The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Film: The Swimmer (1968)

The film represents the first movie work of 22-year-old composer Marvin Hamlisch.(1944–2012)

The musical score for the film The Swimmer composed by Marvin Hamlisch has dramatic passages along with a mid-1960s pop sound:

The musical theme of “The Swimmer” was dramatic and despondent, but it was a theme that stayed with you. It was haunting.” — Marvin Hamlisch from the book “The Way I Was”

Marvin Hamlisch composed musical scores for many other motion pictures. His first score was for the film The Swimmer (1968), at the request of Sam Spiegel. –And many others followed. (See Biography section/Films).

I couldn’t help but think that if Frederic Chopin had written  the “Minute Waltz” and brought it to Sam Spiegel, he might hear big Sam berate him: “Freddy, I love it, it’s catchy. But we only need fifty-eight seconds. Go home and try again.” — Comments by Marvin Hamlisch — from the book “The Way I Was”

Film: The Swimmer (1968)

Film: The Swimmer (1968)

One day in 1968 there’s a knock on the door of our small apartment, and suddenly twenty reels of film and sound track are delivered. The Swimmer had finished shooting, it was filmed and edited, and now it was time for the composer to see it. My principal aims at that moment were to write the best damn music since “Tara’s Theme.”

One night, while working late at my moviola/piano setup, I was interrupted by a pounding on the door.

Police, open up!”


I opened the door and found two officers wearing stern expressions.

Do you know what time it is?” Asked Cop No. 1.

Well, yes”

Someone in the building complained that you’re making’ too much noise,” said cop No.2.

They heard a lot of shouting,” said Cop No. 1.

That was Burt Lancaster,” I said.

The officers looked around the room.

There was no Burt Lancaster. “I’m writing my first movie score,” I said proudly.

Just knock it off,” said Cop No. 2.

Burt Lancaster

Burt Lancaster (1913–1994)

There I was, watching “The Swimmer” again and again, watching Burt Lancaster splashing, playing the piano against each scene until I found something I thought would be appropriate. The score was taking on a big, rather symphonic sound. So I wanted a massive tone. I wanted the audience to feel yearning and anguish, as each pool stop peels back part of the hero’s life, revealing him as a fraud and a failure. I called on the size and power of a symphony orchestra to convey this man’s pain.

Janice Rule

Janice Rule (1931 — 2003)

I finished the score; it was time to fly to Hollywood. California here I come. I arrived in Hollywood with a sense of adventure. About a month after first coming to Los Angeles, we were about to record the music for the film. It was thrilling for me, because it was the first time I’d hear my music played by a full orchestra. Until then I had only heard the music in my head. The theme of “The Swimmer” was dramatic and despondent, but it was a theme that stayed with you. It was haunting. For three days, the giant orchestra played the score, and when all the music had been recorded, a number of the musicians came up to me and congratulated me on my work. Then it was over. The music was wedded to the film, and it was time for me to fly home to New York.

Janet Landgard

Janet Landgard

The Swimmer” finally opened in the summer of 1968. As far as I was concerned, the title of the movie was “Music by Marvin Hamlisch.” I was thrilled when I saw my name up on the screen. There it was for everyone to see. Spelled perfectly. Sometimes I’d just go into the movie house and watch the first four minutes of the film, see my name, get a little giddy, throw away my popcorn, and retire from the theatre, having experienced my high for the day. Though the film itself did not do too well, my score got some marvelous reviews, particularly in the “Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety.” — Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012) From the book: “The Way I Was”.

The Swimmer (1968)


The Swimmer (film, 1968)

Directed by  Frank Perry  

Produced by  Frank Perry  Roger Lewis

Written by Eleanor Perry

Based on   John Cheever (story)

Starring   Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule

Music by   Marvin Hamlisch

Release date(s)  May 15, 1968

Running time     95 minutes

The Swimmer is a 1968 American film directed by Frank Perry.  Starring Burt Lancaster, with Janet Landgard and Janice Rule in featured roles. The surreal, allegorical tale is based on the 1964 short story by John Cheever, adapted by Eleanor Perry, the director’s wife.

