The Graduate Review
If you had to pick films that truly encapsulated the feelings of sixties America, you’d pick Easy Rider, Woodstock, Midnight Cowboy and the most popular choice would be Mike Nichols’ classic The Graduate.
Benjamin Braddock (played by then relative unknown Dustin Hoffman) has just returned home to his affluent family and is extremely disillusioned with life. His parents don’t help; they’re too busy keeping up with all of their rich friends and using Ben as an excuse to show off. However, there is one aspect of Ben’s life that he finds appealing – having an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner – Mrs. Robinson (played by the very sexy Anne Bancroft). Keeping the affair secret, the seedy hotel room they regular perform their adultery serves as an escape hatch from the maddening world Ben struggles to exist in. However, the obligatory complications ensue, when Ben’s parents attempt to set him up with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross). This angers Mrs. Robinson, who feels threatened by her daughter, a younger and newer version of herself. However, Ben tells Mrs. Robinson he isn’t interested in Elaine, he’s merely pacifying his parents. However, as the dates with Elaine continue, Ben finds he cannot fight his true feelings.
You wouldn’t believe it be looking at the above synopsis, but The Graduate is one of the wittiest comedies of the twentieth century. Expertly written by Buck Henry and Calder Winningham, based on the relatively obscure Charles Webb novel published in 1963, The Graduate hits all of the right notes throughout the film’s entirety. Every aspect is top notch, but most particularly the fabulous Oscar winning direction by Mike Nichols. Nichols effectively utilises the concepts of shadow, symbolism and framing to perfectly support the narrative framework of the film. Take for instance, Ben’s indecisiveness at the beginning of the film when he talks to his father. Nichols lights Ben in half shadow, as if he is symmetrically split in two. When Ben is unsure about partaking in an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the venetian blinds of the hotel room cause light and shadow to split Ben into two striped colours, as if denoting his two minds about the affair. The sequence when Ben comically is forced to dress up in scuba diving gear to impress his parents’ friends is a perfect example of how symbolism can truly reinforce a psychological state. Ben feels like he is alienated from the world of his parents, and this is further compensated by filming Ben emerge from the changing rooms from his point of view. Because of Ben’s scuba gear, we can’t hear the voices of the adults, and this coupled by Ben’s heavy breathing under the scuba mask almost suggests that Ben is an alien in a strange world. This is further exemplified when Ben chooses to dive to the bottom of the ocean rather than stay on the surface with his parents.
These are just a few examples of classic Mike Nichols’ direction. His effort on The Graduate is so good, the Academy chose to honour him over Norman Jewison who directed that year’s Best Picture winner In The Heat Of The Night. Dustin Hoffman shows why he has become one of the late twentieth century’s leading actors with a funny and goofy performance as the often-bewildered Ben Braddock. Anne Bancroft is a smouldering cauldron of sexual prowess in Mrs. Robinson juxtaposed with the naïve and beautiful innocence of Elaine played by Katherine Ross. The golden tinted cinematography by Robert Surtees, although slightly dated, is very fitting for the late sixties time period the film was produced in. Arguably the most memorable aspect of The Graduate is the wonderful soundtrack of Simon And Garfunkel songs that perfectly corroborate the lethargic and disillusioned Benjamin Braddock. With such hits as The Sound Of Silence, Scarborough Fair/Canticle and Mrs. Robinson, you cannot go wrong by buying the soundtrack.
The Graduate is a classic comedy, classic sixties film and a classic full stop, and should be a feature of any serious film lover’s collection. If you watch it, just remember one thing – plastics.
Academy Awards 1967
Best Director - Mike Nichols
Academy Award Nominations 1967
Best Actor - Dustin Hoffman
Best Actress - Anne Bancroft
Best Supporting Actress - Katharine Ross
Best Adapted Screenplay - Buck Henry, Calder Willingham
Best Cinematography - Robert Surtees
The assumption that Momentum intend to be serious DVD distributors continues, as not only is the print flawless and possesses vivid colours, but their R2 transfer is the only one to feature an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so kudos to them considering that both BMG and MGM have failed on that respect. Some of the looks and visuals of the film are slightly dated, but that isn’t a detrimental factor. The Graduate is such a heavily symbolic film that the visuals must be presented suitably, and fortunately the transfer complies with this.
Presented in 2.0 surround, the sound is essentially mono dialogue with stereo music soundtrack. Even so, it allows the Simon & Garfunkel songs chance to become more prominent and more chance to breathe over the film. The sound is slightly quieter than usual but is quite clear in most chapters.
Menu: A moving menu consisting of sixties style fonts and clips from the film, together with music clips of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sounds Of Silence. This menu is much more in keeping with the tone of the film, and beats BMG's static menu on their version.
Packaging: Released as part of Momentum's stylish Director's Chair Collection, the packaging maintains that label's grey trim with an amaray casing. Initial releases provide a very nice sixty-four-page book detailing director Nichols' career. This book is another suggestion that Momentum could be a serious DVD distributor given time.
The Graduate At 25: A retrospective featurette filmed twenty five years later with sound-bites from cast and crew members such as Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Ross and Buck Henry. It’s an enjoyable featurette and runs for over twenty minutes.
One on One With Dustin Hoffman: As is typical with Momentum DVDs, they throw in the unused elements from main extras to create smaller extras. This is essential a four minute edit of unused anecdotes from Dustin Hoffman, who is very dry yet very charismatic when appearing in interviews.
Trailer: The trailer is quite uninvolving and slow and reveals much of the plot, although from the print damage and dated saturation it definitely appears to be the original release trailer.
Photo Gallery: A small photo gallery that contains press photos and a few posters of The Graduate used in foreign countries.
64 Page Book: A book on Mike Nichols’ career that is interesting reading if only skimming the surface. Still, it’s good as a companion piece to the DVD.
Although the extras could be considered to be a missed opportunity (why no isolated score and no commentary?), you have to give credit to Momentum for releasing the best version of The Graduate yet. It’s a classic film, and fully deserves two hours of your time.