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The Graduate: Special Edition

MGM Home Entertainment

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross

Written by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry,
from the novel by Charles Webb

Directed by Mike Nichols

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Very few superlatives do justice in describing The Graduate, Mike Nichols' brilliant, subversive coming-of-age tale, which is easily the best American film of the 1960s, and with sparse company in any decade.

Dustin Hoffman became a superstar in his debut role as Benjamin Braddock, a tightly wound overachiever daunted by the prospect of life after college. Drowning in anxiety and smothered by the lofty expectations of his status-obsessed upper-middle-class parents, Ben is in desperate need of a release.

Up to this point, Ben's dilemma is a shared experience amongst a majority of educated young males struggling with idealist schoolboy dreams against a cold, unwelcoming reality. However, where Ben finds his escape is a thankfully more remote occurrence. After driving home the wife of his father's business partner from a party, Ben is skillfully propositioned by the disillusioned Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). At first, he panics, but then he awkwardly accepts, and so commences a summer of lazy poolside sunning, beer drinking, and secret — though impersonal — nighttime sexual liaisons with the older woman.

As this unusual strain of wild oat-sowing begins to grind into mildly contentious monotony for the young man, he stumbles upon a rejuvenating spark of idealistic youth: beautiful Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross), the daughter of his cold, self-pitying mistress. Naturally, complications ensue.

Adapted from Charles Webb's short novel by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, The Graduate is both hilarious and resonant, dressing the very real and consuming anxiety of young adulthood in the trappings of farce. Ben's tryst with Mrs. Robinson is not only a desperate act of withdrawal by Ben, it's also a broad teasing and rejection of the comfort-class. Ben is graduating into a free-thinker, albeit a naive one, and he promptly attempts to map out a life according to his own terms, wise or unwise.

Nichols is at his most vital, using a deeply textured, controlled, and very experimental visual style (at least as far as mainstream movies are concerned), and his most hilarious scenes are also ruminative and foreboding, echoed by the then-groundbreaking (some may say excessive) song score by Simon and Garfunkel. Nichols manages, especially in the last scene, to capture the fear, defiance and folly of breaking out on your own with unparalleled lucidity and humor. He also allows an unusual extra 30 seconds to tick away on the film's final shot of Ben and Elaine, making a gripping about-turn on the formula of happy endings.

Hoffman is tremendous, displaying off-the-mark his skill at thoughtful dramatics, in addition to the deft knack for subtle physical comedy, that would suit him so well 15 years later in Tootsie. Bancroft, too, is wonderful as the sharp, though beaten, Mrs. Robinson, and Ross is at her most stunning as Elaine. William Daniels as Ben's father and Norman Fell as Ben's suspicious landlord also turn in fine supporting performaces.

It must be noted as well that our culture would be much poorer without The Graduate. Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson has become an icon of mature sexuality, aided in great part by the iconic, nostalgic Simon and Garfunkel song that shares her name. In fact, their other songs written for the film ("Sounds of Silence," "Scarborough Fair") have become timeless classics. Several films also owe this classic a great debt, particularly the marvelous 1999 comedy Rushmore — it's easy to see how Max Fisher could get messed up in Ben's predicament a few years down the road.

The Graduate is, in many ways, a fortuitous result of divine synergy and timing, with Hoffman bucking stereotypes to win the role (in the novel, Ben was a Redford-like WASP), and Nichols at the top of his talent on only his second feature film. In truth, his peak only lasted four more years, and his output has been hollow and mediocre ever since.

MGM's DVD is presented in terrific 2.35:1 widescreen and 2.0 Dolby Surround. This special edition features the same Dustin Hoffman interview and retrospective documentary included on the 25th Anniversary VHS release, but it does not feature the unnecessary video of The Lemonheads' "Mrs. Robinson" cover. Trailer, keep case

— Gregory P. Dorr

(Editor's Note: This DVD was originally released by PolyGram but has since been re-issued by MGM.)

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