Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Dustin Hoffman,
Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Director: Mike Nichols
Audio: DTS HD Mono, DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2016
“Would you like me to seduce you?”
The Graduate is a film both timeless and dated. Timeless because we can all identify with the humor found in youthful insecurities, but in other ways, it was already old-fashioned at the time of its release in 1967. Here was a film about disaffected youth, but at the height of the summer of love, there was no flower power to be found. No drugs. No rock and roll. Just sex.
It’s hard for me to say how young people identify with Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman). I never saw The Graduate until I was much older than his 21 year old character in the film. I have a feeling if I had seen it earlier, the movie might be an experience akin to The Catcher in the Rye for me. As a kid, I felt a kindred spirit in Holden Caufield. As an adult, I tend to wish he’d stop complaining so much and get on with life.
But I still treasure that book, and I do treasure The Graduate as one of the great American comedies. It’s something of a time capsule movie where the capsule was actually buried a few years earlier. It channeled a spirit of youthful recklessness in the 60s, but it was no Easy Rider. Benjamin was too square to be cool. But then again, so am I.
As the film opens, Benjamin has graduated college and has no idea what the future holds for himself. The adults that parade through his life are like a rogue’s gallery of the comically inept…at least to Benjamin. But one who is definitely different is the sultry Mrs. Robinson (the legendary Bancroft), who may very well be the original MILF. (Note: see American Pie if you don’t know that term).
Mrs. Robinson has designs on the shy, awkward Ben, and their scenes together are priceless. How much work does one woman have to do to sleep with a college boy? Apparently, all of it.
Their listless affair occupies Ben’s empty existence, but it grows even more complicated than the formula suggests, when he falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Ross).
So how in the world does this geeky youth manage to sleep with an exotic older woman and romance her beautiful daughter at the same time? We can’t really say…and for that matter, neither can Benjamin, who grows from passive to aggressive over the course of the story, but to what end?
Mike Nichols, making his second film after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? demonstrated a sure hand at comedy at a very early point in his career. There are many reasons why The Graduate shouldn’t succeed, and shouldn’t be enduring, but it does both, and it’s mostly because the film is so well crafted, well acted and damned funny. The picture was nominated for 7 Oscars, and Nichols walked away with one for directing.
Neither Benjamin nor Elaine seem to have a lot of substance, leaving Mrs. Robinson as the most endearing and memorable character. But Anne Bancroft delivered a career-making performance and would forever be identified as the most iconic cougar on the prowl, even though in real life she was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman. In a one-on-one bedroom scene where Ben tries to talk to her, we get a real sense of depth out of this woman…what she was denied, what she lost, and what she hopes will make up for it all.
As mentioned, there’s no rock and roll at play here, only a song score by Simon and Garfunkel including the unforgettable “Sounds of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson”. Paul Simon’s acoustic guitar punctuates Benjamin’s scenes, and as great as the music is, it actually serves to make the picture feel even a little more square. Which works.
So what becomes of Benjamin and Elaine? Nichols’ curiously long last look at them as the uncertainty of future dawns on both of them has been fodder for discussion over 40 years. When someone once asked Nichols directly what happens to the characters next, I loved his answer: “They become their parents.” Now THAT might have been a sequel worth seeing. Can you say, “here’s to you, Mrs. Braddock?”
The Graduate has held up well over the years, and Nichols’ images are well served by Criterion's 4K high definition transfer. Even though it’s a comedy, this is definitely a film you don’t want to see any other way but in widescreen. The camera compositions are too important, and the use of scope ratio too masterful to deny yourself the full breadth of the vision.
This disc features the original mono soundtrack, but in uncompressed format, and it works beautifully. If you prefer, go for the optional 5.1 soundtrack; you can't go wrong either way. Simon and Garfunkel have never sounded so crisp, clean and dynamic. The spoken words are clean and clear throughout, and is better than you might expect for a 50 year old film.
This bold edition from Criterion is loaded with extras!
• Audio commentary from 2007 featuring Nichols in conversation with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh
• Audio commentary from 1987 featuring film scholar Howard Suber
• New interview with actor Dustin Hoffman
• New conversation between producer Lawrence Turman and actor-screenwriter Buck Henry
• New interview with film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen about editor Sam O’Steen’s work on The Graduate
• Students of “The Graduate,” a short documentary from 2007 on the film’s influence
• “The Graduate” at 25, a 1992 featurette on the making of the film
• Interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters, from a 1966 episode of NBC’s Today show
• Excerpt from a 1970 appearance by singer-songwriter Paul Simon on The Dick Cavett Show
• Screen tests
So why do we keep coming back to The Graduate? Because it’s hilarious. Benjamin Braddock may be forever behind the times, but Mike Nichols’ film stays with us because it’s superbly crafted, well acted and hits the funny bone time and time again. Criterion scores again with another brilliant Blu-ray release.