Blu-ray review: “Man on a Swing” (1974)

“Man on a Swing” (1974)


Running Time: 110 minutes

Written by: David Zelag Goodman

Directed by: Frank Perry

Featuring: Cliff Robertson, Joel Grey, Dorothy Tristan, Elizabeth Wilson and George Voskovec

Critical Commentary

“Man on a Swing” is a 1974 mystery-thriller film directed by Frank Perry, starring Cliff Robertson, Joel Grey, and Dorothy Tristan. The movie is based on the true story of a murder case that occurred in a small town in Arkansas. The story follows a small-town police chief named Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) who is investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman. As he delves deeper into the case, he becomes convinced that the killer is a man named Franklin Wills (Joel Grey), who claims to have psychic abilities that help him solve crimes. Despite the scepticism of his colleagues and the townspeople, Tucker becomes increasingly obsessed with Wills and his unusual abilities.

The movie is well-crafted, with a strong sense of suspense and an intriguing premise. Robertson delivers a solid performance as the driven and obsessive police chief, while Grey is chilling as the enigmatic Franklin Wills. The supporting cast is also excellent, particularly Dorothy Tristan as Tucker’s wife, who provides a much-needed grounding influence.

One of the movie’s strengths is its evocative portrayal of small-town life in the American South. The film captures the rhythms and attitudes of this insular community, and the sense of claustrophobia that can come with living in such a place. “Man on a Swing” is an engaging and well-made thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end. If you enjoy suspenseful mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, then this is definitely a movie worth checking out.

Additionally, “Man on a Swing” explores interesting themes of belief and skepticism, as well as the power dynamics at play in small communities. The movie raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of truth, justice, and the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

The film’s direction by Frank Perry is competent, with a clear and consistent visual style that enhances the mood and atmosphere of the story. The pacing is deliberate, allowing the tension to build steadily throughout the movie. One of the movie’s few weaknesses is its portrayal of mental illness, with Wills’ character being depicted as a potentially dangerous, mentally unstable individual. While the movie does not necessarily condone this stereotype, it does reinforce it to some extent, which could be problematic for some viewers.

“Man on a Swing” is a well-crafted and engaging thriller that explores interesting themes and features strong performances from its cast. While it may not be perfect, it is certainly worth watching for fans of the genre or anyone interested in thought-provoking stories about justice, belief, and the human psyche.

Another strength of “Man on a Swing” is its use of music to build tension and create atmosphere. The score, composed by Lalo Schifrin, is haunting and memorable, adding to the sense of unease and mystery that pervades the movie. The film also benefits from its realistic portrayal of police work, with Tucker and his team using traditional investigative methods to solve the crime. This approach lends the story a sense of authenticity and grounds it in reality, which makes the supernatural elements all the more intriguing.

“Man on a Swing” is a well-made thriller with a compelling storyline and strong performances. While it may not be a widely known or widely praised movie, it is certainly a hidden gem worth discovering for fans of the genre or anyone interested in thought-provoking stories about justice, belief, and the human psyche.

The movie’s climax is particularly well-executed, with several twists and turns that keep the audience guessing until the very end. The resolution of the murder case is both satisfying and surprising, tying up loose ends while still leaving some questions unanswered. Another notable aspect of “Man on a Swing” is its exploration of the relationship between Tucker and Wills. The two characters are both complex and flawed, and their interactions are filled with tension and ambiguity. As the story unfolds, the audience is left wondering whether Wills is a genuine psychic or a master manipulator, and whether Tucker’s obsession with him is justified or misguided.

In terms of its flaws, some viewers may find the pacing slow or the plot predictable. The movie also features some outdated stereotypes and problematic elements related to mental illness and gender roles. However, these issues do not detract significantly from the overall quality of the film. “Man on a Swing” is a well-crafted thriller with strong performances, a compelling storyline, and thought-provoking themes. While it may not be a perfect movie, it is certainly a hidden gem worth discovering for fans of the genre or anyone interested in exploring the mysteries of human psychology and belief.

Technical Commentary


Imprint have transferred Frank Perry’s “Man on a Swing” to Blu-ray. It is an upgrade from the 2012 bare-bones Olive Films Blu-ray. While also in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio the new 1080P rendering has superior contrast with deeper black levels and warmer skin tones. It far more robust with a 50% bump in bitrate – housed on a dual-layered disc. 


Imprint use a linear PCM dual-mono track (24-bit) in the original English language. “Man on a Swing” has very few aggressive moments with the murders post-facto and only referenced through flash-back witnesses of discovery. Notable though is the occasionally creepy score by Argentinean Lalo Schifrin.

Special Features

  • 1080p high-definition presentation by Paramount Pictures
  • Audio commentary by film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer (2022)
  • Audio commentary by film historian/filmmaker Howard S. Berger and Frank Perry archivist Justin Bozung (2022)
  • Other Worlds – Joel Grey on acting and Man on a Swing (2022)
  • Schifrin On A Swing – featurette with film music historian Daniel Schweiger discussing Lalo Schifrin’s music score
  • The Show Must Go On: Frank Perry & The Framing of the American Dreamland – a video essay by Howard S. Berger and Kevin Marr (2022)

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