WATCH Trailer:

On a sunny early autumn day in an affluent suburb in Connecticut, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), a seemingly successful, appealing and popular middle-aged advertising executive, clad only in swimming trunks, runs through the forest. He walks out of the woods and into the backyard of some old friends sitting by their swimming pool. He chats with them, then he has a sudden idea: he tells his friends he intends to “swim” home across the county by dropping in on friends’ swimming pools which form a consecutive chain leading back to his house. He dives into the pool, emerges at the other end and starts his journey.


At first Ned gets warm welcomes as he meets old friends, mostly upper middle-class, well-to-do people with homes in the upscale outer suburbs. However, there are hints that Ned has been away for up to two years, and he brushes off any questions about himself. Each stop brings him face to face with some aspect of his life. The first one is with his youth when anything was possible, while the last one exposes the current collapse of his family life and where everything seems lost.

As the day wears on and Ned sees those who have been closer to him more recently, the welcomes begin to sour. Ned’s proud boasts about his wife, daughters and home are met with strong mixed feelings, jeers, suspicion and even anger — especially from women. In one backyard Ned meets a 20-year-old girl (Janet Landgard) who, years ago, had babysat his daughters. She leaves with him, at first thrilled to do so owing to an unspoken crush she had for him in her early teens. But when Ned rather clumsily tries to woo and kiss her, she flees. He carries on with his “swim,” dropping by the pools of sundry other friends as it slowly unfolds that his life has somehow gone quite wrong. He crashes a party at one pool. While he is put up with at first, Ned is thrown out when he has an outburst after spotting a hot dog wagon he had once bought for his daughters, but which had recently been sold in a white elephant sale. He then shows up at the backyard pool of Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), a stage actress with whom he’d had an affair several years earlier. She is still feeling bitter and hurt. When Ned tries to rekindle things, this poolside meeting ends badly for both of them.

Scenes from film The Swimmer

Scenes from the film THE SWIMMER (1968)

As the day ends, Ned winds up in a crowded public swimming pool where he is shamed by local shopkeepers to whom he still owes money for unpaid grocery and restaurant tabs. When some of them comment about his wife’s overall snobbish attitude and his out-of-control daughters’ recent troubles with the law, he angrily flees. As the sun goes down, a shivering Ned at last staggers up a rocky hill, shoves open a rusted gate and walks through an overgrown garden with an unkempt tennis court. A thunderstorm begins as Ned knocks on the front door of a locked, dark and empty house. He then breaks down on the front stoop and cries.

Response to the film:

The box office response to the film was “lackluster”, but the critical response was somewhat better. Vincent Canby in the New York Times wrote “Although literal in style, the film has the shape of an open-ended hallucination. It is a grim, disturbing and sometimes funny view of a very small, very special segment of upper-middle-class American life”, but Variety said “a lot of people are not going to understand this film; many will loathe it; others will be moved deeply. Its detractors will be most vocal; its supporters will not have high-powered counter-arguments.”

The site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 100%.

As do few movies, The Swimmer stays in the memory like an echo that never quite disappears.” — Vincent Canby, NY Times.

The Composition of The Musical Score:

Album by Marvin Hamlisch

Released    March 2006

Label       Film Score Monthly

All the pieces were composed by Marvin Hamlisch and were orchestrated by Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes. Hamlisch got the job after producer Sam Spiegel heard him play the piano at a party. The soundtrack album was released in 2006 by Film Score Monthly.


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Swimmer Soundtrack

LISTEN to Soundtrack Samples: The Swimmer

The latest Silver Age release from FSM spotlights the first film to be scored by a young 24-year old Marvin Hamlisch. The film is The Swimmer, and even upon its 1968 release it was considered bold in its style and approach. It is the simple yet compelling portrait of a self-centered man, played by Burt Lancaster, who travels home by swimming through each of his neighbors’ pools. This new edition of the sonorous score features all tracks from original LP version, expanded, remixed and remastered.” — Brian McVickar

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Source: Team Marvin Hamlisch / The Music of Marvin Hamlisch