The Swimmer (1968)
The big buzz this fall is all about American Beauty, the blackly comic tale of anomie in the affluent American suburbs. But decades ago, a master of the short story, John Cheever, was adeptly exposing the rot beneath all the picture-perfect green lawns of Connecticut and New York's Westchester County. In 1968, director Frank Perry brought one of Cheever's most compelling tales of the failure of the American dream to the screen in The Swimmer. It's the story of a successful suburbanite who spends one hot summer afternoon literally swimming his way home through the pools of his equally high-achieving neighbors, with each pool evoking past events in his life. Now, what middle-aged actor in 1968 (or in 1999, for that matter) would have the nerve to spend 90 minutes on screen clad mostly in swim trunks? Frank Perry was lucky, because he got Burt Lancaster, who in his mid-50s still had the powerful body of the circus acrobat he had been years ago. Supporting Lancaster were Kim Hunter, Marge Champion, Janice Rule, and a number of lesser-known male and female performers. For real shock value, a young Joan Rivers even makes an appearance. But rent The Swimmer anyway.