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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Graduate

THE GRADUATE  (Four Stars)
U.S.: Mike Nichols, 1967

Sometimes a movie comes at exactly the right time. Like The Graduate — director Mike Nichols’ and screenwriters Buck Henry’s and Calder Willingham’s marvelously edgy and arousing romantic comedy  about plastics and family affairs and life in California, with one of those heroes, or anti-heroes, who strike a chord: young, nervous, recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who’s a little worried about his future and also torn between his clandestine affair with a married lover, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and his seemingly genuine open-air love for her beautiful college-age daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).

     The Graduate was released in the latter part of 1967, and it quickly became the movie of choice, and especially the dating movie of choice, for that year’s college-age film-going public, and many others as well. It’s remained a classic and is now regularly voted among the top American movies of all time, almost always above another 1967 gem, Arthur Penn’s and Warren Beatty’s (and Benton and Newman’s love-on-the-run period gangster romance Bonnie and Clyde — a movie that some of us at the time (me included) thought was the better show.

Speaking of Warren Beatty, he was also one of the many young actors considered for the role of Benjamin — along with Robert Redford and Charles Grodin, both of whom, with Beatty, would seem better fits for novelist Charles Webb’s original picture of Ben: as a tall, blonde good-looking very WASPy California athlete-scholar. (In fact, a Redford). But Nichols instead picked the lesser-known stage actor Dustin Hoffman, who had black hair instead of blonde, was short instead of tall, 29 instead of 21, had a nasal voice and frightened looking eyes instead of the usual movie star cool, and was Jewish instead of WASPy: an actor who seemed so totally off-type that Hoffman himself was convinced that he’d flubbed his audition– and was astonished when he got word a week later that Nichols had cast him .

Indeed, one of the things that works so well in The Graduate — along with Henry’s witty compression of Webb’s story, Robert Surtees’ glowing cinematography of California sunny days and sinuous nights, Nichols’ adroit casting and erotic flair and elegant long-take staging, the wonderful cast, and Simon and Garfunkel’s pitch-perfect song score (jey, who doesn’t feel a heart-leap when Ben’s red Alfa Romeo emerges from the darkness as he rushes to try to stop Elaine’s wedding and we hear that soaring refrain “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!”) –is the fact that Hoffman almost always seems out of place, which generates terrific tension. Tension is also generated, of course, by Anne Bancroft’s quietly ferocious performance as Mrs. Robinson, a Hell-hath-no-fury turn that can chill you to the bone.

A classic, definitely, yes. They don’t make them like this today, to our loss. Though I’ve got to admit I still prefer Bonnie and Clyde. (Chicago, Music Box, June 29-July 5)

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: The Graduate”

  1. dee says:

    “Redford and Charles Grodin, both of whom, with Beatty, would seem better fits for novelist Charles Webb’s original picture of Ben: as a tall, blonde good-looking very WASPy California athlete”

    Since when is Charles Grodin not Jewish?

    I hate when people try to bring their brilliant ethnic-based observations into things, and invariably get their facts wrong.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon