The Swimmer (1968)

On TCM recently they showed a movie version of one of best John Cheever Short Stories “The Swimmer“. I had heard about a film version while I was in college and first read the story. Now I was interested in seeing the movie to see how they could adapt a story with so many open ended questions.

The Swimmer is the story of man, Neddy Merrill, who notices the swimming pools in his neighbors backyard connect to form a makeshift river that runs all the way to his house. He names the river Lucinda, after his wife, and starts on his quest back home. Some scholars like George Hunt have called the story John Cheever’s Odyssey a surrealistic epic of a man condemned to wandering and eager to return home. However it seems like every great story about a journey home is undoubtedly linked to The Odyssey, when you could name a good handful of stories that can be linked to it as well.

The movie version, like most adaptation to film changes the story a bit and changes the focus. Limiting the homes he visits and expanding some conversations were done to make it flow better as in the story he visits fifteen pools and in the movie version it’s like five and they shuffle them around from the story. There is also a more explicit talk about the financial troubles that Neddy has faced and they add a babysitter for some reason who Neddy runs into and who then tags along for a couple of pool. Yet the strangest addition is the whole horse segment of the movie, Ned and the babysitter stumble across a horse jumping ring and they decide to go in the ring and jump around. A cool thing about the movie is that Joan Rivers appears, it is definitely a movie of its time and it is doubtful that Hollywood would try to make this into a move today.

All in all this movie was considered a flop when it came out in 1968, and many have said that Burt Lancaster‘s portrayal of Neddy Merrill is his finest work. I have only seen two other film with Burt Lancaster so this might be true. It was unique to see how the decided to put the story on film, but I think that this movie would have been more enjoyable if I were like most of the characters and nursing a hangover and\or drinking along with them. The short story is by and large the better of the two, but take a chance with both.


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