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130. THE GRADUATE, 1967

A funny and moving seminal masterpiece that transformed Hollywood

Anne Bancroft puts stockings on her leg as Dustin Hoffman watches in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

In addition to being a fantastic movie, “The Graduate's” gargantuan success, youth-oriented story, unconventional casting, and inventive use of music forever changed the course of American films. And because of its imaginative storytelling, iconic performances, abundant humor and moving drama, it remain as fresh today as the day it was filmed. This film became a cultural phenomenon, the highest-grossing movie of the year, and for a time, the third highest-grossing film of all-time (after “The Sound of Music” and “Gone with the Wind”). It earned countless accolades, including seven Academy Award nominations (winning one), seven BAFTA Award nominations (winning five), seven Golden Globe nominations (winning five), and made seven of the American Film Institute's Greatest Films Lists, including the 7th Greatest American Film of All-Time, the 9th Funniest, and the 52nd Greatest Love Story. “The Graduate” is so clever, provocative, and original, it’s the kind of film that makes me love movies.


Dustin Hoffman sits in front of a fish tank and contemplates his future in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

“The Graduate” revolves around college graduate “Benjamin Braddock”, who as the film begins, returns home from college feeling alienated and worried that his future will become superficial and meaningless like the lives he sees around him. The plot, simply put, follows “Benjamin” as he has an affair with his parents’ friend “Mrs. Robinson”, and then falls in love with her daughter, “Elaine”. What unfolds is a thrilling mix of highly entertaining humor and drama, and thoughts about society, sex, coming of age, the generation gap, loneliness, rebellion, disillusionment, and the search for one’s identity.


Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson gives Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin, a look up her dress as she seduces him in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

“The Graduate” was made at a time of great change in Hollywood. Long-standing studio moguls were retiring or dying, TV had poached a bulk of the moviegoing audience, and studios, who were bleeding money left and right, were offering fewer contracts, selling off much of their lots, and/or were bought by corporate conglomerations. What was once a movie star-driven industry, now became a business in which the movie was the draw. The Hollywood Studio Era was breathing its last breath. This “changing of the guards” so to speak, dramatically altered American movies. Hollywood saw an impactful influx of more youthful directors who had something to say and enough control over their films to say it. And 1967 proved a pivotal year for what became known as the American New Wave.


Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross talk in the Berkely College library in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

While 1967 was perhaps the second greatest year in movies (1939 being the greatest), it was arguably the most groundbreaking. The envelope pushing “Bonnie and Clyde” (released earlier that year) opened the door to a new kind of European-flavored type of independent feeling American movie, and with its monumental success, “The Graduate” was a major instigator of this change.


Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman as Mrs Robinson and Benjamin Braddock have and affair, with her in undergarments on bed in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

It was nearing the end of the 1960’s, a turbulent and violent decade of assassinations, civil rights protests and riots, a war with Vietnam which many opposed (particularly the younger generation), and the start of the counterculture movement, women’s liberation, and the sexual revolution. Many of Hollywood’s best films that year reflected this unrest in different ways (such as “Cool Hand Luke”, “In the Heat of the Night”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, and “The Dirty Dozen”). While “The Graduate” steers clear of politics, it brilliantly tapped into the alienation and rebellious discontent felt by many, especially the youth. It felt like a film made by young people (and it was, relatively speaking) for young people, which was novel, and attracted a whole new generation of younger moviegoers.


Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock on a raft float in the swimming pool in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

“The Graduate” came into being because of a series of hunches and instincts, beginning when film producer Lawrence Turman was reading a review of Charles Webb’s 1963 novel “The Graduate”. Turman was scouting for possible screenwriters to collaborate with, but instead, related so strongly to the story, he thought it would make a good film and optioned the rights with his own money – a courageous move for a book said to have sold only around 2,000 copies at the time (it sold millions after the film’s success).


Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman kiss in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Portrait photo of Hollywood film producer Lawrence Turman
Lawrence Turman

While seeing the Broadway production of “Barefoot in the Park”, Turman thought the play’s director, Mike Nichols (one of Broadway’s top directors at the time), would make a great director for “The Graduate” even though he had never directed a movie. On a hunch, he sent Nichols the book, and told him “I have the book, but I don’t have any money. I don’t have any studio. I have nothing, so let’s do this. We’ll make this movie together, and whatever money comes in, we’ll split 50-50". Nichols related to the book, agreed to direct, and turned out to be the ideal choice (both made fortunes). As producer, Turman had his hand in all aspects of the film (including casting), and his work earned him a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. It would be his only Oscar nomination, though he enjoyed a flourishing career producing over 40 films and TV shows including "The Thing", "The Great White Hope", "I Could Go on Singing", and "American History X". He had a 20-year producing partnership with David Foster, was a member of the Producers Guild Hall of Fame, wrote the 2005 book "So You Want to Be a Producer", and served as the director of The Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California from 1991 until 2021. Sadly, Lawrence Turman died just over a week ago, on July 1, 2023, at the age of 96.


