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Fresh out of college in the East, a naïve young graduate returns to sunny California to learn that nothing beats the school of life for a good grounding. At a welcoming home cocktail party, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is asked to be driven home by middle-aged Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father's business partner, who then lures Benjamin to her bedroom and tries to seduce him. They begin an affair but Benjamin is soon drawn to Mrs Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), with whom he has more in common, including her age. When Mrs Robinson learns that Elaine is really the apple of Benjamin's eye, hell unleashes no fury like a mother scorned.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Parents lost control of their sons and daughters in the post Graduate years. Yes, it was as serious as that, for this was the film that became a symbol for youthful rebellion...which not only exposed the generation gap, but widened it.

This was the film in which alienated youth not only came of age, but learned that father (and mother) didn't really know what's best. Benjamin, you see, might be an honours graduate, but he has no idea where he's heading in life and no amount of bullying, badgering and urging by his upper-middle class family and their friends is going to help make up his mind. If he has any aspirations at all, it is not to be anything like the sunbaked, gin-soaked Beverly Hills set who think of nothing but making money and getting laid.

Bewildered by the bustling busybodies, who "are all so proud" and have such high expectations of him, Benjamin is an easy score for the voracious Mrs Robinson who, after all, wants nothing but a quick roll in the hay. Well, what a revelation it was. After years of enduring adult dramas that seemed ignorant of their needs or desires, restless adolescents saw The Graduate as a film they could not only relate to, but laugh with.

Adapted from an obscure Charles Webb novel by Calder Willingham, Buck Henry and Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols, the collaboration embraced all that Webb knew...that the rites of passage has many bumps and grinds along the way. Teenagers squirmed with Benjamin as he bumbled through the intricacies of his first ever affair...what do you do when an older woman disrobes before your very eyes; how do gauche young men check into a hotel without luggage or catch a waiter's eye; how do you break off a kiss when the lady still has smoke from a cigarette to exhale?

In many ways, The Graduate was an accident of good fortune. Thirty-year-old Robert Redford was the first choice for the twenty-one year old Benjamin, but rightly asserted that no-one would believe he would have trouble meeting girls. Charles Grodin was next in line, but he was vetoed on the assumption that he was "too difficult." Doris Day was asked to play Mrs Robinson but she had her peaches and cream image to protect and Patricia Neal missed out because she was still suffering the effects of a stroke.

Hoffman, who was then the same age as Redford, had caused a few ripples with some promising work on stage. But he made such a botch of his screen test - a love scene with Katharine Ross - that even she despaired, and any other director would have sent the diffident young actor back to the boards. Hoffman didn't think he had a prayer and so he asked Mel Brooks for a part in The Producers instead.

It was, of course, that very diffidence that won him the part. Apart from some innovative camerawork that may seem rather dated now, another masterstroke was to include popular songs on the soundtrack that were barely related to the action on screen. Nichols used Simon And Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair and Sounds Of Silence, which was top of the pops in 1966, to jazz-up the basic simplicity of the plot and Mrs Robinson topped the charts after the film's runaway success.

In effect, the film is jarringly schizophrenic...funny and affecting in Benjamin's inept moments: more romantic when his anarchic spirit awakens and leading to a melodramatic conclusion, resembling sit-com! It was wonderfully well acted, with Hoffman, Bancroft and Ross all being Oscar nominated, but one critic complained how he had sat down to watch The Importance Of Being Earnest only to see it transmute into A Streetcar Named Desire by the second act.

In the end, they cheered when Benjamin takes his destiny in both hands and bolts from the church with Elaine finally liberated from her fate. Whooping and hollering with glee, young audiences imagined that the joyous couple had delivered the ultimate rebuttal to the manipulative oldies and that Elaine and Benjamin would live happily ever after. The irony was that Nichols never intended it that way. He felt that after five minutes in the back of that bus in her wedding dress, reality would dawn on them and Elaine would cry: "My God, I have no clothes!" And that Benjamin would end up just like his parents.

Published: July 29, 2004

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(US, 1967)

CAST: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross

DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols

SCRIPT: Buck Henry, Calder Willingham

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.45:1 widescreen; audio 2.0 stereo



DVD RELEASE: July 28, 2004

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