2021 Blind Spot Series: The Graduate


What I knew going in: The basic premise, and classic clips I've seen over the years.

Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is home from college and disillusioned with life in general. His parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) are obnoxious and prodding. Once night at a party, long time family friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) seduces Ben. At first he refuses then goes along with it. He also becomes smitten with Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine. (Katharine Ross)

I've had several chances to watch this film over the years and I've just never felt compelled to. I knew the "Mrs. Robinson trope" without having to watch this, but then I started getting more into Anne Bancroft's work, so I finally bit the bullet.

This film is at its best when Anne is on screen. When she isn't, it's not that its bad, but it's sort of uninteresting. Ben and Mrs. Robinson have the best dynamic on screen, and when Elaine comes around, I struggled with understanding why they are eventually drawn to each other after their disastrous first date. They just didn't have the chemistry.

Another thing I noticed, it's not really a criticism but something that stuck out as I was wishing Mrs. Robinson would come back. This movie LOVES a musical montage. I swear all of them combined have to equal like 20 minutes of this runtime. Maybe it stuck out more because they were using popular songs, but it was very noticable.

Over all, I liked this. Hoffman, Bancroft, and Ross all gave great performances and even though I found it uneven at times, the lower end of that scale was never "bad."

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "It's very comfortable just to drift here." - Ben (Dustin Hoffman)

15 comments:

  1. I have the same feelings like you about this film. I also dislike the final ending of the film which was one of the first of these types of endings that were big in the late 60s and 70s. I may try and see it again but there is just something about this film that I found tedious

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    1. Yeah, this movie rides on Anne Bancroft. Without her it would be nothing.

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  2. This is a film that I've seen a bunch of times but as much as people laud it. I start to think it's kind of overrated. It's one of those movies you think you would identify with coming into your 20s but as you go into your 30s. I couldn't identify with the film at all and now that I'm 40. I'm just like... "overrated!" Anne Bancroft does make the film interesting as she's the best thing in that film. I totally would do Mrs. Robinson.

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    1. lol I think anyone would. She's gorgeous. But yeah, outside of the trope this really wasn't amazing.

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  3. There are some juicy bits with Anne Bancroft that are audacious and delicious, and then there are bits that just fall flat, and I think the movie suffers from that uneveness.

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  4. I'm in an interesting place with this movie. I've always liked it but never loved it the way some people do. I do absolutely LOVE the final shot on the bus.

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  5. Okay this is another long one!

    I think you must look at the film in the context of when it came out and how that time was different than this in making it the cultural phenomenon it became. In Benjamin it captured an ennui and disaffection that was rising as the youth movement took hold. Then there was the then shocking younger man/older woman dynamic that raised eyebrows and gave it an extra hook. Plus, the fact that Mike Nichols was white hot as a director coming off the megahit of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    There was a period when I was crazy nuts for this film. I think it was a combination of the iconic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, one of the most precise and appropriate scores of a film ever. You mentioned how the film used popular songs which made the montages stand out, but they weren’t popular back then but written specially to suit the film. It sets so much of the mood to not just individual scenes but the overall feeling of the picture. The other component that drew me in was the overall superiority of the acting. I am still a fan of the film but looking at it now Benjamin really is a yutz and Mrs. Robinson, despite how appealing Anne Bancroft (she is the MVP) makes her, is ultimately a viciously cruel woman willing to sacrifice her daughter's happiness for the sake of appearances. Though I have to say I am not entirely sure that Benjamin and Elaine WILL be happy, which I think is the point of the ambiguous ending.

    So perfect is the cast that it should be a primary example of the felicity of fate. Since not one single performer who is in the film was the original choice for their role, it makes you wonder if it would have been as seminal had it come together with other cast members.

    Just the possibilities for Mrs. Robinson are mind boggling. Jeanne Moreau was the initial choice for the part and both she and second choice Simone Signoret, who was considered once Moreau passed, would have given it a world-weary tinge but would have been missing the humor Anne brought to it. Also by being European they would have changed the backstory of the character somewhat removing the relatable aspect to many in the audience of a young college student who becomes pregnant and gives up her dreams of academic achievement or an independent career for family life.

    Nichols then moved on to the inspired idea of Doris Day, who if she had been game I think would have been remarkable, but she demurred feeling her fans would have felt betrayed. With that perspective she probably wouldn't have been able to relax into the role so hers was the right decision. He then approached Ava Gardner, who could have been a perfect fit, but she was going through a rough patch and their interview was not productive, so he moved on.

