Nichols manipulates each frame so that viewers can vicariously experience every wince and twinge of the young man's discomfort.

James Plath's picture

I hadn't seen "The Graduate" in years, and so I welcomed the chance to preview the new 40th Anniversary Edition that MGM just released. Two audio commentaries have been added to this version, as well as a few new short features and a second audio disc featuring four Simon & Garfunkel songs from the original soundtrack album. If you're doing the download math, that saves you iPod people roughly four dollars.

But it's the film itself that's the surprise. I'd forgotten how self-consciously stylish "The Graduate" is--how many artsy shots it employs, for example. The most famous, of course, is the cover shot showing Dustin Hoffman through the space formed between the bottom of the frame and an outstretched woman's leg. Only slightly less famous are the shots of Hoffman in scuba gear showing off his birthday present, or the shot of him pounding on the glass at the church. My favorites, though, are shots through a fish tank and in the reflected glass surface of a coffee table. Such heavy-handed camerawork occurs throughout the film in striking ways. And yet, despite all those artsy shots, director Mike Nichols' "baby" also smacks of the Great American home movie.

Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a recent college grad who's so fawned over by his parents and poked and proded by his parents' friends that he looks like a deer in headlights in almost every frame--the way people do when amateur photographers turn the camera on them and tell them, "Say something." You get that feeling a lot, during the film, which is designed to help the audience feel and experience things from Braddock's point of view, though Ben is pictured, and so it isn't traditional point-of-view filming. But it reinforces Ben's situation perfectly.

Benjamin is confused about his future, overwhelmed and embarrassed by the attention he's getting ("Everybody, let me read to you all the nice things that Benjamin's friends wrote in his yearbook"), pressured by people asking him what he's going to do with his life, and annoyed that everyone seems to have advice for him.

Then there's Mrs. Robinson.

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know . . . wo, wo, wo

Or maybe it should be spelled "w-o-e," because Benjamin's life gets suddenly complicated when the wife of his father's business partner--someone he's known his whole life--puts the moves on him after insisting he take her home from the party his parents threw in his honor. At first comically put off, Ben embraces his inner horny guy and begins an affair with the older woman. Though Hoffman reminds us in an interview carried over from the first DVD release that the age difference between him and this "older" actress was just five years, Anne Bancroft makes the jaded and chain-smoking Mrs. Robinson seem frighteningly older. At one point Ben stammers, shouldn't we talk one of these times, but she quickly squashes him: What's there to talk about? We have nothing in common."

It's Bancroft and Hoffman who make this film memorable, but the rest of the cast are no slouches either. Elizabeth Wilson and William Daniels are appropriately doting (and clueless) as Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, while Murray Hamilton is convincing as the cuckolded Mr. Robinson., while TV-on-DVD fans will enjoy cameos from people like Norman Fell ("Three's Company") and Alice Ghostley and Marion Lorne ("Bewitched"). Then there's Katharine Ross, who does a pretty good job as "the other woman." When Mr. Robinson tries to get Ben to take out his daughter, she complicates his life even more than her mother has. In the end, "The Graduate" is less a document of the '60s than it is a coming-of-age tale with a fanciful twist and plenty of cinematic style.

None of the press materials say that this has been remastered, but to my eye it looks slightly less grainy than the previous Special Edition release. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, "The Graduate" shows its age with colors that aren't as bright and fully saturated in exterior shots as they are in interior ones. You especially notice this with the clarity of those fish tank shots compared to the lawn party shots.

Instead of the Stereo Surround soundtrack that we got on the Special Edition, this anniversary DVD gives both the original English Mono, French Mono, and a jazzed-up English Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles in English (CC) and Spanish.

Two commentaries are provided, one featuring actors Hoffman and Ross, and the other with Nichols being interviewed by directing buddy Steven Soderbergh. By far the latter is the most interesting, with the two directors covering all sorts of ground, ranging from actors who weren't cast and behind-the-scenes problems to interpretations of the scenes and shooting locations. The actors' commentary is, by contrast, surprisingly dull. Maybe that's because we learn from Hoffman on a separate interview that he angered Ross by slapping her tushie during a difficult bedroom scene to try to lighten the mood. He says they're friends now, but you couldn't prove it by this commentary. There's about as much warmth between these two as there is between ex-spouses who are forced to spend two hours together. What's more, there just isn't enough said in between all of those awkward moments to make it worthwhile.

The interview Hoffman did for the Special Edition is included here, but the behind-the-scenes documentary has been replaced by three featurettes that cover some of the same ground and add retrospective elements that befit an anniversary edition: "Students of the Graduate," "The Seduction," and "The Graduate at 25."

I wasn't wo-wo- wowed by any of the features, but the best of the bunch was the Nichols/Soderbergh commentary.

For music lovers, there's that bonus CD with four Simon & Garfunkel tracks: "The Sound of Silence" (3:03), "Mrs. Robinson" (4:04), "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" (3:10), and "April Come She Will" (1:48).

Bottom Line:
Hoffman hits a home run in his first starring film role, and director Nichols manipulates each frame so that viewers can vicariously experience every wince and twinge of the young man's discomfort. It's that dead-on human element that makes "The Graduate" a timeless film, rather than a '60s artifact.


Film Value