Sound Opinions at the Movies: The Graduate

Every week, Sound Opinions fires up smart and spirited discussions about a wide range of popular music, from indie rock to classic rock, hip hop to R&B, and every genre under the sun. This week they head to the movies with The Graduate.

Arguably, no other movie of the 60s turned counterculture angst into popular culture. The biggest box office surprise of the decade, it was an Oscar-winner for director Mike Nichols, and Dustin Hoffman’s star-making breakout role. Simon & Garfunkel’s score started a new trend in soundtrack music and offered one memorable moment after another. This screening is presented by Sound Opinions, the world’s only rock and roll talk show.

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The Graduate

directed by Mike Nichols starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft in English

“You’re trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson… Aren’t you?”

Student unrest in bourgeois clothing, as Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock, adrift after college, is craftily seduced by a woman of his parents’ generation: Anne Bancroft’s icily-assured friend-of-the-family Mrs. Robinson.

The Graduate at 45

by Michael Wilmington

Sometimes a movie comes at exactly the right time. Like The Graduate — director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry’s marvelously edgy and arousing romantic comedy about plastics and family affairs, with one of those heroes, or anti-heroes, who strike a chord: young, nervous, recent college graduate, Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who’s worried about his future and also torn between his clandestine affair with a married lover, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and his seemingly genuine open-air love for her beautiful college-age daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).

The Graduate was released in the latter part of 1967, and it quickly became the movie of choice, and especially the dating movie of choice, for that year’s college-age film-going public, and many others as well. It’s remained a classic and is now regularly voted among the top American movies of all time, almost always above another 1967 gem, Arthur Penn’s and Warren Beatty’s love-on-the-run period gangster romance Bonnie and Clyde — a movie that some of us at the time (me included) thought was the better show.

Speaking of Warren Beatty, he was also one of the many young actors considered for the role of Benjamin — along with Robert Redford and Charles Grodin, both of whom, with Beatty, would seem better fits for novelist Charles Webb’s original picture of Ben: as a tall, blonde good-looking very WASPy California athlete (in fact, a Redford). But Nichols instead picked the almost unknown stage actor Dustin Hoffman, who had black hair instead of blonde, was short instead of tall, 29 instead of 21, had a nasal voice and frightened looking eyes instead of the usual movie star cool, and was Jewish instead of WASPy: an actor who seemed so totally off-type that Hoffman himself was convinced that he’d flubbed his audition — and was astonished when he got word a week later that Nichols had cast him.

Indeed, one of the things that works so well in The Graduate — along with Henry’s witty compression of Webb’s story, Robert Surtees’ glistening cinematography of California sunny days and sinuous nights, Nichols’ adroit casting and erotic flair and elegant long-take staging, the wonderful cast, and Simon and Garfunkel’s pitch-perfect song score (who doesn’t feel a heart-leap when Ben’s red Alfa Romeo emerges from the darkness as he rushes to try to stop Elaine’s wedding and we hear that soaring refrain “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!”) — is the fact that Hoffman almost always seems out of place, something that generates terrific tension. Tension is also generated, of course, by Anne Bancroft’s quietly ferocious performance as Mrs. Robinson, a Hell-hath-no-fury turn that can chill you to the bone.

A classic, definitely, yes. They don’t make them like this today, to our loss. Though I’ve got to admit I still prefer Bonnie and Clyde.

Michael Wilmington’s reviews can be read at MovieCityNews.com

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