[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]
Man on a Swing is one of those anomalous films with a few pretensions to major standing scattered amid the telltale half-measures and slipshod surfaces of a B-picture. Exhibits A, C, and D (B having just been spoken for): Joel Grey, who was probably embarking on this film about the time he carried home a Supporting Actor Oscar for Cabaret last year; Cliff Robertson, an actor of apparent intelligence and integrity who followed up on his own Best Actor award (for Charly) by writing, producing, directing, and starring in his own modest, intriguing movie J.W. Coop, and lending himself to such commercially unlikely but very distinctive experiments as The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid; Frank Perry, onetime Brave Independent Artist who launched himself with the privately financed David and Lisa, then went on to such heav-veee projects as Last Summer, Diary of a Mad Housewife, and Play It As It Lays. Doc (which was pre-Lays) marked his first excursion into genre territory—and a sour, humorless, genre- and self-debasing excursion it was. Man on a Swing indicates a slight improvement: Perry turns in unassuming, if also undistinguished, work on this story about the investigation of a sex murder in a small town firmly entrenched in Middle America.
Robertson plays the corduroy-jacketed chief of police with a pregnant wife and a disturbing penchant for spending long nights at the office staring at color slides of the murder victim. Grey has the entirely nonmusical role of a local oddity, a clairvoyant factory worker who offers to aid the police by using his special gift to reconstruct the crime and trace the killer—who, it becomes immediately apparent, just might be Grey himself. Before long, David Zelag Goodman’s script is heading in all directions, evoking memories of Laura, dropping broad hints about Robertson and Tristan’s marriage, playing fast and loose with the issue of clairvoyance and Grey’s personal reliability. The film is interesting at almost any given moment but lacks focus and stability in pretty much equal proportion with Adam Holender’s camerawork, which appears to have been subverted by cheapjack processing. Finally one has difficulty recalling just what movie he started watching, and only Grey’s frightening intensity affords one a kind of viewing landmark by means of which to maintain orientation. In the end the most interesting mystery is how and why three such supposedly top guns came to combine forces in this one-horse town of a movie that seems designed for nothing so much as grindhouse oblivion.
MAN ON A SWING
Direction: Frank Perry. Screenplay: David Zelag Goodman. Cinematography: Adam Holender. Editing: Sidney Katz. Music: Lalo Schifrin.
The Players: Cliff Robertson, Joel Grey, Peter Masterson, Dorothy Tristan, Ron Weyand, George Voskovec, Elizabeth Wilson, Christopher Allport.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard T. Jameson