Dustin Hoffman and Walter Brooke talk about plastics in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Screenwriter Calder Willingham was hired to write the screenplay, but Turman found his script unusable (feeling it was vulgar and not funny enough). Intuitively, Nichols asked actor and fellow comic improvisor Buck Henry (who he recently met at a party and thought was very funny) to write the screenplay even though he had never written one. Henry accepted, and wrote a first-rate script, which contains two lines of dialogue that AFI named among the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All-Time: “Plastics”, ranked at #6; and "'Mrs. Robinson', you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?", at #63. According to Turman and Henry, Henry wrote the script himself, never reading Willingham’s version, but due to political and union issues, both Willingham and Henry received film credit, and both earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination.


Dustin Hoffman asks for a hotel room from front desk clerk Buck Henry in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

color photo of writer, actor screenwriter Buck Henry young
Buck Henry

Buck Henry also appears in the film as the front desk clerk at the Taft Hotel who gives “Benjamin” a room. "The Graduate" jumpstarted Henry's career as a writer (and actor who often appeared in bit parts in films and TV shows he wrote), which included co-creating the classic TV series "Get Smart" with Mel Brooks (and winning an Emmy Award for writing two episodes). He wrote another of my favorite comedy films, "What's Up Doc?”, already on this blog, where you can read a bit more about the life and career of Buck Henry. Just click on the film title to open that post.


Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson is angry with Dustin Hoffman, as Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

All the right elements came together perfectly for “The Graduate”, but the man whose vision primarily shaped what we see on the screen is director Mike Nichols. Working closely with Turman, Henry, cast, and crew, he rehearsed the actors for about a month before shooting, and had the film’s cinematographer Robert Surtees and editor Sam O’Steen also attend. As a result, Nichols extracted topnotch performances from every person who appears in the film, and his thoughtful direction broke new ground with its visuals, sound, and editing. “The Graduate” is not merely a filmed story, but a dynamic piece of cinema.


Anne Bancroft as "Mrs. Robinson" listens to Mr. Robinson tell Benjamin to have a summer fling in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Nichols breathtaking direction utilizes the widescreen Panavision format in gloriously innovate ways. His camera lingers for minutes at a time on a single shot, with characters coming, going, and moving about within it, informing us about their relationships by the they way they fill the screen. An example is the two and a half minute shot beginning with “Mr. Robinson” urging “Benjamin” to sow his wild oats. Nichols places them on opposing sides of the frame, and out of focus in the distance, “Mrs. Robinson” comes down the stairs, walks to them, sits, and as her husband and “Benjamin” get up and start to leave, the camera shifts focus onto a powerful closeup of “Mrs. Robinson’s” face while listening. A spectacular way to show place, action, relationships, and performances in a concise and engaging way.


Dustin Hoffman on top of Anne Bancroft in bed in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

One of the most famous moments in “The Graduate” (and there are many) is an edit – when “Benjamin” leaps onto a raft in a pool and lands on “Mrs. Robinson” in bed. As if that wasn’t enough ingenuity, just after he lands we hear his father ask, “Ben, what are you doing?”, and find ourselves back in the scene on the raft in the pool. The use of pre-lapping sound such as that (sound for a scene beginning before the preceding scene ends) is ingeniously used all throughout the film, and in that particular instance, the fact “Benjamin” turns and looks up while on top of “Mrs. Robinson” as if he hears his father is a clear sign these were thought-out moments, preplanned by Nichols.


Elizabeth Wilson and William Daniels as the Braddocks as seen from inside a suba suit in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

But Nichols doesn’t stop there. He also uses color to match backgrounds and seamlessly jump back and forth between scenes to startling effect, such as the montage jumping between “Benjamin” sitting at home and in the hotel bed, or walking through a door of his house and coming out a hotel room door. Tilted frames, zooms, point of view shots, and even complete blackness are daringly employed with electrifying results. The film's an explosion of nonstop creativity. Nichols’ precise and cutting-edge work gives “The Graduate” a voice of its own, and even though he collaborated with a team every step of the way, it’s Nichols’ visionary approach to telling the story that is heard and felt loud and clear – a demonstration of the auteur theory at its shining best.


Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman chat in an Alfa Romero car in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

portrait photo of Broadway, TV, and movie Hollywood film director and producer Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols

At the age of seven, Berlin-born Mike Nichols fled Nazi Germany with his family and settled in New York City. As a teenager, he saw the original Broadway production of "Streetcar Named Desire", whose poetry and realness made a lasting impact. While studying pre-med in Chicago, he worked as a radio announcer creating a folk music show called "The Midnight Special”, and also began acting in theater, where he met actress Elaine May. Heading back to New York, he studied at the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg, and finding no acting work, returned to Chicago and joined an improvisational group (which would become Second City). He and May began doing their own satirical comedy improv routines and the two became a sensation, performing on radio, nightclubs, TV, released three best-selling record albums, and starred in the smash-hit Broadway show "An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May". The recording of that show earned them each a Best Comedy Performance Grammy Award. Once May decided to end the comedy team, Nichols began directing theater and in 1963 was offered to direct a new Neil Simon play, "Barefoot in the Park". Nichols realized that all his years performing, studying, and improvising led him to directing, which he instantly loved. "Barefoot in the Park" was a giant hit and earned him a Best Director Tony Award. The following year he won two more Best Director Tony Awards for the original productions of "Luv" and "The Odd Couple". He was the hottest director on Broadway.


Katharine Ross leaves a class at Berkeley college while Dustin Hoffman waits for her in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Portrait photo of young actor, improv comedian, Broadway and film director, Hollywood movie producer Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols

“Barefoot in the Park” led to his being hired for “The Graduate”, but before production began, Elizabeth Taylor requested Nichols direct her and Richard Burton in the film version of Edward Albee's play "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. Because Taylor was only available at the time, production on “The Graduate” had to wait, and "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” became Nichol’s film directing debut. It earned 13 Oscar nominations (winning five), including a Best Director nomination for Nichols. "The Graduate" was released the next year, and won Nichols a Best Director Academy Award,, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Directors Guild of America Awards (among others), and made him Hollywood's hottest director. In 1971, he produced (and directed) his first film, “Carnal Knowledge”, another hit. After several unsuccessful films, he directed and produced 1983's "Silkwood" starring Meryl Streep, earning a third Best Director Oscar nomination. He’d garner another Oscar nomination for directing 1988's "Working Girl", and a Best Picture Oscar nomination for producing 1993's "Remains of the Day". He directed 19 feature films, others of which include "The Birdcage”, “Catch-22”, "Closer", and "Postcards from the Edge”.


Dustin Hoffman waits in his bedroom while Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson has a cigarette in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Nichols produced and directed two TV shows – the 2001 TV movie “Wit" and the 2003 mini series "Angels in America" – which earned him a total of four Emmy Awards (including two for Best Director). He’d win a total of ten Tony Awards out of nineteen nominations, and was one of just eighteen EGOT's (winners of at least one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) to date. He was married four times, including his final marriage to TV anchor Diane Sawyer (ending with his death). A whooping cough inoculation when he was four years old caused Nichols permanent hair loss, and he wore false eyebrows and wigs for the rest of his life. Through his mother's side, he was a third cousin twice removed of Albert Einstein. Mike Nichols died in 2014 at the age of 83.


Dustin Hoffman in the swimming pool with Elizabeth Wilson and William Daniels in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Another groundbreaking element in “The Graduate” was Nichols’ use of music. He partially or fully, often repeatedly, integrates five songs from folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel so masterfully, they become an intrinsic part of the movie. Nichols' brother had sent him a Simon & Garfunkel record which he played each morning while getting ready to go shoot the film, and when looking for music it dawned on him that their songs would fit perfectly. As Nichols said in the book “Hollywood: The Oral History”: “So we’d already shot a lot of the montage, and [editor Sam] O’Steen and I just dropped in Simon & Garfunkel. And that was quite amazing what happened. They were, in some ways, the voice of ‘Benjamin’”. Their songs, “The Sound of Silence” and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle” were already hits, and using popular songs to set the tone and flow of a film while capturing the inner thoughts and mood of its protagonist was unprecedented.


