The Movies Greatest Hits: The Graduate

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me!"
- Dustin Hoffman, framed by Anne Bancroft's leg

There couldn't have been a more fitting title for this film. Not only was it about Ben Braddock, college graduate about to enter the School of Life, but it could be applied to life in the late '60's in general. Film subject matter no longer held its earlier sexual taboos, and in a sense graduated into maturity. It also marked the graduation from obscurity to instant fame for director Mike Nichols. This was only his second film, after 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Nichols' career continues unabated today, with such recent directorial achievements as Silkwood (1983), Heartburn (1986), and Working Girl (1988).

The Graduate wasn't Hoffman's first film. The young man who began his acting career as an automobile-commercial pitchman had made a couple of low-budget movies that no one ever heard of - no one, it seems, except Mike Nichols, who screen-tested Hoffman after Robert Redford turned the part down, and paid him $750 a week to be in the film (Hoffman earned $20,000 in the role but afterwards signed up for much-needed unemployment benefits). The huge box office success of The Graduate - it was soon to be ranked the highest grossing film of all time, right behind The Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind - launched Hoffman into instant stardom. This short jewish kid from L. A. and New York was not Robert Redford/drop-dead gorgeous, but he could act. Twenty-three years later, he continues to prove this, making hit after hit, garnering Oscar after Oscar.

Of his performance in The Graduate, Newsweek wrote: "It is Dustin Hoffman in his first motion-picture performance [sic] who turns Benjamin into an endearing, enduring hero. He never seems sure of what his voice, eyes or hands are during, or whose orders they are following. He wears the world like a new pair of shoes. He nods his head whenever he doesn't quite know what he means, which is often. He is wrenchingly simple and vividly intelligent, even with his self-doubts, and his bumbling seduction scenes with the wife of his father's law partner ... are as funny as anything ever committed to film."

While it was definitely Hoffman's picture, the others in the cast were also superb. Anne Bancroft was elegantly seductive in a Lauren Bacall-"come hither" sort of way. Director Nichols had originally offered the part to Patricia Neal, but the actress felt she hadn't recovered sufficiently from a stroke she suffered in 1965. Doris Day also rejected it as offensive to her values, so the part went to Ms. Bancroft by default. She won an Acadamy Award nomination for her portrayal of Mrs. Robinson, and her acting talents have taken her from an Oscar-winning performance in The Miracle Worker to a number of comedic roles for her husband, Mel Brooks.

It was also graduation time for Katherine Ross, for whom this was a first time film appearance. She captured the eye of a number of critics (as well as grabbing an Oscar nomination). Time described her as "one of the freshest new faces in Hollywood," and Variety predicted that "Miss Ross, an exciting fresh actress from the Universal stable ... has a long career ahead of her."

Co-scripter Buck Henry's filmwriting career was also launched by this movie. During the '60's, he came to prominence as a television writer for such talents as Steve Allen and Gary Moore. He followed The Graduate with Candy (1968), Catch-22 (1970), and What's Up Doc? (1972). Henry is a true Hollywood "hyphenate," with a long list of writing, directing and acting credits. He was nominated (along with Warren Beatty) for Best Director for Heaven Can Wait (1978). Watch for him in The Graduate as the hotel desk clerk. (Keep your eyes peeled also for Mike Farrell in the hotel lobby, and Richard Dreyfuss in the Berkeley rooming house.)

One star of the film has to be the music of Simon and Garfunkel, which, surprisingly, didn't win any nominations. Their tune "The Sounds of Silence" had been a number-one hit for two weeks back in January, 1966, and was familiar to audiences by the time it was used as part of the score in The Graduate. The other popular song to emerge from the movie was "Mrs. Robinson," which was a number-one song for three weeks, beginning June 1, 1968. Rounding out the album (which was the best-selling soundtrack of 1967) were "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "April Come She Will."