Picture this, you are in prison, and that already sucks pretty hard, and you have this warden or prison guy in charge or whatever, and he is a complete nut case, real little man syndrome idiot. It sucks even worse. Then, get this, you do just some little infractions to wind up the asshole warden, not even big infractions like a murder or whatnot, but a pretty small one, and he sends you down the drain pipe! This is exactly what happens to poor Burt Lancaster and his buddies in Brute Force. It’s never really made that clear why they are digging in a drain pipe, but, given that everyone seems to die pretty quickly when they are down there, it doesn’t seem to be a very nice job at all. Anyway, Burt and his buddies don’t really like this one bit, understandable, and especially because they all seem like pretty stand up guys who don’t deserve to be in prison at all, they rather want to escape. They enlist the help of the prison doctor, who believes in all that ‘rehabilitation’ nonsense, he helps them all out a bit, as well as some of the nicest prison gangs you ever saw too, working for the prison newspaper, as if that is a thing. Then, at the end, spoilers alert, as the name suggests, they do a big riot, shoot the crap out of everything and generally prove that attempting to rehabilitate them would have been an awful idea because they are all clearly murder crazed lunatics.
The premise of the swimmer sounds like the sort of ridiculous idea you come up with when you are a little drunk and anything seems possible. Basically Burt Lancaster turns up in one of his friends swimming pools. No one has seen him for ages but his unannounced arrival seems as natural as anything. Whilst he looks out over the county he formulates a plan, to swim home via a string of pools in his neighbours gardens– rather ignoring the fact that in reality he’d be walking at least as far as he swam, and in all likelihood quite a way further. Even more to the point, he assumes his neighbours will even let him. It is not just a ridiculous premise, which, for the record, does involve a drink at almost every stage; it is something of a journey of self discovery. Because the county is full of typical, affluent American homes (and pools) it’s a sort of social commentary on the state of 1960s suburban living. It is good, and far more gripping than you’d imagine a film that is essentially a man swimming in a load of pools should be. What is more interesting though is that it got made at all. It is no indie weirdo flick, it has big name stars and a producer who made Shaft (in Africa) movies. It is tempting to put it down to sixties silliness but The Swimmer is about more than taking a zany concept and running with it, it actually has a salient and to some extent still valid point about, amongst other things, the slightly vacuous nature of what it is to be ‘successful’ and how that is measured by those around us, as well as a hefty dose of class commentary. The end of the film builds steadily and skilfully to a moment of realisation, were it slightly less obvious, to rival the classic Statue of Liberty scene in Planet of the Apes, all mediated through the rubric of swimming pool silliness. The film is worth checking out just to marvel at the obscurity of tackling pressing social issues in this way, but then perhaps it is precisely because those issues are so pressing that the film exists – it’s the only way The Swimmer makes sense.