Film Screening: “The Swimmer” 5/25

On Friday, May 25, at 2 p.m. in the second-floor auditorium, we will present a free screening of The Swimmer, producer Sam Spiegel’s 1968 film adaptation of the 1964 John Cheever short story about a man who one afternoon decides to “swim home” through the pools of his wealthy friends.

Burt Lancaster portrays aging suburbanite Ned (“Neddy”) Merrill, which was quite a change of character for the actor who won an Academy Award for Elmer Gantry (1960) and was renowned for such classics as From Here to Eternity (1953), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Atlantic City (1980). Yet Lancaster had a liking for offbeat films (he took swimming lessons for this one), and the late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert called The Swimmer “Lancaster’s finest performance.  He was superb.”

Merrill’s romantic and confrontational poolside encounters are the gist of the film, and the supporting cast includes Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Marge Champion, Kim Hunter, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Charles Drake and—in her first film—Joan Rivers.  Another first was the score from Marvin Hamlisch, who had impressed Spiegel after playing the piano at his parties.  Eleanor Perry was among the first women to write screenplays, and she teamed in The Swimmer with director and then-husband Frank Perry. The Swimmer became a cult classic years after its release.

As a lead-in, Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is the subject of White Plains librarian Barbara Wenglin’s short-story discussion on Thursday, May 24, at 2 p.m. in the auditorium. The story is collected in the series anthology, Shaken & Stirred: Intoxicating Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell (Everyman’s Pocket Classics, c/2016), which is available for borrowing.

There will be a further discussion after the screening. “Like many adaptations from books and short stories, the film took license, is not literal and includes some interesting artistic changes,” says Wenglin.

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