'The Graduate': THR's 1967 Review
On Dec. 18, 1967, The Hollywood Reporter reviewed a film that cemented the status of Mike Nichols as a top director (netting him an Oscar in the process) and launched the career of Dustin Hoffman. The review of The Graduate, below, was originally headlined "'Graduate' Will Benefit From Word-of-Mouth Plugs":
The Mike Nichols-Lawrence Turnman production of Charles Webb's The Graduate, a Joseph E. Levine presentation for Embassy pictures release, is a brutally funny look at contemporary youth, encrusted with status symbols and guilt for gilt rejecting the weights of privilege to rail against the tides of society they would rather reject than succumb to, rather question than attend to. Both tuned and attuned to its subject and on target for most of its course, this second film from director Nichols will benefit from enthusiastic word of mouth, winning a large audience and corresponding profits from both sides of the 30 year demarcation line.
In adapting the Webb novel of an honor graduate's summer of introspective rebellion and post-graduate matriculation in sex and love, in that order, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry have produced a generally undeviating translation, omitting several inherently cinematic episodes to concentrate on the graduate's relationship with wife of his father's business partner and their young daughter. The remarkably true ring of Webb's dialogue is preserved and augmented, the visual potential lifted to next power in absurdity.
The parents of Dustin Hoffman, the young graduate, are played by William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson, both more grotesquely caricatured in the screen version, with the comedy benefiting thereby. Anne Bancroft is the partner's wife, an embittered, bored and manipulative woman who offers herself to Hoffman in an episode of hotel room dalliance that is more treatment than treat for both. Jealously refusing to share his attentions with her co-ed daughter, Katherine Ross, Miss Bancroft shrilly cries "Rape!" to keep from losing either to the other. This prompts a slackening in the film's pace as Hoffman sets out on seemingly endless highway lights between Los Angeles, Berkeley and Santa Barbara, seeking to win Miss Ross back and save her from a marriage bearing Miss Bancroft's seal of approval. The pay-off, an icon-smashing, hiss-the-parents, cheer-the-kids finale of hairbreadth escape from the clutches of the clergy, is a howling success, but the drive there is fatiguing and marked by interludes of aimless wanderings, shot from multitude low angles from behind various flora.
Nichols' style is both more conspicuous and fashionable than his sophisticated and subtly unobtrusive debut with Virginia Woolf. It is highly reminiscent of the work of Francis Ford Coppola in You're a Big Boy Now, which has a good deal in common with the present film. More importantly, the free-wheeling, switched on approach is generically suited to the subject and its telling. Only in the protracted and taxing highway paving does the direction mask in movement what is lacking in content and momentum. Throughout, Nichols aims eye and ear to the hilarious inanities lurking in the commonplace, the bits of business and inflection which indict the bearer, the logical progression from the possible outcome to its bizarre potential.
He has obtained an impressive performance from Dustin Hoffman, introduced under the titles on an airport moving sidewalk, in suspended animation, going nowhere, expressionless. While the world of adults is presumably different — or is it? — it is difficult at first to accept Hoffman's social ineptitude, when we are told of his outstanding academic and social accomplishments at college. However, this reservation is soon dispelled with Nichols' staging of the young man's panicked seduction by Miss Bancroft and the convincing depiction of a young man who must emotionally turn off in order to find his thoughts in a world not structured for individual privacy. Trussed in a scuba diver's suit and commanded to perform in the family pool for assembled neighbors, he escapes to the bottom of the pool, a harpoon poised defiantly, briefly reigning in solitude. The effect of this scene is heightened by use of subjective camera treatment, peering awkwardly from within the diving mask at the ghoulish smiles and indecipherable gestures of the neighborhood claque.
Miss Bancroft is outstanding as the mature temptress, revealing a woman whose frustrations have been met with steely resource and unrelenting determination, who is used only that she might use, cool in the course of routine conquest, bestial in defeat, is always allowing for a vestige of our sympathies. Miss Ross tops a steady and impressive rise with the confirmation of stardom by the distinction she brings to her role in this film. Daniels, always expert in assignments as the bromidic, knee-crossing parent, is wonderfully inventive and delightfully pathetic as the concerned father. Murray Hamilton, as the partner, the youthful glow of overexposure to the sun only emphasizing the puffy insulation of middle age, is excellent, dispensing advice he clearly would like to take. Buck Henry, as a blase hotel clerk, and Norman Fell, as a suspicious landlord, have standout bits in a uniformly well-cast roster, which includes Alice Ghostley, Walter Brooke, Brian Avery, Marion Lorne and Eddra Gale.
The Panavision and Technicolor cinematography of Robert Surtees adapts to the hand-held hyperthyroid movement with the grace of a master who can match the techniques to the twists while retaining police. His work presents a challenge to amateurs guided only by a lust to unbag all of their lenses in one fell tilt. Sam O'Steen's editing is similarly tops, notably in the accomplishment of the tasteful shock and humor of the cross-cut seduction scene between the disrobed Miss Bancroft and the awestruck panic of Hoffman. Ditto, the production design of Richard Sylbert.
Nichols has used the songs of Paul Simon, performed by Simon & Garfunkel, throughout the film, notably "The Sound of Silence," an inspired selection for underscoring and a significant component of the film. The non-vocal interstices are the good work of David Grusin. — John Mahoney