"The Graduate" was the most successful independent film from 1967 through 1990, until the release of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles": Indies which attract over $100 million in box office receipts are on a very short list. Admittedly, "The Graduate's" credentials were so impeccable that its first audiences may not have realized that they were watching a ground-breaking film in so many ways. Director Mike Nichols, screenwriters Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, cinematographer Robert L. Surtees and composer Dave Grusin were all sizzling hot at that stage of their careers and everyone wanted to work with them. Everyone, that is, except Doris Day, who turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson. Would Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" have given "Que Sera, Que Sera" a run for its money if we'd envisioned Day as Benjamin Braddock's seductress, instead of Anne Bancroft? Nah, I don't think so. Day, as the golden girl of 1948-73, would have been as miscast as Mrs. R. as Lucille Ball was as Mame or Tom Cruise was as Lestat or Ralph Fiennes was as John Steed!
Anne Bancroft, however, was surprising us all the time with her range as an actress and who could have brought such razor sharp timing to the sequence where she kisses Benjamin BEFORE exhaling her cigarette? Dustin Hoffman, then thirty and just six years younger than Bancroft, was an unknown quantity at the time, unless you're among his relatives and caught his first flick, "Madigan's Millions." Nichols had seen him in a play and insisted Hoffman would be perfect in the title role, despite his age. Katharine Ross became an overnight icon as Elaine, but Hollywood of the late sixties was no longer capable of sustaining or protecting its stars. Her career continued, but, except for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," not at the level of this star-making role.
The week "The Graduate" opened in Woodland, California, students and teachers alike were sharing inside jokes, quoting lines and acting out situations from the movie. The word "Plastics" was like a password into "Graduate"-speak, ditto "ELAINE! ELAINE! ELAINE!" Graduates weren't QUITE like this in 1967, Benjamin looks more at home in 1962, but the way he fights for his happiness, despite all his flaws, struck a nerve with audiences of its era and, unsurprisingly, still does so today. As a San Franciscan, though, there's just one thing about "The Graduate" that will bug me to the end of time. Why didn't anyone notice that Benjamin was driving to SAN FRANCISCO on the Bay Bridge, not to BERKELEY? He couldn't get anywhere NEAR Elaine with that sense of direction!
© 2005 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 6/8/05
USA - 1967