Thursday, December 20, 2007

Post GRADUATE Studies

This Friday, director Mike Nichols' latest film, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, is getting a full release but it's another Nichols' movie released 40 years ago to the day (Dec. 21st, 1967) that I'm blogging about here - THE GRADUATE.

That's right, the much beloved classic that starred a young then unknown Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate who's worried about his future. Braddock's affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), his courtship of her daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross), and the famous wedding crashing climax are all the stuff of legend so let's celebrate its 40th anniversary with this deluxe post. 

There are Spoliers here so if you have not seen THE GRADUATE go immediately get a copy and watch it then get back to me. Everybody else should know the cast, the plot, and remember its widely quoted dialogue (even the currently playing I'M NOT THERE quotes the "good evening Mr. Gladstone" line) as well as the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack but here's some things that you may not know: 

5 Fun Facts About THE GRADUATE:

1. Paul Simon's soundtrack submission was originally called "Mrs. Roosevelt" - According to Wikipedia Simon played the director a bit of a new composition and said "'It's a song about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.' Nichols advised Simon, 'It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt.'" 

2. It was Richard Dreyfus's first movie - Albeit a brief appearance but he's visible over landlord Norman Fell's (yep, he was also the landlord on Three's Company) shoulder in the boarding house scene. Dreyfus's only line: "Shall I call the cops? I'll call the cops."

3. The could have beens - Imagine alternate universe versions in which Benjamin is played by either Robert Redford, Charles Grodin (who both tested for the part) or Warren Beatty (who did BONNIE AND CLYDE instead) with Natalie Wood or Sally Field in the role of Elaine. Pretty much impossible to picture, huh? Also consider that Marilyn Monroe was originally slated to play Mrs. Robinson and that the part was also offered to Doris Day and you really get a Bizarro world thing going. Thank goodness the stars aligned casting-wise because if it went any of those directions I don't think I would be blogging about it today. 

4. The leg in the poster isn't Anne Bancroft's - it's Linda Gray's. Gray, the Dallas TV star, later played Mrs. Robinson on stage in the West End and Broadway play adaptations. 

5. Benjamin is driving in the wrong direction - In Dustin Hoffman's DVD commentary * he says "I remember after the film opening, for years, people coming up and saying 'you know you're going the wrong way?' " It's true Benjamin is driving his Alfa Romeo west on the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Bridge though he's supposed to be on his way to Berkeley, which is to the east. On a separate commentary track Nichols tells Steven Soderbergh: "If you went to Berkeley you wouldn't be visible to a helicopter - you'd be on the lower level - I said screw it, you know? What are they going to do to us?". 

* The new 40th anniversary DVD set has a recently recorded and very entertaining commentary with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross. Hoffman does most of the talking - even when he confesses to Ross that he had a crush on her back in the day she has little to say.

I recently re-read the 1962 Charles Webb novel of THE GRADUATE (that's my own personal yellowed beat-up paperback pictured on the left) and was surprised at how close an adaptation the movie was. Only a few notable differences - Benjamin shortly after coming home to Pasenda takes a hitchhiking trip for a few weeks and claims to his father upon his return that he helped fight a large forest fire, washed dishes, and spent time with prostitutes. Since Benjamin twists the truth throughout the whole story we are not sure whether to believe him but it's a telling footnote. Also the iconic line "plastics" is not in the original text. However, "Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me" is. 

There has been much talk of a sequel - Buck Henry's (playing himself - he was the original co-screenwriter of THE GRADUATE) pitch to studio exec. Tim Robbins in THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1992) of course comes to mind: ‘‘Okay, here it is: The Graduate, Part II! Ben and Elaine are married still, living in a big old spooky house in Northern California somewhere. Mrs. Robinson, her aging mother, lives with them. She’s had a stroke. And they’ve got a daughter in college — Julia Roberts, maybe. It’ll be dark and weird and funny — with a stroke.’’ In 2004 Nikki Finke in LA Weekly resonded angrily when she came upon a report of a sequel being produced with Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and Shirley MacLaine. 

The resulting film RUMOR HAS IT... (Dir. Rob Reiner, 2005) turned out not to be a sequel but a regular ole rom com with the premise that a woman (Aniston) with the same Pasenda background discovers that her family was the inspiration for the characters in the book and movie. 

Costner plays Beau Burroughs (get it?) and MacLlaine is the boozy cynical Mrs. Richelieu (of course you get it) and the whole affair is lame and badly written (they should've gotten Buck Henry to do a re-write) adding nothing to THE GRADUATE legacy. Looks like it has finally quashed the possibility of a sequel and uh, that the fact that one of the pivotal principles is no longer with us - the late great Anne Bancroft (1931-2005).

Okay! So once more Happy Birthday THE GRADUATE! Yet again, Benjamin and Elaine board the bus that drives off into the sunset and we all sigh.

More later...


Nick Plowman said...

Want to know a sad fact?
I have never seen The Graduate.
Yeah, I know, it's pathetic. I am actually going to get off this computer right now, and go to my video store and get the film, if it is that good, I have to see it.

*I still really want to see Charlie Wilson's War though too, Mike Nichols is great, even if I haven’t seen one of his greatest.

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