The Swimmer
Dir: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack
The British are fundamentally different from the Americans.
Whereas the Americans dream from early age of being rich, of driving a Ferrari, of owning a yacht, of playing professional football (the one with the rugby ball), of walking on the moon, or taking political office, the British have no such dreams.

In the old days, we were mostly peasants, who were just grateful when the lord of the manor threw us a mouldy loaf and a fish-head, as long as there was some decent beer to wash it down.

Then companies took over. So we moved into dark little offices, where we worked sixty years until either we dropped dead or were given a retirement clock.

Now, when all else fails, the government will give us a monthly payment, just enough to pay our television license and buy a loaf (that will never, ever go mouldy because it's got so many chemicals in it), a fish-head (though now it'll probably be in a exotic oriental sauce), and some beer that will now be organically microbrewed.
If we get ill, we hope that we can work our way up the healthcare queue before too many limbs drop off.

We expect nothing more.

But Americans do expect more. They expect that somehow if they work hard, and do all the right things, that some natural form of justice will deliver them the things they need.

The problem is that sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes life is unfair.

And we haven't even covered divorce and alimony and all the other things that attack not only a man's wallet, but his very masculinity.

And whereas the British expect the unfairness from the day they are born, the Americans are left somewhat confused and bewildered.

I suppose that's the theme of this month's Thursday films - men who find themselves alienated and confused by life - who either feel they haven't got what they deserved, or don't want what they deserve.

Alexander Payne has explored this concept throughout his career.

But tonight, we have an early example of the genre:

'The Swimmer' stars Burt Lancaster as a successful, attractive middle-aged ad executive who decides one day to swim home from his friend's house, by following the chain of swimming pools in the affluent area.

Each different pool brings a new set of characters, and it is only as Lancaster travels further that we begin to realize that all is not what it seems.

Director Frank Perry clashed with Burt Lancaster, and when he left, other directors finished off the film, including Sydney Pollack.

Paul Spurrier