“If you make believe hard enough, it’s true for you…”

When one scours the Burt Lancaster film library, like I did when I cinematically “fell” for the American titan after watching his requisite acclaimed performances in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) and his more fun ones, like the circus act (literally) escapade The Flame and the Arrow (1950), it’s nearly impossible to miss The Swimmer, made in 1968 when Burt was 55 years old.

He plays a suburban man who realizes one afternoon in the waning days of summer that his wealthy neighbors form a “river” of swimming pools that run all the way to his own home, and decides promptly that he is going to swim home.

What to make of this plot, I wonder?  How to take it seriously and give it a shot?

Lost in home video obscurity for 50-odd years, Grindhouse Releasing put out a very accessible and loaded DVD, and Blu Ray, packages.  The sterling transfer and immaculate special features, including a multiple-hour documentary on the making with a plethora of interviews, and even a 20-plus minute reading of the original short story by its author John Cheever, bring The Swimmer out of the darkness and into the eyes of a new generation.

It is a wonderful, sometimes harrowing, sometimes spiritual 90-minute masterpiece concerning the mental breakdown of a man used to his own success.

It is an ultimately unique film, as are most entries in my “Hidden Gems” catalog.

Burt spends the length of the film in skimpy dark blue trunks, even disrobing in front of nudist socialites to show the world his sculpted buttocks, and yet his assured acting remains completely on point.  This film and its seemingly bizarre plot never loses sight of its important showpieces: an unusual but intriguing plot, and an actor that inhabits every aspect of his craft demanded to make it believable.

"Here's to sugar on our strawberries..."

“Here’s to sugar on our strawberries…”

There is no actor like Lancaster.  Like Paul Newman (in fact the two were close friends and Newman even came to the set once), he is an Adonis-type, gifted with a timeless full head of hair, beautiful blue eyes, magnificent metabolism and an athlete’s body. At 55 for a man to star in a feature film wearing nothing but a bathing suit, running around with horses, nubile teens and standing nearly stark naked in front of an entire party of people and not generate laughs is a task that today’s major film companies wouldn’t take the time to risk.

Lancaster, along with the perfectionist husband-and-wife team of screenwriter Eleanor and director Fred Perry, craft a very believable film concerning one man’s fall from the heights of material splendor and his sojourn one afternoon where he begins, as we do based on each neighbor and friend’s startling and revealing banter, to realize how his life, and mind, have fallen down all around him.

-EB

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