Sunday, September 08, 2002


According to the calendar, fall should soon be upon us, but with our Internet "Weather Bug" telling me that it's 97 degrees out right now, summer seems to be in no hurry to leave. So watching this film, set on a hot summer afternoon in a wealthy Connecticut suburb, seemed in order. I'd seen this movie in bits and pieces over the years but never all of it until now. I was quite impressed and am still thinking it through. Burt Lancaster is a suburban advertising man, with wife and kids, who frivolously decides to swim home one summer afternoon through the pools of his neighbors. (Where he's been that morning and why he's wearing only swimming trunks in the first place is never brought up.) In doing so, he meets up with people he hasn't socialized with in a while and has to face up to unpleasant elements of his past (an abandoned mistress) and present (an unsavory crush on college girl who used to babysit for his kids). For a while, I thought this wasn't working; the narrative thread is rather weak, and many of the characters, especially Lancaster, talk at times in overblown dialogue that doesn't always quite come off. But eventually it begins to gel: it's really more a personal allegory than a totally realistic narrative. It turns out that Lancaster has a secret, from us if not from his neighbors, and the revelation at the end, though not totally out of the blue, is stunningly presented. It could be that the whole thing is happening mostly in Lancaster's mind; I haven't decided yet what I think about that.

Too much of the dialogue was obviously post-dubbed which gives the whole thing a weird distancing effect, like a dubbed foreign movie. But even when things got slow, Burt Lancaster in the prime of his life, in tight swim trunks, was enough eye candy to get me to stick with it. The cast is mostly unknowns and TV actors, with a brief but showy part by Janice Rule--apparently filmed several months after principal photography was completed. The production history of the movie was a rocky one, but unlike many troubled films, the off-screen problems don't affect the movie. Highly recommended if you have a high tolerance for allegory.

In the end, we discover that Lancaster has apparently lost his cushy job and house, and possibly his wife and kids as well. The neighbors he meets as he swims through the pools all seem to be aware that something bad happened to him in the past, and they're surprised to see him, but none act like there's anything wrong with his references to his house and his family, and the specifics of his loss or trauma are never made clear. All we know is that when he finally comes to his pool, the house is locked up and the grounds look like they haven't been cared for in quite a while. Stickler for narrative that I am, I am left wondering: Where was he just before the beginning of the movie? Did he lose his house and none of the neighbors knew? Or do they know and are humoring him? Why is he in swimming trunks? Or, does none of it work on a literal level? Has he lost both his lifestyle *and* his mind? Was he in an instituion? Is the whole thing a "rich white guy male menopause" episode? In some ways, all that stuff doesn't matter; the effect of the ending is strong and leaves an impact no matter how you choose to interpret the film.

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