Dustin Hoffman was so nervous in the screen test for his debut screen performance that the classic vocal tightness needed for the part came naturally and without effort. He wasn’t the only nervous one: In an interview he describes Michael Nichols’ hand as ‘so drenched in sweat’ that it slipped away from the handshake that landed him the role of Ben Braddock, a disillusioned college graduate who finds himself torn between his feelings for Berkeley classmate Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross) and her sardonically world-weary mother played by Anne Bancroft at her most alluring.
Nichols’ seminal film went on to win him an Oscar for Best Director and launched Dustin Hoffman in a career that endures to this day: his latest performance in The Meyerowitz Stories has the same effortless charisma 50 years on.
Based on Charles Webb’s book of the same name, THE GRADUATE is an evergreen satire on privileged youth. Contemporary kids are often raised on the guilt of time-poor and overly-indulgent mums spawning a generation of ‘kidults’ propelled into the workplace by their overinflated sense of self-worth, and bewildered by a future often funded by parents they tend to regard with disdain. But back in the Sixties these kids were more in awe of their elders, and that pent up frustration is unleashed by a sense of rebellion provides the erotic charge that plays out in the final scenes. THE GRADUATE has become a classic – not only for those reasons, but for the evocative young love affair at its heart. It is a heart-thumping tribute to first love and to the rebellious abandon to the euphoria of romance. Watching it, we re-live our own experience of the rapture that blossoma under the blue skies of youth, where grey clouds never descend.
THE GRADUATE is never sentimental. Moments of searing honesty are punctuated by caustic humour – at its most biting in the poolside scene where Benjamin’s pretentious parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) host an alfresco business lunch to hobnob with their peers and provide a soft-sell career networking opportunity for their son: (“Benjamin, I’ve got one word for you, Plastics”). Anne Bancroft smoulders as a frustrated and manipulative wife and guest, who later seduces Benjamin into an affair that provides a fraught and fractious sexual outlet for them both. Mrs Robinson then becomes highly obstructive in the tentative relationship between Benjamin and her daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross). But this only sharpens Benjamin’s resolve to have her, as he embarks on a febrile and occasionally arduous mission from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to win his mate’s hand, turning up ‘last minute’ at her wedding ceremony for that showcase showdown.
Whether the end result leads to marital success and happiness remains in the ether as their faces reflect the aftermath of joy, elation, relief and pensiveness as the titles roll. The idyll of everlasting love is the myth that THE GRADUATE perpetuates and the reasons for its evergreen success, seared into our erotic and romantic consciousness.
Robert Surtees’ hand-held camera adds to the intensity of panic and uncertainty in scenes expertly edited by Sam O’Steen. But the score of tunes from Simon & Garfunkel, and particularly “The Sound of Silence,” are synonymous with the era, as memories of that hot summer in 1967 come flooding back 50 years later. MT
THE GRADUATE 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION | BLU-RAY™ DVD AND DOWNLOAD
AUGUST 14 2017