever and shallow. Thinking back, I've been turned down by women, but I've also turned down women. Doesn't mean anything anyway. Unimportant.

Bay Area Guy said...

Another option for 40-year old Valley Guy, Burt Lancaster would have been to simply drive west on Topanga Canyon Road to the beaches of Malibu, and then, you know, actually go swimming in the Ocean.

It's quite refreshing.

Roughcoat said...

4chan guy:

Good on you for thinking of Easy Rider. Same thing occurred to me. "Bummer movies."

William Chadwick said...

I saw the movie for the first time about a year ago on the Movies! channel and found it weirdly fascinating. The ending is bleak and raises a lot of questions about what we've just watched. Lancaster looked great; was great. Joan Rivers was charming, and knowing, in retrospect, "Hey, that's Joan Rivers!" makes her more fun to watch. I forget the name of the bikini-clad young actress who tagged along with Lancaster a while until he misread her intentions, but she was good, and showed the appeal of a bright, pretty younger woman.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are

Large-brained people are competitive, aggressive and domineering???? And because that's the sort of male females want?!?!? Sounds like this Peterson person has a perverted idea of what sort of male females tend to be attracted to.

ballyfager said...

"Shrinkage" evokes memories of Seinfeld (and swimming). There was another Seinfeld episode where John Cheever was at least tangentially part of the plot. Kind of surprising to find that in a sitcom.

If there were truth in labeling the show would have been called George Costanza, not Seinfeld.

Michael K said...

I never liked Lancaster. He always seemed too intense.

For a suburban male fantasy film, I liked "Lifeguard" with Sam Elliot. Every doctor friend loved that movie, which came out in 1978 and was a fantasy of an alternate life for high achieving men.

Sam Elliot refused to do any more "hunk" movies as the studio wanted him to be the next sex star. He has had a pretty good career in spite of his decision. I watch anything he does.

robother said...

Jordan Peterson's evolutionary speculations aside, "bucko" is the perfect nickname for Burt Lancaster.

gspencer said...

I saw the film title "The Swimmer" and thought it was a film bio of Ted Kennedy.

But then I saw the descriptors "Noble and splendid!" and knew it was about someone else.

Caldwell Titcomb IV said...

robother said...
Jordan Peterson's evolutionary speculations aside,


They're not his speculations; Darwin covered it in 1871, more completely and without the hysterical hyperbole. Chaos! LOL.

Michael K said...

I disagree with Peterson on this.

It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date.

That may be true of civilization but ancient DNA has a different message. The Indo Europeans, also know as "The Yamnaya People" invented the wheel, domesticated horses and were pastoralists. They invaded Europe from the Steppes, where they arose, and replaced the agrarians living there, probably by the Yamnaya males replacing the agrarian and Hunter Gather males.

haplogroups R1b and R1a "spread into Europe from the East after 3,000 BC."[28] Studies which analysed ancient human remains in Ireland and Portugal support that thesis, that R1b was introduced in these places along with autosomal DNA from the Eastern European steppes.

Almost all Irish, for example, have a Y chromosome related to Niall of the Nine Hostages. He was an Irish king around 300 AD.

"Dating" in those days resembled mass rape. That's where the Europeans, Iranians and northern Indians came from. Even the languages were replaced and are related, including Sanskrit.

tim in vermont said...

All I can think of when I hear John Cheever was when, in his novel, Falconer, that he talked about the surprising intimacy and tenderness of prison rape, and how I laughed out loud when Family Guy did, well, what Seth McFarland does when the subject of Cheever came up.

I must read similar stuff to Seth McFarland, because I was just reading a Louis L’Amour novel, “The Quick and the Dead” and there was a paragraph in there that was about how there were so many ways to die in the old west, “a hundred ways.” I always like finding the germ of on piece of art in another.

As a further digression on this same topic, I was watching As You Like It (Yes, I am retired) and there were a couple of lines when Orlando had defeated the wrestler, and the duke commands the defeated wrestler to answer, “He cannot speak sir!” Then the duke says: “Then bear him away!” And the title to the Flannery O’Conner story “The Silent Bear it Away” clicked, it had always bothered me what that meant, now I have to read it again.

madAsHell said...

