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GRADUATE, THE(director: Mike Nichols; screenwriters: Buck Henry/Calder Willingham; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Sam O’Steen; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock), Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson), Katharine Ross (Elaine Robinson), William Daniels (Mr. Braddock), Elizabeth Wilson (Mrs. Braddock), Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson), Brian Avery (Carl Smith), Walter Brooke (Mr. Maguire), Norman Fell (Mr. McCleery), Buck Henry (Room Clerk); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Lawrence Turnman; MGM Home Entertainment; 1967)
“A safe and calculated popular landmark film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A safe and calculated popular landmark film on the counter culture (a box-office smash and a savvy commercial mainstream slapstick domestic comedy that masquerades as arthouse fare), whose only claim to anything radical is the soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel (using the tracts of “The Sound of Silence” and “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”) and the reiterating of the street protesters motto of “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Director Mike Nichols (“The Birdcage”/”Wolf”/”Silkwood”) and writers Buck Henry and Calder Willingham are Hollywood insiders posing as outsiders tapping into how the young are thinking these days, and can’t get together to decide if they want a social satire (railing against a consumerism) or a bedroom farce (a college student bedding down with an older woman and then chasing after her WASP daughter) or what it is they have to say about the youth movement (like are they really that different from their parents). It instead settles for being a modish sex comedy that luckily for them caught the changing free-spirited mood of the times (albeit in a superficial and crass way, and was never the rallying cry for the youth of that generation as some blatantly claimed). It’s a classic not because it’s a great film, but because it was a film of its time that stirred up a feeling that it was onto something. Viewed today its revolutionary impulses are dated, but it holds up as snappy 1990s sitcom fare (showing the film was both relevant to its time and ahead of it, but in a different way than first thought). It’s noted for Dustin Hoffman’s breakthrough role that made him an instant star, even though the film is carried by Anne Bancroft as the adulteress who isn’t turned into a one-dimensional monster character until the final act.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a suburban resident of southern California, whose folks have money, has just graduated from college and would like to spend the summer just floating in his family pool but is pressured by family and friends to do something a clean-cut privileged kid from the upper middle-class should do after graduating from college–like get a good job, marry and begin to become a responsible adult like his parents. One of his dad’s friends (Walter Brooke) at a catered affair mentions to him “Just one word: plastic,” which tells you all you want to know about his milieu.

The film’s two memorable and controversial scenes are the seduction one of the younger man by the middle-aged suburban matron and the climax of breaking up a wedding at the altar with his mistresses’ daughter and running away with the would-be bride on a bus while he bolts the church door from pursuers with a giant cross (a scene out of silent comedy). In the seduction scene the recent college grad Benjamin, with those scared eyes of a deer looking into the headlights, says to Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his dad’s business partner and his parents’ best friend: “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you?” And so the seduction begins. But later, after Benjamin is pushed into a date with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) and acts like jerk, he then suddenly finds himself falling in love with her beauty and his goal now is to marry her; but he discovers her mom is opposed to their union and sabotages it. The persistent Ben, hardly a nice guy, follows her to school and then disrupts her family-approved wedding. Elaine, apparently upset with her meddling parents, flees with Ben rather than marry mom’s frat boy choice. In the final freeze shot we are supposed to be wondering “So what happens next?”

Veering away from a Hollywood formula film, Nichols cleverly gives the film a French New Wave look and reflects the shallow thinking at the time that change is in the air even if the so-called rebellious youths portrayed in the film are not willing to let go of the materialism they are accustomed to and its anti-hero Hoffman (always dressed in public with a sports jacket and tie) plays someone who is not at all connected with the “flower power” movement or war protesters or civil rights marchers of his generation. The result of this carefully groomed slick comedic look at the wealthy of Los Angeles is the top-grossing film of 1968 and one that many mistakenly remember as one of the great rebellion films of the Sixties like Bonnie and Clyde. When viewing it again at a much later date, after the dust has settled, everything about it appears as plastic as the plastic establishment it was railing against.

REVIEWED ON 11/10/2008 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”