Anne Bancroft is coyly kittenish as Mrs. Robinson seducing Benjamin in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

In securing the rights for the songs, Nichols also requested singer songwriter Paul Simon write new songs for the film, and when he and Art Garfunkel presented them, Nichols didn’t like them. So Simon played him an unfinished song titled “Mrs. Roosevelt” which Nichols loved. The title was changed to “Mrs. Robinson”, and because it was unfinished, they sing “dee-de-de-de-dee-dee" where there we no lyrics. Once the film was released, Simon finished writing the song and the duo released it on their 1968 album "Bookends". “Mrs. Robinson” rose to #1 on Billboard, was a top ten hit around the world, became the first rock song to win a Record of the Year Grammy Award, and Simon & Garfunkel won a Best Contemporary-pop Performance Grammy as well. It was also chosen by AFI as the 6th Greatest Song in American Movies. Composer and jazz musician Dave Grusin wrote several instrumental pieces for the film (such as the hotel’s music), and the film’s soundtrack earned him and Simon a Best Original Score Grammy Award. The film’s success also catapulted Simon & Garfunkel into becoming the biggest rock duo in the world.


Oscar nominated Anne Bancroft stars as seductress Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Portrait photo of young Broadway and film actress movie star Anne Bancroft
Anne Bancroft

Being an actor, one of my great joys in movies is watching great actors show us the internal lives of their characters, and one can witness this all throughout “The Graduate”. That certainly includes Anne Bancroft, who is phenomenal starring as “Mrs. Robinson”. Through delicate subtleties, she turns this lonely middle-aged alcoholic wife who seduces “Benjamin” for her own pleasure into a spellbinding portrait of a genuinely tragic woman. Underneath a domineering and brittle armor, Bancroft reveals human pathos, such as showing a lonesome sensitivity as "Mrs. Robinson's" mind races while hearing her husband tell “Benjamin” to have a summer fling, or most tellingly, the painful regret in her eyes when talking about art with “Benjamin”. Even Bancroft's gestures inform us about her character, such as how she throws car keys, takes off earrings, or waits for “Benjamin” to open a car door. It is a stunning display of a woman devastated by life, underplayed to perfection, and it earned Bancroft a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe win, and an iconic place in cinema history.


Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman try to have a conversation in bed in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

color portrait of movie star, Broadway and film actress Anne Bancroft as "Mrs. Robinson" from "The Graduate"
Anne Bancroft

French actress Jeanne Moreau and Hollywood movie star Doris Day were first considered for “Mrs. Robinson” (Day turned it down because of the brief nudity and felt it went against her values), but Turman and Nichols’ minds quickly changed when they thought about Bancroft. She was only 36 at the time (just six years older than Dustin Hoffman, who plays “Benjamin”), but was filmed and lit and carried herself in such a way that she appears older. The character was more ferocious than others she had previously played onscreen, and it showed her versatility as an actress and opened doors to more complicated and varied parts, including two that earned her additional Oscar nominations (“The Turning Point" and "Agnes of God”). But Bancroft could never live down “Mrs. Robinson”, and to her dismay, she felt it overshadowed all her other work. You can read more about the life and career of the very talented Anne Bancroft in my post on “The Miracle Worker”, which earned her her first of six Best Actress Academy Award nominations, and her only Oscar win.


Dustin Hoffman surrounded by William Daniels and part guests in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Dustin Hoffman stars as “Benjamin Braddock”, the recent graduate who’s confused about his future place in the world. Though “Benjamin’s” a track star and award-winning scholar, it’s obvious he’s uncomfortable around people, which we see from the start as he walks around the party his parents threw for him, politely fending people off, wanting to be alone. Hoffman inhabits his role with a wealth of colors, devoid of artifice, and a sweetness and innocence that makes us feel and sympathize with “Benjamin’s” anxiety and need to connect. And Hoffman’s gift for deadpan comedy makes every scene he’s in that much more hysterical, whether unsure if he’s being seduced, seeing “Mrs. Robinson” naked for the first time, or nervously getting a hotel room. His dazzling performance earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination and made him a major star.


Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin, sees Mrs. Robinson naked in Elaine's room  in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Hoffman was reluctant to play “Benjamin”, for in the book, the character is a tall, blonde, all-American type. He insisted he was wrong for the role. But after testing mostly handsome blonde actors (including Robert Redford), Nichols urged Hoffman to do a screen test. Hoffman had only appeared in a bit part in one film and was already cast in another – as "Franz Liebkind” in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”. So Hoffman asked Brooks if he could audition for "The Graduate", and because Brooks was married to Bancroft and knew about the film, he also thought Hoffman was wrong for the role and would never get the part, so he let him audition. The rest is history.