Women’s proclivity to say no

It's May. Prom month. Forty-four years ago this month, I stole a kiss from my cheerleader prom date. I thought I was safe, when she leaned into the kiss, and didn't recoil in terror.

She stepped back, and said "That was nice". She paused for a moment, and let me run victory laps in my head.

Then she said...."Don't ever do that again".

She's divorced, and living alone in LA.

tim in vermont said...

Dating" in those days resembled mass rape. That's where the Europeans, Iranians and northern Indians came from. Even the languages were replaced and are related, including Sanskrit.


Right. I used to resist the idea that women weren’t in nearly absolute control of their womb for most of human history, and still I think they had a fair bit of control, but often women were the spoils that went to the victor. There was one study that showed that as agriculture was introduced, only one in seventeen males at the time successfully reproduced. Today, mostly, with the notable exception of the Muslim world, which is far more like The Handmaid’s Tale than anything in the west not involving Muslim immigration, it has come down to “men propose, women dispose” so that biases modern views on the subject.

I think that throughout human history, women are like lobsters and goats, they let the men fight it out, and go for the winners or the winners just take them. It’s not a huge difference in result.

tim in vermont said...

Inside are letters detailing an affair between Susan’s father and novelist John Cheever. Wikipedia summary of the Seinfeld episode “The Cheever Letters”

You mean “Prison rape is surprisingly tender and intimate” John Cheever?

tim in vermont said...

One of the problems with the differences in swipe right rates is that many men swipe right on every woman for strategic reasons, or just for the ego boost if they are attractive. Women who did that would be inundated with pointless messages.

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't understand this. What type of man is he? Is it the man or the character that no one takes seriously?"

I think in present-day America, it's considered stupid and boring to wonder about the angst and turmoil going on inside the head of an upper-middle-class suburbanite. Does anyone talk about a man's "mid-life crisis" anymore? I'm talking about these materially successful, well-educationed, northeastern elite types. They used to seem to be at the center of the culture for people who read literary fiction back in the 1960s. There were so many movies about men like this.

Caldwell Titcomb IV said...

Michael K said...
I disagree with Peterson on this.


Stop the presses!

Almost all Irish, for example, have a Y chromosome related to Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Your link clearly says otherwise.

Otto said...


1) Noble & splendid - low-level writing in order to achieve literary contrast to ignominious end state of protagonist.
2) When you are in mid-life crisis concerning your job and family financial security you do not dwell on your baby-sitter or past loves or projects. Take it from me your only concern is " where the hell am I going to get a job"
3)Movie shows Cheever's shallowness in not including protagonist"s wife and kids in the plot.

All in all a "shallow" story.

Ann Althouse said...

The other Burt Lancaster films I've seen:

From Here to Eternity
The Rose Tattoo
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Sweet Smell of Success
Elmer Gantry
Birdman of Alcatraz


Also "Field of Dreams" (but I wouldn't call that a "Burt Lancaster film"). Here's a clip of that... "We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days." I didn't realize that that was the only day."

Roughcoat said...

Michael K.:

The book I'm writing now on Bronze Age chariotry and chariot warfare per force deals intensively and exhaustively with Proto-Indo-European and early Indo-European culture, societies, and population movements. Specifically, the book is about Kikkuli. See the Wikipedia entry. But it's about a lot more than just that one man.

A friendly word of warning: be careful of your sources and what you quote re Indo-Europeans. It's a scholarly minefield. Scholars get in fistfights over it. See Bryant's book on the controversies involved. But even Bryant is dated. I'm writing the aforementioned book with one of the world's foremost Indo-European scholars and even he admits frustration in figuring it all out. See Michael Witzel's many essays on the subject. I've corresponded with him at length. Many of his essays are available free for downloading at the site for the Journal of Indo-European Studies (JIES).

Go to the the Wikipedia page for information about the Sintahsta Culture & chariot buriels, and about the "BMAC", a.k.a. Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.

Enjoy.

LordSomber said...

I always saw "The Swimmer" as Don Draper going off the deep end, so to speak.

