One of the most beloved American films of all time, The Graduate earned Mike Nichols a best director Oscar, brought the music of Simon & Garfunkel to a wider audience, and introduced the world to a young actor named Dustin Hoffman. Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) has just finished college and is already lost in a sea of confusion and barely contained angst when he becomes sexually involved with the middle-aged mother (Anne Bancroft) of the young woman he’s dating (Katharine Ross). Visually imaginative and impeccably acted, with a clever, endlessly quotable script by Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb), The Graduate had the kind of cultural impact that comes along only once in a generation.
Benjamin Braddock and I have a lot in common. Just like the main character in Mike Nichols' classic 1967 comedy, 'The Graduate,' I returned home to the bosom of my idiosyncratic family following my college commencement and proceeded to spend the ensuing summer lazing around the house, contemplating my future, dodging questions about what I wanted to do with my life, and, most notably, avoiding any kind of responsibility. And like Benjamin, I was good at it. The only differences were I lived in Connecticut, not Southern California; no one suggested I go into plastics; I watched movies instead of floated on an inflatable raft in my backyard pool (didn't have one of those, dammit); and no smoking hot neighborhood matron (I really didn't have one of those) came sniffing around my door offering no-strings sexual favors (double dammit!!). Granted, the wanton woman who sinks her claws into Ben's back (and libido) ultimately gives him a lot more grief than ecstasy (the compassionate teacher in 'Tea and Sympathy' she is not, and chances are if Ben ever chose to speak about his experiences with her, he would not be kind), but she also opens his naïve eyes to the ways of the world, and indirectly shows him what really matters in life.
'The Graduate' is arguably the most famous seduction story in film history, and though it begins as a risqué romp – and sustains a whimsical tone throughout – this generation-defining movie makes some sober statements about both the arduous (and continual) maturation process, as well as the rueful ennui of middle age. Its two colorful central characters act as conduits through which such ideas flow, and their ill-fated coupling is the stuff of cinema legend.
Shy, sheltered Ben (Dustin Hoffman) catches the eye of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father's business partner and mother of all cougars, at his graduation party, where his parents' annoying friends overwhelm him with effusive well-wishing and probing questions about his next move in life. Although he initially resists her brazen attempts to seduce him, Ben succumbs to his curiosity and raging testosterone levels and arranges a lusty liaison, which, after a hilariously awkward start, soon evolves into a regular series of sexual trysts. The physically satisfying but emotionally empty arrangement becomes complicated, however, when Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) returns home from college, and both Mr. Robinson and Ben's parents pressure Ben to ask her out. He reluctantly agrees, much to the chagrin of his jealous lover, who harbors more than a few unresolved issues regarding her daughter. The thorny situation takes a very messy turn when Ben finds himself falling for Elaine. And when he's forced to spill his dirty little secret…well, you can just imagine the fireworks and fallout.
Though there's a lot of spot-on satire in 'The Graduate,' its relatable elements of character are what keep it relevant. (And were it not for its decidedly retro '60s feel, which is a big part of its charm, the film would be timeless.) Director Mike Nichols and screenwriters Calder Willingham and Buck Henry deftly lampoon suburban mores and the aimlessness of America's privileged youth, but dress up the send-up with a harsh, cynical edge that lends the proceedings welcome gravity. Loss of innocence is one of the movie's major themes, and at times its depiction can be painful. What begins as a playful, carnal indulgence for Ben soon evolves into a tawdry dalliance that weighs heavily upon his psyche. By taking the cart before the horse and, like many young males, becoming obsessed with sex, he misses out on the emotional connections that solidify and enhance a relationship. Mrs. Robinson may educate him on the finer points of erotic love, but Elaine becomes Ben's tutor in matters of the heart.
'The Graduate' is also about breaking free, forging one's own path, pursuing what one believes is right, and the anxiety and uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with such daunting notions. Nichols, though, is wise enough not to let his audience – and characters – get carried away by such liberating ideas. As we all know, life is not nearly as carefree as we'd like it to be, which makes the up-in-the-air, what-now coda tacked on to the exhilarating altar-raiding climax such a stroke of genius. Escaping the confines of parental constriction is easy, the film tells us. Living life afterward is not. And reality puts a damper on the party pretty damn quick.