Oscar nominated Dustin Hoffman stars as Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

Hoffman’s casting was another radical aspect of the film. Offbeat, short, ethic (Jewish) looking, with a strange voice and way of speaking, he was anything but the classically good-looking leading man type. But it proved to be game-changing. His outstanding performance (and the success of the film) paved the way for the casting of a new breed of unconventional looking, often intense leading men – actors who a generation ago would have been imprisoned to a life of supporting parts – such as Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, and Jack Nicholson. The following year came another nontraditional looking superstar, Barbra Streisand, doing the same thing for women. A new Hollywood was born. Hoffman went on to becoming one of the preeminent actors of the 1970s and 1980s.


Dustin Hoffman bangs on the church window glass in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Color portrait photo of a very young actor, Hollywood movie star Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman

Los Angeles-born Dustin Hoffman set out to be a classical pianist, but feeling he didn't have a gift for it, he took an acting class and was hooked. He enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse where he became close friends with fellow actor Gene Hackman. Because neither fit the mold of the handsome leading man, Hackman left for New York City (where the best acting teachers were at the time and looks didn't matter) and Hoffman soon followed. After rooming with Hackman and his wife, Hoffman roomed with Robert Duvall while struggling for years in off-off Broadway shows and taking odd jobs. After being turned down multiple times, Hoffman was finally accepted as a student at the Actors Studio, and shortly after, made his Broadway debut in a bit part in 1961's "A Cook for Mr. General” while also getting small parts on TV. He continued off-Broadway, including in 1965's "Harry, Noon and Night” (which Buck Henry saw and was impressed by Hoffman), and a starring role in 1966's "Eh?", which earned him a Drama Desk Award (and the attention of Nichols). He scored his first film, a bit part, in 1967’s “The Tiger Makes Out”.


Dustin Hoffman on a black background stars in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Color photo of young actor, Hollywood movie star Dustin Hoffman seated with hands folded
Dustin Hoffman

Then came "The Graduate” and overnight Hoffman went from unknown to major movie star (earning Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards). Though he was getting film offer after offer, he decided to return to Broadway before accepting another film. The film he did accept turned out to be another landmark, Best Picture Oscar winner "Midnight Cowboy", in which he played a limping, homeless conman to perfection. It earned him a second Best Actor Oscar nomination, proved his versatility and ability to disappear into a role, and helped cement his status as one of the great actors of his time. To date, Hoffman’s earned seven Best Actor Academy Award nominations with two wins (other nominations for “Lenny”, “Tootsie”, "Wag the Dog”, and wins for "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Rain Man”). Other titles from his 80+ films and TV shows include "All the President's Men”, "Little Big Man”, "Papillon", "Dick Tracy", "Little Fockers", "Marathon Man”, "I Heart Huckabees", and his Emmy Award-winning role starring in the 1986 TV movie version of "Death of a Salesman”. His last appearance to date was in 2022's "Sam & Kate”. He’s been married twice. I briefly met him at a party and we began taking about acting but were quickly interrupted by Robert DeNiro who whisked him away. Oh, well. As of this writing, Dustin Hoffman is 85 years old.


Dustin Hoffman runs for the bus while Katharine Ross sits with Eddra Gale in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate”

The third star of “The Graduate” is Katharine Ross who plays “Elaine Robinson”, “Mrs. Robinson’s” daughter and “Benjamin’s” love interest. Ross not only lights up the screen with her mesmerizing beauty, but also with an exceedingly impactful performance. Whether conversing in a car or eating fries while saying goodnight, Ross is always truthful and natural, adding a vital warmth to the film. And she has many dramatic scenes throughout, displaying an inner depth of feeling that is astounding at times, such as at the strip club, when “Benjamin” runs for the bus, or her reaction when discovering what went on between “Benjamin” and her mother. And then there’s her overwhelmingly moving expression in the last shot. In many ways, Ross adds heart to the film, and her performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.


Katharine Ross discovers what happened between Benjamin and her mother Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate”

Color portrait of young Hollywood actress and movie star Katharine Ross young
Katharine Ross

Los Angeles-born Katharine Ross grew up in and around San Francisco, where she studied acting, joined The Actors Workshop, and took to the stage. While appearing in theater, she began working on television starting with a 1957 episode of "Omnibus". After a dozen more TV appearances (including "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour", "Wagon Train", and “Gunsmoke"), she landed her first film role in 1965's "Shenandoah". More TV shows and a few films followed before "The Graduate". Evidently, she was suggested to Nichols to play "Elaine" by actress Simone Signoret, who she appeared with in the 1967 film "Games". Both Nichols and Henry were so taken by Ross’ beauty when they first saw her, they knew this actress was the epitome of a dream girl and would be right for the part. "The Graduate" brought her a lot of attention, and in addition to her Oscar nomination, she won a New Star of the Year Golden Globe and earned a Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA nomination.