Otto said...

" "We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening."
So true.
That's why i jokingly tell my friends " i am a calvinist looking back, but an arminian looking forward."

tcrosse said...

Ann Althouse said...
The other Burt Lancaster films I've seen:


May I suggest The Crimson Pirate ?

Roughcoat said...

Althouse @9:30 AM.

Thanks. Totally agree with your views on the subject. I was an English Lit major in the late 60s - early 70s and I had to read a lot of literature like this. I hated it all even then. "Hate" is not too strong of a word. I hated the "bummer ethos" of literature, movies, college that permeated so-called intellectual life. All the cool kids and academics were fashionably depressed. In time I grew to hate my English Literature major and everyone and everything involved with it. Very little about the "literary" literature of the time resembled or had any relevance to my experience. What a waste of time, energy, effort, and money. The Swimmer struck me even then as highfalutin' bullshit.

Ann Althouse said...

"and is then forced to participate in the ritualistic pre swim shower. Even though he’s been swimming all day by this point."

But his feet are filthy. And they're even bloody, which a shower won't help. He could have been justifiably excluded even after the shower.

Roughcoat said...

Favorite Burt Lancaster movie: "The Professionals." One of the best Westerns ever made. His movies with Nick Cravat, his circus trapeze partner, were delightful: "Crimson Pirate" and "The Flame and the Arrow."

Roughcoat said...

". . . northeastern elite types. They used to seem to be at the center of the culture for people who read literary fiction back in the 1960s."

Precisely. And they were at the center of English Lit academic culture too. What an awful time. Cheever was one of the worst of a bad lot.

Did you see "Seconds"? Same bullshit, same pretensions, same time frame. Ugh.

Ann Althouse said...

"Large-brained people are competitive, aggressive and domineering???? And because that's the sort of male females want?!?!? Sounds like this Peterson person has a perverted idea of what sort of male females tend to be attracted to."

And it obtusely refuses to see how "competitive, aggressive and domineering" men have gotten women pregnant over the course of human history. Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe he's saying because women will say no to almost all men, evolution has given men a rapist mentality. And either they can go on to be evolutionarily successful by raping or they can control themselves and sublimate their rapism by building buildings, etc., and maybe the women will find them good enough to voluntarily mate with.

There's also the complexity of women's taste in men after all of this rape, rapishness, and evolution. And the complexity of having offspring who survive to reproduce. An outright rapist who causes a pregnancy isn't leaving his child in a very good position to survive. There are methods of abortion and there is infanticide and neglect.

I think in evolution analysis (that amusing game) you have to assume that what we have is what was selected for. So if women are choosing "competitive, aggressive and domineering" (or whatever) it's because that's been a successful gene-survival strategy over the millennia.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm talking about these materially successful, well-educationed, northeastern elite types."

That's just a typo. I was not trying to push the coinage "well-educationed." But if my life depended on it, I can see how I would lie.

These universities today... they no longer educate students, the education students. There is a nuance of meaning, similar to the difference between "vacate" and "vacation" — "vacation" as a verb. We vacationed in Hawaii. We educationed those students.

Ann Althouse said...

"Thanks. Totally agree with your views on the subject. I was an English Lit major in the late 60s - early 70s and I had to read a lot of literature like this. I hated it all even then. "Hate" is not too strong of a word. I hated the "bummer ethos" of literature, movies, college that permeated so-called intellectual life. All the cool kids and academics were fashionably depressed. In time I grew to hate my English Literature major and everyone and everything involved with it. Very little about the "literary" literature of the time resembled or had any relevance to my experience. What a waste of time, energy, effort, and money. The Swimmer struck me even then as highfalutin' bullshit."

Thank you too.

All those brooding males. And, me, I married a writer.

Roughcoat said...

Honestly, I didn't see the typo. I read it as "well-educated."

Roughcoat said...

Me, I'm a writer ... and I married a fine arts major / graphic artist.

Coincidence? Or pattern?

Bay Area Guy said...

"I think in present-day America, it's considered stupid and boring to wonder about the angst and turmoil going on inside the head of an upper-middle-class suburbanite"

Exactly! And the cure for such suburbanite angst - the occasional good blow job - is not too hard to attain.