Nichols won a Best Director Oscar for 'The Graduate,' and he earned it by infusing his film with plenty of innovative technique. The seduction sequence, with its quick cutaways giving us fleeting glimpses of Mrs. Robinson's naked body, brilliantly mirrors Ben's confusion and panic, while off-kilter shots reflect the affair's out-of-whack nature and imbalance of power. The creatively compiled montages (beautifully set to Simon and Garfunkel's music) speak volumes about Ben's state of mind at various plot points, and the shot of Mr. Braddock (William Daniels) lecturing Ben against a blistering bright sun is inspired. Considering 'The Graduate' was only Nichols' second movie, his brash command of the medium and willingness to color outside the lines is really quite remarkable.
The film's frank depiction of sex also pushed the envelope back in its day, and Nichols, aided by the fine comic timing and inflections of Hoffman and Bancroft, constructs some memorable sequences that accentuate the inherent humor, clumsiness, and insecurities that often trip up the mating dance. Though Hoffman at times overplays Ben's innocence, the 30-year-old actor acutely conveys the alienation and angst afflicting not just his character, but an entire generation of young people. It's a breakout portrayal, and one that will be forever identified with him.
Of course, say the name Mrs. Robinson, and Bancroft immediately springs to mind. This iconic, supremely nuanced performance rivals her Oscar-winning turn in 'The Miracle Worker,' as the veteran actress bravely sheds her inhibitions and embraces the world-weary humor and razor sharp edges of this juicy role. (Never for a moment would we dream that in reality Bancroft is only six years older than Hoffman!) And under Nichols' tutelage, even Katharine Ross, who at times during her long career has had trouble acting her way out of a paper bag, turns in some surprisingly sensitive work that justly earned her, along with her co-stars, an Oscar nomination. Film buffs will also enjoy spotting a young Richard Dreyfuss in a bit part, as well as Mike Farrell of 'M*A*S*H' fame in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it walk-on as a bellboy.
'The Graduate' is both a period snapshot and an enduring coming-of-age portrait distinguished by expert direction, incisive performances, and a smart, witty script. It garnered a slew of well-deserved Oscar nominations (including one for Best Picture), and remains an iconic lynchpin of late-'60s cinema. Much like its hero, 'The Graduate' rebels against the tenets of traditional Hollywood moviemaking, and helped forge a movement toward more modern, edgy, creative productions. And it still plays well and speaks to us today. (Those of us who first saw it years ago and identified with Ben, now can find elements of his parents and Mrs. Robinson lurking inside us, much to our horror!) So here's to you, Mike Nichols and company, for making a film that continues to resonate intellectually, emotionally, and stylistically...and for showing us that if we want a happy ending in real life, we're gonna have to work for it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Criterion edition of 'The Graduate' is packaged in a standard Criterion case and includes a 12-page, fold-out booklet that features an insightful and elegantly written essay by critic and columnist Frank Rich, a cast and crew listing, transfer notes, and a few color scene shots. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and two audio tracks are included - an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix approved by director Mike Nichols. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with aquatic sound effects immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
According to the liner notes, "this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution...from the 35 mm original camera negative," and the results are quite stunning. Even better than MGM's previous high-def rendering, this impeccable presentation brings the image to brilliant life, with gorgeously saturated colors, eye-popping clarity, and perfectly pitched contrast enhancing Nichols' innovative shot compositions. Grain is quite evident during the opening credit sequence, but soon becomes more muted, blending seamlessly into the movie's fabric. Despite a crisp sheen, 'The Graduate' looks very film-like, and boasts strong black levels (that create a few striking silhouettes), well-defined whites, and natural, stable flesh tones that accurately show off Bancroft's tan lines and Hoffman's bronzed torso. Colors are vibrant, but always remain in check. Benjamin's red Alfa Romeo, the verdant lawns and foliage, and the aqua blue of the swimming pool water speckled with yellow sunlight reflections consistently perk up the picture, while Elaine's solid pink dress lends a refreshing pastel splash to a stuffy hotel scene. Good shadow delineation is essential for some of Nichols' shots to succeed, and this transfer delivers on every occasion, with no crush or noise cropping up to dull the impact. Background elements are sharper than ever before, the black-and-white and leopard clothing patterns remain rock solid, and close-ups are quite detailed, allowing us to see the individual pores on Hoffman's face and more fully drink in Ross' fresh-faced beauty. 'The Graduate' transfers keeps improving, but this one outclasses them all and is definitely worthy of an upgrade.
