Nov. 3, 2008
The Graduate (1967)
Grade: 71/100

Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

What it's about. A comedy set primarily in San Francisco. Dustin Hoffman has graduated with honors from a prestigious college, to the delight of his gregarious, tedious parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), who are best friends with the Robinsons, Murray Hamilton and Anne Bancroft. The Robinsons have a beautiful college-age daughter, Katharine Ross.

It is widely expected that Hoffman will enroll in college for a Masters degree. Instead, he spends his days idling at his parent's house, while at night he continues a covert affair with Anne Bancroft.

Meanwhile, Hoffman's parents, who are getting tired of his inactivity and mysterious evening absences, pressure him to date Ross. Against his best efforts, he hits it off with Ross, angering Bancroft. Ross learns of Hoffman's affair with her mother, and is devastated. Ross returns to Berkeley, where she is stalked and gradually won over by an obsessed Hoffman.

How others will see it. The Graduate was an enormous box office hit, turning Dustin Hoffman into a moviestar. It was a critical hit as well. It garnered seven Oscar nominations, one for every important category except for "Best Supporting Actor." (Perhaps Murray Hamilton should have been given a couple more scenes).

The Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack was also a major hit, although the songs had little to do with the movie itself. (Even "Mrs. Robinson," which topped the Billboard Top 100 for three weeks, doesn't seem related aside from its title).

Today, the film ranks #154 on the Top 250, and also ranked high in a recent American Film Institute Top 100 list. Clearly, it is a legendary movie that has permeated American film culture. It is most famous for two lines, which both come early in the screenplay. One of the middle-aged friends of Hoffman's parents reveals the word of the future: "Plastics." Some scenes later, Hoffman is gradually cornered by his father's business partner's wife, which results in his naive proclamation, "Mrs. Robinson, I believe that you're trying to seduce me." Well, duh.

Those who grew up on 1970s film and television will recognize many of the supporting faces. Alice Ghostley ("Bewitched") is an addlepated socialite, Normal Fell ("The Ropers") is a suspicious landlord, Mike Farrell ("M*A*S*H") is a bellboy, future film star Richard Dreyfuss wants to call the cops on Hoffman, Katharine Ross is the loveliest of the Stepford Wives, and Buck Henry (frequent "Saturday Night Live" guest host) is a hotel clerk and the primary screenwriter. And of course, Hamilton is the mayor from "Jaws", who doesn't care how many folks get eaten by sharks as long as they spend tourist dollars first.

How I felt about it. My take on The Graduate is that it is a morality tale. At the beginning of the film, he is a stable young man with a limitless future. He is also sexless, and therefore uncorrupted. He soon begins a tawdry affair with Anne Bancroft, who at first seems deeply cynical.

By the middle of the film, they have changed roles. Now it is Hoffman who is contemptuous. Like a drug addict, he has lost all ambition, and is unwilling to do anything except loaf around his parent's home until his next rented room encounter with Bancroft. Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly vulnerable, particularly when her steady diet of younger man sex is threatened by her own ravishing daughter.

Hoffman breaks off the affair to court Ross. He is trying to recover his innocence by acquiring hers. Ross is ambivalent toward Hoffman because she alternatively sees his Bancroft-corrupted present persona and his former (and future) innocent self. Also, she is flattered by his stalking, and his self-destructive behavior brings out her mothering instinct.