Tina Trent said...

This is the only short story Cheever wrote that makes the anthologies. At the time, he was such a mess that he became shorthand for "drunken mid-century novelists." Only, the rest of them weren't drunk. In fact, the better writers of the Sixties weren't messes: Updike and Bellow were competent, hyper-productive, sober human beings, but Cheever drank so much that people assumed all authors were still stereotypical Lost Generation-ish rogues like him.

Michael K said...

His movies with Nick Cravat, his circus trapeze partner, were delightful: "Crimson Pirate" and "The Flame and the Arrow."

Those were the only Lancaster movies I liked. "The Leopard" was pretty good, as I recall.

As for Indo Europeans, Reich's book, "Who We Are and How We Got Here" is pretty much my source. Greg Cochran's blog has a great summary of the book. The linguistics evidence has been known since Sir William Jones suggested it in 1786.

I was an English major in 1960 and enjoyed it thoroughly even though I was doing it to get a student loan for my pre-med classes. I even got an invitation for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. But I was already accepted to medical school.

We spent our time on classics and plays. And poetry. I don't think I ever took a class on modern fiction.

Michael K said...

Another point on male-female relationships. The Mestizos all have Spanish Y chromosome and Amerindian mitochondrial DNA. Not that it was all rape, maybe at first but the mating was probably voluntary after the initial encounters. Another example is Genghis Khan's Y Chromosome, which is present in 35% of many male populations of the middle east.

The Mongol policy of expansion after all involved wholesale slaughter of conquered male populations and outright rapes of the women. As Genghis Khan put it – “The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms."

Conan was right.

Unknown said...

"...the taking seriously of a type of man no one today takes seriously..."

Do you mean Lancaster's character, or Burt Lancaster himself?

William Chadwick said...

The actress whose name I forgot, who played the young woman ("Julie") in the movie was Janet Landgard. I think she did only a few movies besides "Swimmer."

Re Lancaster movies, one that I loved, and had a great impact on me, was "Gunfight at the OK Corral," which got me interested in frontier history. Walt Disney's Davy Crockett mini-series had already done a little of that, but the interest was more narrow: specifically on Crockett and the Alamo. "Gunfight" got me interested in the post-Civil War West: the Wild West of the lawman and outlaw. Both led to a broader interest in history. To me, despite Val Kilmer in "Tombstone," Kirk Douglas will always be THE Doc Holliday . . . even if he didn't do a Southern accent.

And speaking of Nick Cravat, Baby Boomers will also remember him from Disney's "Davy Crockett at the Alamo." He played Busted Luck, an ill-fated Comanche who accompanies Davy to the Alamo. His death in the final battle is especially poignant.

Michael K said...

Tombstone, the town, uses the "Tombstone" movie in their marketing. In August they have a couple of the actors, including Val Kilmer, there for a big celebration. August is too hot, even if Tombstone is at 5,000 feet, so we visited a couple weeks ago with a bunch of kids.

Some of the movie was shot on a friend's ranch south of Tucson. The actors lived at the ranch while shooting.

David said...

An excellent short story. Cheever is completely out of fashion. Too bad.

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger Michael K said...
Tombstone, the town, uses the "Tombstone" movie in their marketing. In August they have a couple of the actors, including Val Kilmer, there for a big celebration...

Kilmer was incredible in Tombstone. It was Kilmer and 'a couple of other actors' who made
Tombstone. Damn shame he wasn't even nominated for Oscar.
He and Michael Biehn played the most electrifying scene in a Western, ever.

Michael K said...

Kilmer was incredible in Tombstone. It was Kilmer and 'a couple of other actors' who made
Tombstone.


I am not a movie goer much but I wonder what has happened to Kilmer. He seems to have had a brief career,

Roughcoat said...

"I'm your huckleberry."

"Then ... you're a daisy."

Kilmer has been very ill. Throat cancer, I think.

Fandor said...