Two audio options are included on the disc - the original monaural track, which is presented in LPCM and remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic audio tracks, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 director-approved remix, which was created from the 35 mm magnetic tracks and original soundtrack recordings. Both tracks provide crystal clear, well-balanced, and vibrant sound, so recommending one over the other is very tough, and really comes down to personal preference and how much of a purist one is. The monaural track projects sonic accents a bit more distinctly, but the Simon and Garfunkel songs sound quite flat by comparison and the overall presentation naturally lacks the expansive feel of a multi-channel mix. That said, surround activity on the 5.1 track is faint at best; what it provides is a fuller stereo presence and substantive bass activity, both of which add weight and depth to the narrative and music. Dialogue is a tad better prioritized on the mono track, but it's fully comprehendible on the 5.1 track, too. The 5.1 mix really shines during the music sequences, embracing all the varied tones and subtleties and heightening their presence and impact. A wide dynamic scale on both tracks keeps distortion at bay, even during such challenging moments as Elaine's bloodcurdling scream and Benjamin's mother's shriek of joy, and no age-related imperfections such as hiss, pops, and crackles intrude. Criterion has done a great job with both options, each of which fully involves the viewer in this timeless tale.
The previous Blu-ray edition of 'The Graduate' included zero supplements, but this Criterion release more than makes up for that glaring and shameful omission with a mammoth extras package featuring new and vintage material that both dissects and celebrates this classic film.
Audio Commentary with Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh - Nichols passed away in 2014, which makes this 2007 commentary a rare and wonderful treasure. Hearing his perspective on a variety of topics relating to film in general and 'The Graduate' in particular, all delivered with such insight and wit, is a real treat. Director Steven Soderbergh mostly functions as an interviewer, but also contributes some cogent remarks, most notably that the casting of Hoffman as Benjamin was one of the most significant choices in film history. Nichols discusses the movie's drowning and objectification themes, talks about the strong influence of George Stevens and Preston Sturges on his filmmaking style, relates how Bancroft discovered the essence of Mrs. Robinson, and amusingly recalls how he almost cut the "Plastics" line out of the picture because he thought it was dated. He also compares Mrs. Robinson to Hedda Gabler, analyzes the relationship between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine, dissects his visual style and editing choices, recounts how he came to use Simon and Garfunkel's music, and points out where he infused the film with some classic Nichols and May sexual comedy. He and Soderbergh enjoy a terrific rapport and engage in a stimulating dialogue about moviemaking that raises this commentary to a rarefied level. Any film aficionado and 'Graduate' fan should not miss this insightful and absorbing track.
Audio Commentary with Howard Suber - The noted UCLA film scholar recorded this scene-specific commentary back in 1987, but it's fresh as a daisy almost three decades later. Engrossing, thought-provoking, and flawlessly delivered, this master class on 'The Graduate' stands as one of the finest commentaries I have ever heard (and I've heard plenty!). The level of detail and insight is astounding, as Suber draws our attention to countless bits of minutia and discusses an array of themes that illuminate 'The Graduate' like never before. From costumes and sets to lighting, editing, sound, and colors, Suber covers it all, sprinkling in social facts, Freudian allusions, and choice morsels of trivia into his eloquent, free-flowing remarks. Among other things, we learn about the differences between comedy and tragedy, the definition of a high-concept film and how it relates to 'The Graduate,' the importance of the "one-hour pivot point" in film, and how the script's lack of political relevance has strangely contributed to its timelessness. Suber compares the film's ending to 'High Noon' and describes many deleted scenes and how they would have put a different spin on the story. This is an essential track that's guaranteed to heighten one's appreciation of this classic film and every element that comprises it. I just wish I could watch every movie with Suber seated by my side.
Interview with Producer Lawrence Turman and Screenwriter Buck Henry (HD, 25 minutes) - This lively 2015 conversation between Turman and Henry, both of whom are incredibly spry for age 89 and 85 respectively, contains lots of colorful anecdotes and reminiscences. Turman talks about the "strange book" upon which 'The Graduate' is based, how he came to hire Nichols, and the screenplay's lengthy development, while Henry proclaims, "Benjamin Braddock is my story!" We also hear about the hassles the crew faced filming the final scenes in the church, the dispute between Henry and Calder Willingham over screen credit for the script, and how Gene Hackman was originally cast as Mr. Robinson, but was replaced early on. The stage adaptation of 'The Graduate' and the film's striking cinematography merit mentions as well in this engaging piece.
