Tag Archives: Frank Perry

The Swimmer (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.

On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.

The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.

Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.

Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.

This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hello Again (1987)

hello again 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her life after death.

Lucy (Shelley Long) is married to Jason (Corbin Bernsen) a well-off plastic surgeon, but finds that she doesn’t fit in with his snobby clientele and feels out-of-place whenever she tries to hang out with them at dinner parties. She turns to her wacky friend Zelda (Judith Ivey) who dabbles in the occult, but her spells and magic do little until Lucy chokes on a meatball and Zelda is able to magically bring her back to life one year later. Now Lucy finds a new lease on things. Jason has gotten remarried to her former friend Kim (Sela Ward) and she uses this news find a new love of her own and she’ll have to do it quickly because if she doesn’t find true love by the next full moon she’ll go right back to being dead again.

This is the second collaboration between director Frank Perry and writer Susan Isaacs and while their first effort Compromising Positions was just barely passable this one doesn’t even make it to that level. The script is unable to settle on any type of genre as it dabbles in drama, romance, comedy, social satire and fantasy, but ends up being only shallow nonsense in the end. A few of the tangents that it takes has potential to be interesting, but then it doesn’t go far enough with it. The comedy is light and inconsistent with the funniest moment being the one that was shown in its trailer where Lucy comes back to life and finds her shocked husband and friend in bed together and after that there’s very little else that’s even mildly amusing.

The fantasy elements are poorly thought out and leave a lot of unanswered questions. The climactic showdown between Lucy and Kim is flat and the caricatures of the rich and snobby crowd are clichéd to the extreme. I also didn’t find the scene where she chokes on a meat ball to be a laughing matter as according to government statistics over 3,000 people in this country choke to death each year and if they really wanted to create some sort of goofy death it should’ve been something much more over-the-top.

Long isn’t leady lady material. Her image is so ingrained with the uppity and prim Diane Chambers persona from ‘Cheers’ that having her portray someone who is kind and humble comes off as insincere and phony and her attempts at being a comical klutz is annoying and completely unfunny.

This was Perry’s final directorial effort. He burst onto the film scene in the ‘60s and showed flashes of brilliance and new age vision, but his career declined markedly once he divorced from his screenwriter wife Eleanor and the stuff he did afterwards was barely even worth a look. He eventually was diagnosed with cancer and spent the last years of his life battling the disease and in 1995 even made a documentary about his fight called On the Bridge, which was far more compelling than this tripe.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Compromising Positions (1985)

compromising positions

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who murdered the dentist?

Bruce Fleckstein (Joe Mantegna) is a successful dentist who puts new meaning to the term ‘bedside manner’ as he flirts with all of his female patients and has affairs with many of them. When he turns up murdered it becomes a question of which of the many suspects did it, which intrigues housewife Judith (Susan Sarandon) and propels her to start her own independent investigation much to the consternation of her husband Bob (Edward Herrmann) who thinks it’s too dangerous. As the clues accumulate so do the advances of police detective David (Raul Julia) that she is working with, which quickly puts her marriage into jeopardy.

The film was produced and directed by Frank Perry who made many influential films during the 60’s and 70’s with his screenwriter wife Eleanor, but after their divorce the quality of his films diminished considerably. The last two that he made were in collaboration with Susan Isaacs with this one based on her novel of the same name. To an extent it works as the mystery angle is realistic enough to be interesting and the dark humor keeps it mildly entertaining.

Sarandon’s presence helps a lot and without her it wouldn’t have worked. Julia plays against type and it’s fun seeing him in more of a subdued type of role. The real scene stealer though is Judith Ivey who has some funny sarcastic lines and should’ve been seen more.

I also really liked how Sarandon’s character remains faithful to her husband despite her conflicts with him and the many advances that she gets from the police detective. Too many Hollywood pictures give the impression that marriage should be one long blissful union and the minute one partner isn’t completely receptive to the needs of the other then that entitles the other to cheat on them. Herrmann’s character is a borderline jerk, but he has legitimate reasons for why he feels the way he does and the movie refreshingly even gives him a moment to vent and explain them. I also thought that Julia’s character comes onto Sarandon much too quickly and the way he barrages into her bedroom while making aggressive advances seemed almost creepy.

The story does have a dated quality. Fleckstein is found to be distributing and printing porn, the kind with consenting adults and not kids, which the film portrays as being a ‘shocking revelation’ even though these days with the proliferation of it all over the net it is nothing but an afterthought to most. I also thought the idea that this guy would have BDSM sex with a lot of married women and even take explicit pictures of them, but still turn around and throw them some lines that he ‘loved’ them and they would all fall for it was ridiculous and unfairly portrayed women as being too easily manipulated and unsophisticated.

The resolution is limp and the film lacks anything that would help make it distinctive or memorable. The humor gets lost by the second half and the Ivey character should’ve been given more screen time and possibly even used as Sarandon’s investigative partner as her caustic take on things are the best thing about it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Play It As It Lays (1972)

play it as it lays 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her life is empty.

If there ever was a title that aptly described its picture it’s this one as this thing truly does just lay there like a dead body. It’s another one of those stories about a beautiful actress/model (Tuesday Weld) who has fame, fortune, and looks and yet still feels empty. She is a part of the ‘been there, done that’ crowd that now wonders what there is left to do and the plot gets told in a fragmented narrative that at first seems diverting, but eventually goes nowhere.

It was made in an era where if the message wasn’t sad and depressing then it wasn’t ‘important’. The filmmakers have already made up their minds that life is depressing and meaningless and then proceed to beat the viewer over the head with it in each and every scene. Supposedly then the audience is to walk away thanking them for the beating.

The characters represent everything that is irritating about the Hollywood crowd. They are self- absorbed and self-loathing. They fail to put meaning into their lives and yet somehow life has failed them if meaning doesn’t just come up and punch them in the nose. Whine and moan, take a drug hit, whine and moan, go to bed with a stranger, and whine and moan some more.

It’s hard to become attached to those who are so detached from themselves and even harder to like those who can’t stand themselves. Eventually you just give up, especially when the film works on the same spiritless level as the characters. You begin to just laugh at it since every despondent look and quasi philosophical discussion soon becomes redundant making this drama more like high cliché.

Weld and Antony Perkins teamed up earlier in Pretty Poison which has a much more original storyline and interesting characters and you should watch that one instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time