Recommended Burt
Lancaster films:
7 Days In May
The Train
The Professionals
The Gypsy Moths
Valdez Is Coming
Atlantic City

I agree with Roger Ebert about THE SWIMMER. It's an oddessy, a metaphor for a man who was once a "champion" a "master of the universe", a "very special human being. Noble. And splendid".
Burt Lancaster was all those things and coveyed it in this role.
He was "Everyman".
This film, about fallen heroes in a time of fallen heroes, the hippie/counter culture 60s, was a departure from the reverence in which we held men of respect, stature and accomplishment.
It was the beginning of the cancer that has spread through every aspect of our society.
What our current society does to our traditions and myths is condemn, ridicule and declare everyone was racist or just plain ignorant.
Tragic themes were prevalent during the late 60s early 70s. Most were all about endings. The West. The United States. Honor. Integrity. Tradition. Patriotism. Marriage. Belief in God. Right and wrong. And on an on it went.
Other fiims of the era taking up these themes were,
The Wild Bunch
The Happy Ending
Medium Cool
The Arrangement
The Damned
Oh! What A Lovely War
Satyricon
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Burn!
The Illustrated Man
The Learning Tree

There are others, these just come to mind.
Burt Lancaster was always bold in the roles he chose for himself
It didn't always work out.
I think The Swimmer did!

rcocean said...

From Here to Eternity
The Rose Tattoo
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Sweet Smell of Success
Elmer Gantry
Birdman of Alcatraz


I liked Eternity and Sweet Smell of Success. The others I'm not too crazy about.

Like others I liked "The Professionals" "Crimson Pirate" "the Killers" and "Run Silent, Run Deep". I'm not a big fan of "Serious Dramatic Burt".

Its nice he wanted to be more than a Hollywood leading man, but he really wasn't that good of an actor - he was a star.

Gk1 said...

Wasn't the late 60's full of a lot of "bummer" movies like this? The Omega man, Soylent green, Planet of the Apes and the Swimmer. I saw this movie on a late night movie channel after college and thought it unintentionally funny in a few parts. I shrugged and thought maybe I was too unsophisticated to understand this allegorical tale. As I got older I think its just the problem with trying to adapt short stories into an entire movie.

Saint Croix said...

Don't you think a sperm cell — if it could think — would think, "I'm a very special human being. Noble. And splendid"?

Only if he was Burt Reynolds.

Woody Allen, not so much

Robert Cook said...

Burt Lancaster is in a wonderful, too-little-known film called LOCAL HERO. I LOVE that movie! It may have been his last film...it was certainly among his last.

Yancey Ward said...

I searched the thread- Fandor mentioned the movie I was going to recommend- Atlantic City. It was arguably the first art-house film I ever went to a theater to see all on my own- I was 13, I think late 1979 or early 1980. I hadn't remembered much about the film, but saw it for the second time in the late 90s on cable. A great film, in my opinion.

Robert Cook said...

"The Omega man, Soylent green, Planet of the Apes and the Swimmer."

All based on literary works: The Omega Man was based on the superior novel "I Am Legend," by Richard Matheson; Soylent Green was based on "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison; The Planet of the Apes was based on "The Planet of the Apes," by Pierre Bouelle; and The Swimmer, of course, on Cheever's short story. All the others were novels.

LarsPorsena said...

@Fandor

"...illustrated Man..."


Can't help but think of that movie every time I go to the gym for a workout.
Most of the men (and many of the women) are heavily 'illustrated'.

Yancey Ward said...

Robert Cook,

That was a film that played a lot on HBO/Cinemax/Showtime/TMC during the early to mid 80s. A pretty good movie.

It was early 80s- Lancaster continued to work until a couple of years before his death in 1994. His last big screen appearance was in Field of Dreams in 1989.

Fandor said...

LarsPorsena...you said it, brother.
YUCK!

Teller said...

The Killers, Brute Force, Sweet Smell and, of course:

El Segundo: You ever hunt buffalo?

Bob Valdez: Apache.

El Segundo: I knew it. When?

Bob Valdez: Before I know better.

LarsPorsena said...


@Roughcoat

"The book I'm writing now on Bronze Age chariotry and chariot warfare per force deals intensively and exhaustively with Proto-Indo-European and early Indo-European culture, .."


