“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Oh no, Mrs. Robinson. I think, I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends. I mean that.”
Before starting Bored and Dangerous, I knew the name Mike Nichols and knew that he was seen as one of America’s great, modern directors. I’d even seen a few of his movies, even if I didn’t know they were his movies. But with this blog, I end up being a lot more aware of who made what, which has made me a lot more aware of Mike Nichols and why he’s seen as one of America’s great, modern directors. Earlier in this AFI Top 100 countdown, I was blown away by the fact that Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was his first movie. What’s even more impressive than an amazing debut? Backing it up with a sophomore effort that’s even better, proving that first effort was no beginner’s luck. And that’s exactly what Mike Nichols did with The Graduate.
Coming home from his college graduation, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is bored and aimless. His upper class parents (played by William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) indulge his lethargy, letting him laze by the pool, waiting for him to apply for grad school. Throwing a party to celebrate his graduation and show off their award winning son, Ben’s parents surround him with their own friends, not his. Including Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft).
A bored, kept wife and alcoholic, Mrs Robinson makes it very clear, very early, that she would very much enjoy some bumping of uglies with Ben. A situation made only more awkward when Mr Robinson (Murray Hamilton) tries to seduce Ben in a different way, attempting to lure him into the lucrative plastics industry. Mrs Robinson’s charms eventually prove too hard to resist, and Ben spends the rest of his summer meeting her in a hotel room. It’s a pleasant enough arrangement until the oblivious Mr Robinson insists on Ben taking out his daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross) while she’s home from college.
I’d seen The Graduate once or twice before now, and I’d always like it, but never loved it. I could appreciate it was well made and well acted, but the story just never grabbed me. There’s something about the woe-is-me, idle rich that I tend to resent in a movie. Who cares what their problems are, they can just drive their sports car to their mansion, suck it up and stop whinging. But this time around, I was a lot more sympathetic to Ben’s aimlessness. And it’s all thanks to Dustin Hoffman.
Anne Bancroft is amazing in this movie. Katherine Ross is pretty great in this movie. But Dustin Hoffman is nothing short of amazing in this movie. The directionless, depressed Ben in the early scenes. The debilitating, nervous Ben around Mrs Robinson in their first encounters. Even when the romance with Elaine is rushed and crammed into a quick scene or two, Hoffman still makes it believable.
I’m not sure if The Graduate deserves to be quite so high on this AFI Top 100. It’s a pretty big call to say it’s better than Goodfellas or Do the Right Thing or A Streetcar Named Desire or The Apartment. But watching this time around, I am 100% on board with it being on this list somewhere. I’m also 100% on board with Mike Nichols being seen as one of America’s great, modern directors.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to In the Heat of the Night)
Best Director – Nichols
Best Actor (Hoffman nominated, lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night)
Best Actress (Bancroft nominated, lost to Katherine Hepburn for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)
Best supporting Actress (Ross nominated, lost to Estelle Parsons for Bonnie and Clyde)
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to In the Heat of the Night)