Reviews | Written by Martin Unsworth 09/06/2022

MAN ON A SWING (1974)

At the time when American crime cinema was dominated by the likes of Dirty Harry, this low-key film melds the police procedural story with genre tropes. All while being based on a real case.

Boozy Police Chief Lee Tucker (Uncle Ben himself, Cliff Robertson) is heading an investigation into the bizarre murder of a young woman, left crumpled in the foot well of her car in a supermarket parking lot. Self-proclaimed psychic Franklin Wills (the ever-excellent Joel Grey) comes on the scene and says he can help find the killer, but is he all that he says he is?

Man on a Swing is directed by Frank Perry, who had previously helmed the enigmatic cult favourite The Swimmer (1968), the brilliant, but seemingly ‘lost’ 1969 coming-of-age film Last Summer (there is only a sole 16mm print known to exist in the world), and the Joan Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest (1981). Despite being released by Paramount Pictures, the movie opens with the feel of a made-for-TV picture, but things pick up following the discovery of the victim’s body. Joel Grey’s clairvoyant Wills takes over the film, putting Cliff Robertson’s impressive depiction of a miserable, alcoholic cop in the shadows. Their relationship becomes the focus as Wills subtly mesmerises the chief into solving the case, the swing sequence of the title replacing the usual clock pendulum.

No matter how fascinating the performances are, Man on a Swing is a frustrating watch, particularly if you’ve come into it expecting a cop drama. Composer Lalo Schifrin (who also provided the amazing score for Dirty Harry) is much more subdued here, adding a creepy tone rather than a thrilling one.

Imprint’s Blu-ray release provides some solid extras to get your teeth into, though, including two informative commentaries and a brace of featurettes, the best being an interview with Joel Grey. Man on a Swing is a flawed but interesting forgotten gem from a time when American cinema was changing, and while not wholly successful, is very entertaining.

Man on a Swing is available from the Australian label Imprint.