Interview with Dustin Hoffman (HD, 38 minutes) - This captivating interview, also from 2015, allows Hoffman the chance to speak about 'The Graduate' in depth, and his candid comments and introspective insights are often fascinating. Hoffman admits he didn't think he was right for the part of Benjamin (or had much of a chance to be a movie star), recalls his nervous screen test with Katharine Ross, and talks about his early days and insecurities as an actor. He shares a great anecdote about the church climax, praises Nichols and Ross, notes that Hackman's firing was the best thing that ever happened to him, and even divulges his ideas for a 'Graduate' sequel. Hoffman always rivets our attention, and this in-depth interview really gets under his and the movie's skin.
Interview with Bobbie O'Steen (HD, 26 minutes) - The widow of editor Sam O'Steen analyzes her late husband's work on the film and his close, "yin-yang" collaboration with Nichols, which spanned 28 years and 11 films. O'Steen says Sam "used every trick he had in his career" on 'The Graduate,' which was often a "high-wire act" filled with experimentation and avant-garde technique. "Style is content," O'Steen says, and she explains the meaning and purpose behind the presentation of various scenes. She also talks about her favorite cut in the picture and reveals the famous final shot of Hoffman and Ross in the school bus was really an accident. This is another fine piece that adds context and perspective to the film.
Featurette: "Students of 'The Graduate'" (HD, 26 minutes) - This 2007 featurette corrals the views of many filmmakers and critics, including Harold Ramis, David O. Russell, Newsweek critic David Ansen, and Turman, Henry, and O'Steen, all of whom praise and analyze this influential film. They talk about the movie's "gravitational pull," European look, and how Nichols combined visual acuity with his stage training to create a unique mise en scène, and also touch upon how Hoffman's vulnerabilities went against the grain of traditional Hollywood leading men, how Benjamin is an "all-inclusive metaphor for dissatisfied youth," and how Simon and Garfunkel's music creates a "tonal flow" for the movie. The varied perspectives included here and enthusiasm of all involved once again hammer home the film's importance and relevance.
Featurette: "'The Graduate' at 25" (HD, 23 minutes) - Also from 2007, this retrospective piece is most notable for the appearance of Katharine Ross, who comments on the extensive rehearsal period the actors enjoyed and analyzes her most difficult scene. She also recalls the immediate and frenzied impact 'The Graduate' had on her career, as do Hoffman, Turman, and Henry. Turman recalls original casting choices included Robert Redford, Candice Bergen, Ronald Reagan, and Doris Day, while Henry talks about the inadvertent symbolism of the cross in the final scene, and Hoffman relates how he differs from Benjamin's depiction in the original novel. Though not as substantive as some of the other supplements on the disc, this piece is breezy and well made, and cleverly ends with a clip from 'The Player' in which Henry pitches an idea for a 'Graduate' sequel to Tim Robbins' studio mogul.
Vintage TV Clip: "Mike Nichols and Barbara Walters" (HD, 16 minutes) - In this interview, broadcast on July 29, 1966 on 'Today,' an affable, chain-smoking Nichols chats with Walters about directing Elizabeth Taylor in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,' his directing style and personality, his passion for movies, how fame has affected him, his German background, and how he "fell into" directing. He also mentions his upcoming projects, which include a still-to-be cast film called 'The Graduate.'
Vintage TV Clip: "Paul Simon and Dick Cavett" (HD, 5 minutes) - Simon discusses his perfectionism, arranging style, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and how he got involved in 'The Graduate' in this interview that aired on April 9, 1970 on 'The Dick Cavett Show.' He also admits to making up 'Mrs. Robinson' "on the spot," and amusingly recounts a conversation he had with Mel Brooks (Bancroft's husband) in which the comedian complained to Simon that he hated the song because it continually taunted them.
Screen Tests (HD, 13 minutes) - Three sets of screen tests for the roles of Benjamin and Elaine are included, featuring Tony Bill and Jennifer Leak, Robert Lipton and Cathy Carpenter, and Hoffman and Ross, who appear in the lengthiest test. It's no wonder they got the parts.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 4 minutes) - The film's original preview is somewhat of a travesty, as it tells the entire story through a collection of brief clips.
'The Graduate' put Dustin Hoffman on the cinematic map, gave Anne Bancroft her second-greatest film role, and won director Mike Nichols an Oscar. It also captures the spirit of a generation, bashes the notion of materialism, and ruthlessly lampoons late-'60s suburban society. With each viewing, the truth of this seemingly innocuous story resonates more deeply, and Criterion's definitive Blu-ray presentation explores this fascinating film from a variety of angles and perspectives. Five-star video, terrific audio, and an array of absorbing supplements distinguish this must-own release, which renders any other home video version of 'The Graduate' obsolete.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.