History, Legacy & Showmanship

Plastics, Seduction, and The Sound of Silence: Remembering “The Graduate” on its 50th Anniversary

December 20, 2017 - 11:46 am   |   by
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THE Q&A

Beverly Gray is the author of Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation (Algonquin, 2017). Her other books include Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon…and Beyond (Thomas Nelson, 2003) and Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking (Renaissance, 2000), which was re-published in 2013 under the alternate title Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers—An Updated Authorized Life. Gray’s writings have also appeared in numerous periodicals and newspapers including The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times and MovieMaker.

Beverly Gray

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think The Graduate should be remembered on its 50th anniversary?

Beverly Gray: The Graduate should be remembered as a small independent film that transformed the style and content of Hollywood movies while also embedding itself deep in the American consciousness. It captures the mindset of young adults in the late 1960s, but has proven to have a surprising universality as well.

Coate: What was the objective with your book Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ’The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation?

Gray: Today verbal and visual references to The Graduate continue to abound. My goal was to delve into the unexpected appeal of this small film in its own era and then explain how and why it’s still very much with us in the twenty-first century.

Coate: Can you recall the first time you saw The Graduate?

Gray: When I first saw The Graduate early in 1968, I was a senior at UCLA, newly returned from a year of study abroad. Back in the home of my loving but somewhat controlling parents, I was suddenly (after a year of independence) feeling pressured to live up to their expectations about my future. The early scenes in The Graduate captured precisely the way I felt.

A scene from The Graduate

Coate: In what way is The Graduate a significant motion picture?

Gray: The Graduate is beautifully shot and acted, going far beyond most Hollywood movies of its era in adopting fresh aesthetic ideas from Europe and elsewhere. And it expresses, with remarkable candor, the mentality of the huge Baby Boom generation that was coming into its own in 1967-1968.

Coate: How does the film compare to Charles Webb’s book?

Gray: Many of the most vivid episodes in the film (like Benjamin Braddock wearing a SCUBA suit in the bottom of his parents’ pool and Ben seated on a city bus with someone else’s bride) can be found in Webb’s novel. And much of Webb’s dialogue appears too. But the makers of The Graduate felt that Webb’s Benjamin was “a whiny pain in the fanny,” whose rebellion against his parents and their world wasn’t truly motivated, nor was it appealing. One quality that director Mike Nichols found in Dustin Hoffman was a sweetness and innocence that helped to justify Benjamin’s misbehavior and ensure that the audience was on his side.

Coate: In what way was Dustin Hoffman a memorable Benjamin Braddock?

Gray: I’ve mentioned Hoffman’s appeal in the role of Benjamin Braddock: he was lovably hapless, and young audiences found it easy to identify with him. But his casting also went a long way toward transforming Hollywood. In the late 1960s, romantic leading men were still expected to be tall and handsome WASP-types. Robert Redford, then a rising young actor, was considered by many to be the “right” kind of person for this role. In choosing the short, dark, and obviously ethnic Hoffman to play Benjamin Braddock, director Mike Nichols was very much going against common wisdom. But Hoffman’s casting led to an influx of clearly Jewish young actors (Elliott Gould, Richard Benjamin, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Grodin) as well as other “ethnics” like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in leading roles. Hollywood has never been the same since.

Coate: In what way was Anne Bancroft a memorable Mrs. Robinson?

Gray: When she was cast as Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft had already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. She played leads in other admired films, but had been shut out of funny and glamorous roles. The Graduate captured her beauty as well as her wit, but there’s also an underlying sadness to her characterization that makes her far more than a villainess. Generations of women have seen in her performance a hint of the anguish that can be part of domestic life when marriage becomes an obligation rather than a freely made choice.

Coate: In what way was Mike Nichols an ideal choice to direct The Graduate, and where does the film rank among his body of work?

Gray: I don’t claim to have seen all of Mike Nichols’ film (and stage) work, but he was an enormously talented director who never repeated himself, one who experimented with many styles and genres. The Graduate, made at the very start of his movie career, was the work of a still-young man having fun playing with the tools of modern cinema. The resulting film has been described as “show-offy,” but its exuberance is hard to beat.

Coate: What is the legacy of The Graduate?

Gray: For many who saw The Graduate back in the day, it is a time capsule preserving their youthful hopes and fears at a pivotal moment in American life. Beyond appealing to Baby Boomers’ sense of nostalgia, The Graduate gave us new aesthetic ideas which went on to help transform today’s Hollywood.

Coate: Thank you, Beverly, for sharing your thoughts on The Graduate on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its release.

A scene from The Graduate

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy Avco Embassy Pictures, Embassy Pictures, MGM Home Entertainment, StudioCanal, United Artists Corporation, The Voyager Company/The Criterion Collection.

 

SOURCES/REFERENCES:

The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and trade reports published in Billboard, Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.

 

SPECIAL THANKS:

Don Beelik, Raymond Caple, Beverly Gray, John Hazelton, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, and an extra special thank-you to all of the librarians who helped with this project.

 

IN MEMORIAM:

  • Marion Lorne (“Miss DeWitte”), 1883-1968
  • George Nogle (Camera Operator), 1898-1977
  • Richard Borland (Grip), 1909-1983
  • Robert Surtees (Director of Photography), 1906-1985
  • Walter Brooke (“Mr. McGuire”), 1914-1986
  • Murray Hamilton (“Mr. Robinson”), 1923-1986
  • Joseph E. Levine (Presenter/Embassy Pictures founder), 1905-1987
  • Harry Maret (Makeup), 1917-1989
  • George R. Nelson (Set Decorator), 1927-1992
  • Meta Rebner (Script Supervisor), 1907-1994
  • Calder Willingham (Screenwriter), 1922-1995
  • Sydney Guilaroff (Hair Styles), 1907-1997
  • Bob Wyman (Assistant Editor), 1931-1998
  • Norman Fell (“Mr. McCleery”), 1924-1998
  • Patricia Zipprodt (Costume Designer), 1925-1999
  • Sam O’Steen (Editor), 1923-2000
  • Eddra Gale (“Woman on Bus”), 1921-2001
  • Richard Sylbert (Production Designer), 1928-2002
  • Jack Solomon (Sound), 1913-2002
  • Anne Bancroft (“Mrs. Robinson”), 1931-2005
  • Alice Ghostley (“Mrs. Singleman”), 1923-2007
  • Mike Nichols (Director), 1931-2014
  • Elizabeth Wilson (“Mrs. Braddock”), 1921-2015
  • Joel Schiller (Assistant Production Designer), 1930-2017

 

- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

The Graduate (Criterion Blu-ray Disc)

 

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