' And here's to you Mrs. Robinson....', how on earth can you go wrong with a film that starts with that song??! I have never been interested in watching The Graduate because I was never overly fussed on Dustin Hoffman. But after some recent films of his I took the opportunity of renting this DVD from my local library and watching it last night.
The AFI has the graduate at number 7 on its greatest films list. Straight away I will say that is far too high for it. When a true masterpiece such as Dr. Strangelove is down in the 20's, ( and for me the far superior film ) , it shows the flaws in the AFI's rankings. The Graduate is certainly a great film but I don't think it can rank as near one of the greatest ever made. In saying that I do still think it is top 100 material but more down between 50-100 ranking.
The first thing that hit me about The Graduate is how it didn't feel or look like a 1967 film. The French Connection looked like an early 1970's film where as The Graduate, being three year older, looks far newer. I honestly thought it was a late 1970's film as it has dated extremely well compared to many other late 1960's films. Secondly it is a comedy drama and here it has dated as the laughs are there but haven't the impact in our modern world as they did 44 years ago. I still had a few chuckles but the riot it was in 1967 is no more.
The morality is also out of date as far as sex and marriage goes. Notice the scene where Hoffman, as Benjamin Braddock, is buying the wedding ring. As he is inside a young couple walk out of the store with a very young baby in the father's arms. The message is loud and clear and yet it has dated as I seriously doubt the younger generation of today would see the symbolism and message in it. It shows how much attitudes to sex, love, and marriage have changed.
In its day the scenes where Mrs. Robinson has first undressed herself in front of Hoffman were explicit with the very blink your eyes and miss it flashes of her breasts. Today we get to see it all and that scene has an almost quaintness about it to our jaded eyes. It is amazing though when you watch the likes of this and then The French Connection which was made in 1971, because in The French Connection we see a very clear shot of a woman's bum, which shows how far along in the space of four years the level of acceptable nudity had traveled. Think also that Dirty Harry came out several months after The French Connection and had a very clear shot of a woman's breasts. So even within the space of a few years after its release The Graduate was somewhat dated.
As a film The Graduate is possibly the one that really brought to the fore young sexual angst in a more realistic and probable way. Of course with loosening morality restrictions for film it was able to do so. But what is truly funny about The Graduate is the ages of the actors/actresses compared against the ages of their respective characters! For instance Hoffman was 30 and yet plays a 21 year old!! I actually thought he was in his early twenties as he doesn't look any where near thirty!! Ann Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson is supposed to be 42 and is actually only 35, and yet looks far older than Hoffman. Fortunately the youthfulness of Hoffman's appearance works because if he didn't look 21 then the film wouldn't have worked. Also the very attractive Katherine Ross was actually 27 playing 19!
All three of these actors were nominated for Oscars for their performances. The film was also nominated for four other Oscars with Mike Nichols winning Best Director. Like all films it is always interesting to look at who was initially wanted for the cast. Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, and Patricia Neal all wanted, or were considered for the role of Mrs. Robinson. Robert Redford was wanted for Benjamin Bradford, and Gene Hackman for Mr. Robinson. Even without these names it still is a fine film though!
Obviously Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock is the main protagonist and I must say a few words about him. His is a stellar performance and even though I had heard good things about it I was sceptical as I started watching last night. I'm now convinced!! Benjamin is a painful geek who I constantly felt like grabbing by the scruff of the neck and administering a good hard kick in the pants!! His initially reticence is painful and Hoffman plays it well. Kudos where deserved Dustin, because even at 30 you played a very convincing shy, sexually naive 21 year old!!
One last thing and that must be about the church scene! It is certainly an iconic scene if not one of the MOST iconic ever filmed. I think it ranks up there with the cliff jump in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Reagan's head turning 360 in The Exorcist as one of the best and most recognisable scenes ever. It was of course famously parodied in Wayne's World which shows the impact it has had on the world of cinema.
The Graduate is I believe a truly great film, but not top ten material. When you look at the films it is ranked with I'm afraid it isn't in quite that league. But it has its place as it is a piece of cinematic history for its quite explicit message for the times. The script is first class and the acting faultless, especially that of Hoffman as the shy reserved Benjamin Braddock. The score is fantastic and Simon and Garfield's song Mrs. Robinson must rank as one of the best ever put to a film. Dated yes, very much so, not visually as it has stood the test of time well, but in its treatment of our attitudes towards sex. This is where its historical value comes to the fore as it is a valuable look back at the changing attitudes towards sex, not only on the big screen, but in the world at large.
Certainly recommended, and still a great film even with its dated sexual quaintness! I thoroughly enjoyed it and the church scene is a definite must see for any film aficionado.