Released in 1967, The Graduate is a landmark film. It was in 1967 that the counter-culture revolution began to take over Hollywood and the code of decency was about to be replaced by the ratings system. This film (along with Bonnie and Clyde) helped bring Hollywood to a new generation.
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just returned home from college. He was an award-winning scholar, but now has no idea what to do next. After reluctantly driving home the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), she tries to seduce him. He resists at first, but eventually his curiosity (and boredom) takes over and he invites her to the Taft Hotel for a sexual rendezvous. The affair goes on for months, but problems arise when Benjamin is forced to take out Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Benjamin falls in love with Elaine, but Mrs. Robinson is prepared to do anything to keep them apart. She is prepared to tell her everything.
The Graduate is the perfect example of miscasting working. Dustin Hoffman was completely opposite of what the filmmakers were originally looking for. Their dream casting was golden boy Robert Redford. Not only did Hoffman not look the part, but he was also older than they were looking for. Hoffman was thirty when he made the film, a mere six years younger than the “older woman” Anne Bancroft. Still, Hoffman beat out plenty of young actors (including Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford) for the role that made him an instant star. He may not have been what they wanted, but hindsight is 20/20 and now it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
The movie is a classic for many reasons. One of those reasons is the music. The Graduate kicked off the trend of popular music on movie soundtracks. The entire soundtrack features songs written by Paul Simon and Dave Grusin and performed by Simon and Garfunkel. There are some extended sequences in which there is no dialogue, and director Mike Nichols lets the music tell the story. One such sequence takes place just after Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson begin their affair. The sequence is a montage of Ben’s life at home and his life at the hotel. It seems Ben now spends most of his days just lying around doing nothing. The sequence ends with his father asking him what those four years of college were for: “You got me.”
There is another sequence towards the end in which Benjamin frantically searches for Elaine’s wedding with the intention of stopping it. The music is the repeating chorus of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” This chorus was the only part of the song written for the film, but Paul Simon immediately finished it when the movie became a success. A very creative use of the music ends this sequence. As Ben’s car runs out of gas, the music starts to slow down. You can hear Ben’s chances fading.
The movie also features some brilliant camera work, earning an Oscar nomination for its Cinematography. There are a few shots that I particularly like. The first is the now famous shot of Dustin Hoffman framed under Anne Bancroft’s leg as he asks the famous line: “Mrs. Robinson you are trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” Another shot has Ben and Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) in the background, while Mrs. Robinson is in close up. As Mr. Robinson is telling Ben to try his luck with the ladies, a small grin creeps across Mrs. Robinson’s face. She sees this as her husband giving Benjamin permission to sleep with her.
Notice also that whenever Ben is with his parents, that they usually surround him. He is often placed in the middle of the frame with one parent on each side. This is to show how trapped he feels by them. There is even a scene in which he lies on a pool float while his parents circle around him like vultures. Ben’s rebellion against the older generation served as inspiration for many of the era’s youth.
The humor in the film is much different from the humor in most contemporary comedies. It uses subtle in-jokes more often than obvious gags. One of the best scenes has Benjamin nervously checking into a room at the hotel. Director Nichols told Hoffman to pretend like he was buying condoms. It is setup beforehand that Benjamin is a little wary of the desk clerk played by screenwriter Buck Henry. When Ben approaches the counter, the man standing there walks away and Henry pops up. Nichols said that he wanted Henry’s clerk to be like the woman pharmacist nervous young men tend to shy away from at the drug store.
There is also a moment just after Benjamin has invited Mrs. Robinson to the hotel. Upon entering the Hotel, he ends up holding the door as a parade of elderly couples make their way out. As if Benjamin wasn’t nervous enough.
Like most classic films, The Graduate gets better every time you see it. Although it may not strike as big a chord with modern audiences as it did in 1967, it is still very entertaining. I give it an A+.