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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Edition) (1967)

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?"
- Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: October 03, 2007

Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross
Other Stars: Norman Fell, Richard Dreyfuss, William Daniels, Elizabeth Wilson, Murray Hamilton
Director: Mike Nichols

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:45m:48s
Release Date: September 11, 2007
UPC: 027616075031
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-A- A-

DVD Review

There may never have been a more fantastically zeitgesty movie than The Graduate, capturing so perfectly the mood of the country on the cusp of the cultural shift that we now categorize under the broad heading of The Sixties—but forty years out, it's still shockingly fresh, nothing even close to a museum piece. It's such a fantastically iconic film that it's impossible to imagine the course of movies without it—it's one of the great ones, and almost seems to have improved with the years.

It also marks one of the most auspicious screen debuts of all time—the only rival I can think of for it is Peter O'Toole's, in Lawrence of Arabia, but not even that marked the sort of paradigm shift in our collective notion of what makes a leading man that came with this performance. I'm talking of course about Dustin Hoffman, who plays Benjamin Braddock, the title character—on paper, the role called for a conventionally handsome and dashing leading man (a young Robert Redford comes immediately to mind), but Hoffman sets off all kinds of fireworks that nobody else would have. And it's a bit of casting that opened up the floodgates, on some level—without this, there's probably no Travis Bickle or Michael Corleone, for instance. One of the things that you might tend to forget, though, is that Hoffman gives a brilliantly comic performance in a movie that can be mortifyingly hilarious. Ben is just out of school back east, and returns home to Mom and Dad's, in Southern California—on paper he's got nothing but potential, he seems poised to be one of the best and the brightest, but cascades of free-floating anxiety and alienation make his world an unsettling place.

Filling the void for him, then, is his father's business partner's wife, a neglected and bored and increasingly desperate housewife, whose first name is only one of her many secrets—Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson gives an unconscionably winning performance, all smoky midlife desire, and she and Ben become regulars at a local hotel for their frequent trysts. These couplings seem to be about self-loathing as much as they are about sex—they're both obviously brimming with the former, and don't know what to do about it except burn much of it off between the sheets. The light in all of Ben's darkness comes about halfway through the movie's running time, most inconveniently in the personage of Mrs. Robinson's daughter—and Katherine Ross as Elaine is really kind of mesmerizingly beautiful.

But this is so much more than just a sordid intergenerational love triangle, and for that we have to thank director Mike Nichols and his collaborators. This was just his second picture, after Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but his control is already masterful. He's got unbelievable storytelling command, and trusts the camera and his actors enough to shoot extraordinarily long takes; he's got such control over the material that he can even show us an empty room, with the characters all speaking from off screen, and still retain our hypnotic interest. The screenplay by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham is a paragon of efficiency and mordant wit, and the technical elements are unparalleled. Cinematographer Robert Surtees was an old Hollywood hand, and seems to have found new reservoirs of energy by working with Nichols—it's the same dynamic you see decades later between Sam Mendes and Conrad Hall on American Beauty. Production designer Richard Sylbert turns the arid L.A. suburbs into a kind of emotional jungle—it can feel like there's a dead animal in every scene sometimes; and the editing by frequent Nichols collaborator Sam O'Steen provides pacing and punch lines that are impeccable.

And no doubt part of the movie's cultural groundswell came from its soundtrack. The Simon and Garfunkel songs are the perfect mirrors for Ben's churning emotional state—just a few strums on Paul Simon's guitar, or simply the name "Mrs. Robinson," are enough to conjure up the ineffable mood of the movie and its transitional time. It's hard to say enough good things about this movie, and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading this review right now and go get yourself a copy of this DVD.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Surtees' photography and the occasionally lurid and often eccentric production design look marvelous; the film stock seems to have degraded some with the years, however, a problem endemic to color pictures of the period. The transfer is certainly a fine one, though.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Any of the available options will do; in all, you'll find a little too much ambient noise, distracting from Nichols' frequently brilliant use of sound (e.g., Ben's painful birthday party entrance in his spanking new scuba suit).

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Raging Bull, MGM Oscar winners on DVD
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross (track one); Mike Nichols with Steven Soderbergh (track two)
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying audio CD—soundtrack sampler
  2. insert with movie trivia
Extras Review: Ben and Elaine back together! Well, for a commentary track, anyway—Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross remember the project with great specificity, especially regarding the working methods of their director. It sounds like they were all trying to capture Nichols' cadence, and you can see the influence of the director's comedic work with Elaine May all over the piece. Hoffman reports that all throughout he "expected to be fired," and that Gene Hackman was originally cast as Mr. Robinson. There's a particular appreciation of Surtees—Hoffman seems to have read up on the shoot, courtesy of an article on it in American Cinematographer, and he spouts a good bit of that back at us. Perhaps most unnervingly, we learn the ages of the actors in this taboo intergenerational tryst: Hoffman was 30, Bancroft 35.

As he did on Virginia Woolf?, Steven Soderbergh serves as a terrific catalyst for conversation with Nichols, and it's a pleasure to hear the two of them talking shop. The different approaches to Nichols' first two movies is a principal subject, as are the leading members of the production team—Nichols also identifies a couple of key influences, perhaps most notably A Place in the Sun. What's striking too is the workmanlike quality both directors take to their films—they seem to fully anticipate failure, so successes are pleasant surprises, and hits on the scale of this one are just unimaginable.

Students of The Graduate (25m:56s) is newly produced for this DVD, and features big fans of the film like Harold Ramis, David O. Russell, and Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton; film critics and academics; and a couple of production team members, including Buck Henry and producer Lawrence Turman. It's an appreciation of the movie and its legacy, and many of the same interview subjects reappear in The Seduction (8m:49s), focusing on the Ben/Mrs. Robinson relationship. (Also on hand to vouch for the emotional truth of the portrayal is relationship therapist Dr. Deborah Cooper.) Also here are a couple of pieces from a previous anniversary: The Graduate at 25 (22m:38s) covers some of the same territory, and closes kind of brilliantly with Henry's pitch for a sequel in the opening sequence of The Player. (In this too are clips from Ross's screen test, courtesy of Criterion's laserdisc release; there are some choice bits out there that still haven't made it to DVD.)

One on One with Dustin Hoffman (22m:40s) is essentially extended footage from the 25th anniversary materials; he talks us through appearing off Broadway and getting asked to audition, and about how, obviously, this movie changed his life. The other notable extra is an accompanying CD, which isn't a full soundtrack disc, but features four of the Simon and Garfunkel songs. Coo coo ca choo.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

It can be a frightful thing, to go back and look at an all-time favorite, for fear that it won't match the movie you've been carrying around in your head. But in this 40th anniversary edition, The Graduate still teems with all the humor, pathos, craft and serendipity that have made it such a landmark film. The commentary tracks are both worth your time as well. Most highly recommended.

 


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