    With Doris and Ava out he then offered it to Geraldine Page. Much as I adore her she would have been all wrong; maybe she felt that too for she refused. He then considered Ingrid Bergman, an enchantress but she was wrong in the same way as Moreau and Signoret, then Jean Simmons who would have been an interesting choice but the sense of melancholy that always hung around the edges her persona was the wrong kind of sadness for Mrs. Robinson. He auditioned Angela Lansbury, but her sexiness was of a different type than what was required in the role. He finally offered it to Patricia Neal who with her sexy Southern swagger and knowing way would have been great, but she was still recovering from her series of strokes and not prepared to return to work yet (she came back the next year with an Oscar nominated performance in The Subject Was Roses). While declining she mentioned Anne Bancroft, who had replaced her in the film 7 Women when she had initially been felled, and an ideal match of actress and role was made. Anne’s combo of old-time movie star glamour, contemporary earthiness and a general sense of fierceness enabled her to find the necessary depths in the character.

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  6. I don't think the decision about Benjamin was quite so arduous or hit as many walls. Those considered were not as numerous nor as high profile which would make sense since he is a college age student, although the ultimate pick was 30, and at that time there were far more venerated women actresses in the Mrs. Robinson age range than in that one.

    Nichols first pick was Burt Ward, which seems weird since his fame was as Robin on the ridiculous Batman series but apparently his audition was brilliant and he was offered the role. Even though they were not filming at the time, the producers wouldn't release him for the shooting schedule and so he couldn’t accept. A similar situation to what happened to Kate Jackson when she was not allowed to be released from Charlie's Angels to costar in Kramer vs. Kramer, ironically to costar with Dustin Hoffman. It effectively screwed both of them out of their chances to break away from those confining characters to long lasting success, though Kate had a considerable career in television.

    After Burt's unfortunate situation prevented his casting Nichols looked at all the pretty boys, Beatty, Redford, McQueen, George Peppard etc. and thought they would be too distancing to relate to the character in the way he wanted the audience to, so he offered it to Charles Grodin! who said no because he wasn't happy with the money offered. I like Charles Grodin but he would have been a disaster as Benjamin. His dry, recessive personality has a certain similarity to Dustin Hoffman's but he's missing the dynamism that made Dusty so right for his part and again through circumstances the proper actor found the proper part.

    That left the only other major role of Elaine to fill and many were tested (including Goldie Hawn-the mind reels!) and considered but the eventual frontrunners are a mixed bag. Patty Duke was offered the role but passed. I can and cannot see her in the part, she was an actress of amazing range when properly directed but her tough demeanor strikes me as wrong for Elaine. However it would have been a treat seeing her as Anne's daughter after The Miracle Worker. It would have been her follow up to the disastrous Valley of the Dolls had she accepted and could have undone a great deal of the damage VOTD caused her career.

    After Patty's refusal the role was offered to serial rejector of quality projects Tuesday Weld, who would have worked and Jane Fonda, who wouldn't but the two who seemed the most likely to have fit the part were Candice Bergen, who was most seriously considered and whose patrician breeding would have suited Elaine, and Yvette Mimieux whose fragile air could have been used to advantage considering that for all her beauty Elaine is a very insecure girl. I've never felt that Katherine Ross was as perfect a fit in her role as Hoffman and Anne Bancroft but she got the job done....

    None of the other roles even come close in importance, though in the original script they must have when you consider that Gregory Peck was the first choice for Mr. Robinson, Susan Hayward for Benjamin’s mother and either Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas or Yul Brynner for Mr. Braddock-none of those stars would have contemplated the minimal parts that those characters played in the finished film. I can't envision Gene Hackman as Mr. Robinson but he was cast initially until Nichols realized he was too young to make it work (even though he was a year older than Anne Bancroft).

    Sorry I went on so but casting and its impact on different films fascinates me and this one having so many ways it could have gone always catches my fancy.

    You said you were trying to become more familiar with Anne Bancroft’s work. I know a while back you saw The Miracle Worker (where she is amazing) as a Blind Spot but there is at least one other performance that is an essential in her filmography. The film is called The Pumpkin Eater and she was deservedly Oscar nominated for it (ironically in a role also offered to Patricia Neal first!), in my opinion she should have won.

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    1. Don't apologize! I find casting tidbits interesting too. You bring up important points about the context of when the film was realized. I try to keep that in mind when I review these Blind Spots but it escapes me from time to time. I wasn't really considering it here, and I see how this probably was very different for the time it was made. I'll have to check out The Pumpkin Eater!

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  7. It's been years since I watched this and I don't remember much other than liking it.

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    1. I feel like years from now I'll only remember Anne.

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  8. My family hails this movie as a classic, and I understand why. But I'm always particularly bored by it even with the good performances. The ending to me is the most memorable part as the decision to run away starts to sink in. Nice review!

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    1. I'm surprised to hear so many people feel like "eh, it's fine" I was expecting a lot more love.

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