Seems to me that "I am splendid and noble" would be a fine inscription on the tomb
of a Bronze Age warrior.

Roughcoat said...

Michael K:

I'm getting (not garnering, LOL!) a reputation as an authority on Indo-European warfare, but on a very narrow axis of inquiry, i.e. chariotry and chariot warfare and associated subjects (e.g., dueling in the space between armies, etc.). But I am a babe in the woods when it comes to Indo-European linguistics. That's the sphere of my co-author and partner, who is an expert in the field. Trouble is -- and be warned accordingly -- anything you read today on IE linguistics is apt to be modified or even overturned tomorrow. DNA studies are in large measure responsible for the fast pace of change, especially insofar as what they reveal about migration patterns. It's crazy. But fascinating.

tcrosse said...

Burt Lancaster is in a wonderful, too-little-known film called LOCAL HERO

Local Hero, a film that was world-famous in Scotland, introduced Peter Capaldi, whose career has done well since.

Roughcoat said...

LarsPorsena:

Indeed it would! And it would not be regarded as boasting by the ethos of the time, merely a statement of truth. "No brag, just fact."

Richmond Lattimore writes brilliantly on this topic in his introduction to his translation of The Iliad.

rcocean said...

The Swimmer - i didn't read the story - but in the movie Ned starts out thinking its 2 years earlier than it is, and he doesn't finally realize it till the end. I thought the movie highlighted Burt's lack of acting skills. But he did look great for a 54 year old guy.

And you're right, the music is awful, and there's a goofy scene - that'll never forget where he starts jumping over fences like a racehorse with his imaginary daughter.

I suppose the film was another one of the 60s movies that was to make us think people in suburbia led empty lives of "quiet desperation" and spent all their time getting drunk, obsessing money, and having affairs.

rcocean said...

IRC, Joan Rivers was at the party of nouve-riche types who fight with Burt over a Hot dog wagon.

LarsPorsena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

“And you're right, the music is awful, and there's a goofy scene - that'll never forget where he starts jumping over fences like a racehorse with his imaginary daughter.”

Yeah, that’s so awful. The slo-mo exaggerates the man boobs in a way I find quite comical.

There’s also an earlier scene where Burt runs alongside a real horse and afterwards the horse sort of bows to him, acknowledging his worthiness.

The music is part of what makes it so silly..

Leora said...

Recently read a fine book of short stories called "White Men's Problems" by Kevin Morris. He said the title came from his rejection letters which may explain why there aren't too many current day Cheevers and Updikes out there.

Beldar said...

I got bored after the scenes with the (former) babysitter, frankly. And the ending is just dreadful. The movie's only interesting to me as a data-point for how Hollywood viewed suburbia, extra-marital sex, and skirmishes at the margins between working and upper classes as of May 1968. (Although I think the society being pictured is actually closer to something like 1958. This movie isn't America the way it was in the summer of 1968, but a far less jaded America.)

"Falling Down" — done by son Michael in 1993 — does the 20th C male odyssey theme too, but better in almost every respect.

Darrell said...

I'm surprised that nobody mentioned The Train (1964.) Or do you call it John Frankenheimer's The Train--the title Frankerheimer wrestled when Lancaster got Arthur Penn fired and the budget doubled.

TWW said...

The most amazing thing about "The Swimmer" is how spot-on Burt Lancaster played Ted Kennedy...before the fact.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Burt Lancaster was a bit of a lefty in his private life. Did anyone see Twilight's Last Gleaming? They made it in Germany, I guess they couldn't have made it here. Kind of a smaller-than-life, Der Spiegel take on Fail-Safe/Dr Strangelove.

Burt Lancaster really, really needs you to hear the truth! Nowadays he could just open a YouTube channel, and get paid for clicks till they demonetize him. No need to stab up a poor young missileman and pretend to take his eye out. O suppose IRL the outside people are duty bound to refuse this gambit and accept listening to hostages being dismembered and so forth AQ/MB/Daesh style.

Freeman Hunt said...

And, me, I married a writer.

The writer I married enjoyed a big laugh from this clip. Might have to watch the whole thing for more.

