Friday, April 28, 2017

"The Graduate" at 50

This past Sunday evening, we attended the TCM/Fathom Events theatrical showing of Mike Nichols' 1967 masterpiece, "The Graduate".  The movie is getting this special Big Screen showing to mark the Fiftieth (can you believe it?) Anniversary of its release.

Before I talk about seeing it again, a little background as to why this movie is so important to me.  

Back in the spring of 1968, my junior year in high school, I took my first paying job:  a movie usher at the beautiful Forum Theatre in Squirrel Hill.  Movies were distributed differently back then.  A movie would be released and would play on ONE screen in an area, it would run its course as a first run movie, and then get a wider release in secondary "neighborhood theaters".  The Forum was one of those theaters that would get first run releases, and it was fortunate to be given "The Graduate" to exhibit in Pittsburgh.  When I started at the Forum, "The Graduate" was already an established hit, and had been playing at the Forum for almost two months.  It would not leave The Forum until it had run for a total of six months.  I never tired of watching this movie, usually in bits an pieces, during a usual work shift.  I loved it, and when I say that I have seen this movie, literally, hundreds of times, trust me, that is a proper use of the word "literally".  Naturally, I own a DVD of this movie, which I pull out and watch every year or so, and I will tune it in when it shows up on TCM.  However, I had not seen it in a movie theater, on a big screen, for almost fifty years, until this past Sunday night.  

"The Graduate" is rightly praised as a seminal movie of the 1960's with it's depiction of youth alienation and the need of that generation to shed the constrictions and expectations of older generations.  There were many such movies made during that time period with similar themes.  Most of them do not hold up well when viewed forty and fifty years later (most prominent example: "Easy Rider".  An important and heavy movie in 1969; almost unwatchable in 2017).  Not so "The Graduate".  Still entertaining, funny, and relevant today, fifty years after it was released.

Why is that?  Good movies start with the writing, I believe, and screenwriters Calder Willingham and Buck Henry (who also played the desk clerk) produced a great script, including perhaps the movie's most memorable line:


Mike Nichols was already an award winning stage director, but he had only directed one movie before "The Graduate".  He would win an Oscar for this one.  He would go on to direct a total of twenty feature films, most of them good to very good, but "The Graduate" was to be his best.

Then there was the acting.  These were the first major roles for Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock and Katherine Ross as Elaine Robinson.

For Hoffman, it was a breakout role that would lead to a long, distinguished, two Oscar career that is still going on.  For Miss Ross, it led to a role in another classic, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".  She may never have been the star that Hoffman was to become, but to be a part of those two films, well, that is a damn nice resume.

And then there was Anne Bancroft.  She was already an Oscar winner when cast as the predatory Mrs. Robinson.

The next time you watch this movie, pay attention to Anne Bancroft's face, particularly, her eyes.  It is one of the more brilliant pieces of acting that you will ever see.

Of course, when discussing "The Graduate" you have to mention the music of Paul Simon as sung by Simon and Garfunkel.  Another piece of the movie-making puzzle that produced a brilliant movie when it was all put together.

And just to prove that no matter how many times you've seen a movie, you can still pick up something different or something that you may have missed before.  In this showing, that moment for me was the last spoken bit of dialog of the movie.  It's the scene in the church, right after Elaine's wedding, when she is about to leave her groom at the altar and run off with Ben.  Her mother, grabs her right before Ben does....

Mrs. Robinson: Elaine, it's too late.
Elaine: Not for me!

That scene, that bit of dialog, sums up the movie, and maybe the feelings of an entire generation.

As great as it was, "The Graduate" won only one Oscar, the one for Mike Nichols as Director.

It lost out for Best Picture to "In The Heat of the Night" another great movie that is still great, fifty years later.  The other nominees that year? "Bonnie and Clyde", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", and "Dr, Doolittle".  Fifty years later, only "Dr. Doolittle" appears to not belong among some pretty elite company.

Hoffman would go on to win two Oscars in the years ahead, but that year he lost out to Rod Steiger.  The other nominees that year were Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, and Spencer Tracy.  All five of those guys either had already or would go on to win Academy Awards.

Anne Bancroft lost out to Katherine Hepburn that year for Best Actress, a category that also included Faye Dunaway, Dame Edith Evans, and Audrey Hepburn that year.

Katherine Ross Lost out as Best Supporting Actress to Estelle Parsons of "Bonnie and Clyde".

Turns out that 1967 was quite a year for movies!


It is always fun to consider alternative history in such matters.  Also seriously considered for the main roles played by Bancroft, Hoffman, and Ross in "The Graduate" were these three:

Doris Day, Robert Redford, Candice Bergen

Of course, Hoffman, Bancroft, and Ross proved to be perfect in their roles, so it is almost unimaginable to picture anyone else as Ben Braddock, Mrs. Robinson, and Elaine Robinson.   Would it have been as good a movie with any or all of the either Day, Redford, or Bergen cast in it?  Maybe, maybe not, but the idea of Doris Day, by then typecast as the virginal heroine of romantic comedies of the era has always intrigued me.  Could she have pulled it off, and would the movie going public have ever accepted her in such a role?  We'll never know.


Let us end this post as the movie ended.  Wonder what became of Ben and Elaine at the end of that bus ride?

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