All in the Family

The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Frank Perry and Sydney Pollack's relatively unloved The Swimmer (1968) is one of the oddest Hollywood films ever made: nakedly existentialist, Kafkaesque in its structural metaphor, Beckettian in its deadened rhythms. Expanding upon but remaining faithful to John Cheever's brief, dry-eyed suburban wail, the film maintains a first-person association with Burt Lancaster's disoriented Westchester family man as he swims his way home through his uncongenial (and often outright wary) neighbors' pools, a journey during which summer turns to autumn, and suburban belonging becomes lonesome madness. The movie was derided in 1968 as pretentious and faux-solemn, but time has revealed it to be a compelling bizarrerie that seems altogether courageous, visually potent (Lancaster's dwindling man loping half-naked through the forest and across highways), and chilling. As semi-subconscious fables of modern masculine displacement go, it rivals Frankenheimer's Seconds.

For better or worse, my own suburban boyhood was lavishly informed by untold submersions in Sergio Leone's big, fat, helpfully programmatic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967), something of a favorite among local broadcasters. The ogre king of spaghetti westerns and an absurdly hyperbolic vision of American greed (however curiously Italian) at play in the carrion-strewn fields of the Civil War, Leone's epic solidified Clint Eastwood's international box office lock and set a new ceiling for mock iconicity and Morricone soundtrack hysteria.

Long Island unsound: from a Friedman home movie
photo: Magnolia Pictures
Long Island unsound: from a Friedman home movie


Capturing the Friedmans
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Opens May 30, at the Angelika and Loews Lincoln Square

Suburban Nightmares
May 28 through June 10, at the Pioneer

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone & Age & Scarpelli & Luciano Vincenzoni
May 30 through June 12, at Film Forum

It was also, for years, hamburger ground by TV-print editors. Film Forum is uncaging the full, nearly three-hour version of this desert beast for the first time in English—for the new-to-us 15 minutes of footage, MGM got Eastwood and slavering overactor Eli Wallach into the studio to dub over their dialogue's original Italian dubbings. (A voice-over vet had to be called in to mimic the late Lee Van Cleef.) The restored sections are, for the most part, extensions of existing set pieces (Wallach torturing a dehydrated Eastwood in the desert, the motley duo wiring the bridge with dynamite, etc.) and a few linking scenes. All told, and in giant widescreen, it's only blood-red adolescent fun, but it blooms like Douglas Sirk with a Gatling gun compared to the teenage demographic's current fare. Matrix, schmatrix: This is the season's supreme party movie.

Related Article:
"Complex Persecution: A Long Island Family's Nightmare Struggle With Porn, Pedophilia, and Public Hysteria" by Debbie Nathan

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