Kirk Parker said...

gspencer,

I thought the same thing, except without the very clever 2nd paragraph.

Fandor said...

BAD LIEUTENANT...for sure, Burt Lancaster "was a bit of a lefty". But, that was ok because he was still an American and entitled to his point of view. He didn't advocate the overthrow of the CONSTITUTION or the BILL of RIGHTS. He was a patriot who believed we could make things better for all Americans.
I, for one, was not in agreement with all of his views, but I did enjoy him as an actor and filmmaker.
It is a tragedy today that people can be destroyed because they do not hold the "proper politically correct views".
We see this in the MSM everyday.
Pathetic, isn't it!
When Lancaster spoke out, he put his livelyhood on the line and that took a certain kind of courage, wouldn't you agree?
Poor choices like THE TWILIGHTS LAST GLEAMING and EXECUTIVE ACTION were bad box office and hurt Burt's pocketbook. When he made movies like AIRPORT he took the profits to the bank. But he was willing to put his reputation on the line for projects he believed in. He didn't have a LEFT WING HOLLYWOOD in lock step to watch his back like the nickel rockets of today have.
He was a man of conviction, right or wrong in that, but an American through and through.
I never heard him say he would leave the country if "such and such" was elected president. Did you?
No, he did not, because he believed in our CONSTITUION.
Burt Lancaster was a man from our so called GREATEST GENERATION and lived through some of our worst and best times.
Like so many others, he experienced the promise and potential of what the United States could be.
For what it's worth, give me the pragmatists, optimists, visionaries and dreamers of the 30s, 40s and 50s, because they believed in what our founding fathers discovered what was the last best hope for humankind.
I celebate a country where we can hold different views so long as the CONSTITUTION of the UNTED STATES reigns supreme over our country.
Whoops, I got off subject, talking about THE SWIMMER and BURT LANCASTER and good and bad films from the 60s, John Cheever and "I'm a very special human being. Noble. And Splendid."
Sue me!

Fandor said...

Oddly enough, Ann, I was engaged in a conversation two weeks ago with a friend who is a film critic about THE SWIMMER, Burt Lancaster and films from the late 60s and it was not as lively or insightful as the one on your blog. And I am talking about a fellow who knows his stuff. Your chance viewing and blogging made my day. Thank you!

Michael K said...

He didn't have a LEFT WING HOLLYWOOD in lock step to watch his back like the nickel rockets of today have.

Are you sure ? Have you read, "Red Star Over Hollywood?" and

"Hollywood Party?"

Lancaster was not Dalton Trumbo but he was with friends.

Michael K said...

DNA studies are in large measure responsible for the fast pace of change, especially insofar as what they reveal about migration patterns. It's crazy. But fascinating.

Yes but it is amazing that Sir William Jones got it right all those years ago.

Men (few women) were very well educated in those days. LaVoisier's wife was a well educated woman. She married him when she was 13 and became his collaborator in his work., After he was Guillotined, she collected his writings and spent the rest of her life defending his reputation. She eventually got all his papers returned.

William said...

What part does a woman's orgasm play in the generative process? Remember that scene in From Here to Eternity. My guess is that Burt Lancaster had a better chance of impregnating Deborah Kerr than the character who played her husband.......If the orgasm to pregnancy link can be established, this would mean that the woman has some control in choosing the father even in group sex situations. This is all speculative on my part. I wonder what are Stormy Daniels' views on the subject.

Fandor said...

Michael K...true, there was infiltration, but the predominate "ruling class" of the studio era was right of center. Remember, two of the biggest stars in Hollywood at that time was JOHN WAYNE (#1 Box-office) and BOB HOPE, who was always on television, NBC, in fact, and usually the host of the annual Academy Awards shows in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Merv Griffin was a force to be reckoned with on the television airwaves and VERY influencial in Hollywoodland. Lefties were the minority in those days, but all was fairly civil until the new generation took full charge.
Yes, I am aware of the various left leaning actors, producers, writers and directors in Hollywood that go back to the 30s. Still, the ones who ran the studos, like Louis B. Mayer and the rest were Republicans who knew how to smooze with FDRs New Dealers to keep the peace and the Hays Office in check. In those years, the Golden Age of Hollywood, they took a paternal interest in their actor employees to keep them a "red, white and blue" as possible even when they felt like 'expressing themselves" for the sake of some "peoples utopia".
But, the bottom line is always profit in any business.
Hollywood is about business. You don't make money, your out.
Look a Mel Gibson. He is or was a right wing guy. While he was making money, he could do no wrong in left wing Hollywood.
Once he made a misstep, the movies failed at the box office, he was toast.
Clint Eastwood, probably the last of the Republicans in Hollywood, once he has a losing streak, watch how fast left wing Hollywood will excoriate him.
Hollywoodland is the most schizophrenic capitalist enterprise on the face of the earth.

Ken B said...

I confess I don’t get what Althouse means by the kind of man no-one takes seriously anymore.

Ken B said...

Young Diana Muldaur. Might be worth watching...

Michael K said...

Fando, most of what you say I agree with. Still Trumbo and some of the others were pretty influential in the 30s and 40s.

The writers, in particular, were lefties. The story of Lilian Hellman and Dashiel Hammett with "Watch on the Rhine" was an example.

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union there was pandemonium among the writers. They had to do a 180 on a dime. Henry Kissinger later said that was the "tell" for communists.

Ken B said...

Michael K
Hammett is one of my favorite writers, and the best example of why you should never learn about artists you admire. He was one of the worst. At one point he gave speeches against lend-lease, until Hitler invaded a Russia. (Hellman was even worse.)

Ken B said...

Tcrosse: I applaud the elegance of your Victor Mature zinger. Bravo.

Ken B said...

Althouse as ever evinces her lack of understanding of evolutionary theory. (Did she ever use evince?) It's always comical to observe sexual selection favored bigger males and to be asked if you think women only screw tall men, yet that is the level of her remarks on this topic, and has been for years.

It's worth googling “sneaky fuckers” btw.

Ken B said...

I think Lancaster is at his best in these
Brute Force
The Killers
The sweet smell of success
Elmer Gantry
Birdman of Alcatraz
Valdez is Coming

He was often very good indeed, but sometimes he’s over the limit. He's close to the line in Gantry and some won’t like him. I don’t like him in Five Days in May, an otherwise fun bit of loopiness.

Ken B said...

Talk about timing. A new study on differential reproduction in early humans.

https://psmag.com/environment/17-to-1-reproductive-success


Just when I was mocking Althouse on this very point.

Michael K said...

Hammett is one of my favorite writers,

Mine, too. I was in a small hotel in San Francisco about ten years ago and looked out the window.

Across the street was the place where Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, was killed by the Mary Astor character.

He was a good historian of San Francisco. Just as Raymond Chandler was a good historian of Los Angeles in the 30s.

William Chadwick said...

Ken B.: Young Diana Muldaur . . . mmmm
. . . middle-aged Diana Muldaur was pretty good, too. I first saw her in a movie called "The Lawyer" (which years later became the basis of a TV series "Petrocelli") and fell in love. Never entirely got over it.




Mr. Forward said...

This would be a better movie if they made it in the Dells.

Robert Cook said...

"Where's the line between reality and fantasy? It's never revealed. You'll have to puzzle over it, and reading the original story won't hand you the answer."

Why should that be made apparent?

I was 12 when the movie was released, and I remember seeing the trailer for it at the movies. It struck me as a weird idea for a story, and I couldn't figure out what the movie might actually be about or what story it would tell. I never have seen it, but now I'm intrigued enough to want to seek it out.

Char Char Binks said...

I read a book of Cheever stories once, or got about halfway through it. It was a waste of time, but at least I didn't waste as much time as he did writing them.

Truthavenger said...

I have both read the story and seen the movie, and enjoyed them both. Both are slightly surrealistic and cannot be judged with normal plot and character tools.

Lancaster wears only swimming trunks throughout the entire film, which must have been a trial during shooting. Nevertheless, he looks terrific at 54 years old, wearing only trunks.

The ending I think is effective, showing the emptiness of the swimmer's life at the end.