Katharine Ross in her wedding gown in the church in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

color glamor portrait photo of Hollywood movie star, beauty, queen, actress Katharine Ross
Katharine Ross

Being under contract to Universal Studios and unhappy with many of the parts they were offering her, she turned down many roles and eventually starred opposite John Wayne in the misfire "Hellfighters". But her next role was another breakthrough, in the classic 1969 Western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" opposite Robert Redford and Paul Newman, which earned her a Best Actress BAFTA Award. She moved between film, TV, and theater in the 1970s and 80s, and worked less frequently come the 1990s and beyond. She’s appeared in 60+ film and TV shows to date, including starring in the 1975 horror classic “The Stepford Wives”, “Voyage of the Damned” (earning her a Best Supporting Actress Golden Glove), "Donnie Darko", "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here", "The Legacy", "The Swarm", "The Final Countdown", and was the voice of "Mayor West's Mother" in a 2016 episode of "Family Guy". She was married five times, including to actor Joel Fabiani, cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, and her current husband, actor Sam Elliott, who she's been married to since 1984. I had the great fortune to briefly meet her twice, which was quite a thrill, being such a fan. As of the writing of this post, Katharine Ross is 83.


Katharine Ross and Murray Hamilton play father and daughter Robinson in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

A face many classic movie and TV watchers should recognize is that of Murray Hamilton who plays “Mr. Robinson”. Gene Hackman was originally cast in the role but fired during rehearsals because Nichols didn’t think he could bring out the comedy well enough (good thing for Hackman, who was then free to appear in “Bonnie and Clyde” which led him to stardom), so Hamilton was hired. It was the right choice, for though “Mr. Robinson” is a tragic figure, Hamilton expertly and effortlessly brings much comedy to the man, even while fighting with “Benjamin”. It’s a delectable performance.


Murray Hamilton as Mr. Robinson in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood character film actor , movie star Murray Hamilton
Murray Hamilton

North Carolina-born Murray Hamilton worked primarily on television, appearing in over 120 TV shows, including as "Capt. Rutherford T. Grant" on "B.J. and the Bear” and starring on the short lived 1959 series "Love and Marriage". He also appeared in about three dozen movies, many of which are classics, including "Jaws", "Jaws 2", "The Hustler”, "The Way We Were", ”Seconds", “The Spirit of St. Louis”, “The FBI Story”, "Houseboat", and as the bartender "Alphonse Paquette" in a film already on this blog, "Anatomy of a Murder". He was married once until his death, to big-band singer Terri DeMarco (of The DeMarco Sisters). Murray Hamilton died in 1986 at the age of 63


Norman Fell is Dustin Hoffman's landlord in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Everyone in the supporting cast of “The Graduate” is top rate, and like Hamilton, many had very successful TV careers, another of whom is Norman Fell, who plays “Benjamin’s” landlord “Mr. McCleery”. He appears briefly in a few scenes, bringing a wonderfully funny suspicious nature to the character.


Norman Fell is the suspicious landlord peeking through the door in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood film character actor movie and TV star younger Norman Fell
Norman Fell

Philadelphia-born Norman Fell worked primarily on television, and like Hamilton, appeared in over 120 shows and about three dozen films. Fell became a household name playing another landlord, "Stanley Roper" in the classic 1970's TV sitcom "Three's Company", reprising the character in the 1979 sitcom "The Ropers". In addition, he appeared in just about every major TV show from the 1950s through the 1980s, including "Murder, She Wrote", "Charlie's Angels", "The Partridge Family”, “Bewitched”, “Perry Mason”, and earned an Emmy Award nomination for his supporting role in the 1976 miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man". His films include such other classics as "Bullitt", "Inherit the Wind", "Catch-22", "The Killers", and "Oceans Eleven". He was married and divorced three times. Norman Fell died in 1998 at the age of 74.


Alice Ghostly and Marion Lorne at the Singleman party in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

color portrait photos of Hollywood character actress and stars of TV sitcom Bewitched, Alice Ghostley and Marion Lorne
Alice Ghostley (left), and Marion Lorne (right)

I must point out two actresses who share a scene in "The Graduate" greeting "Benjamin" when he goes into the "Singleman" party in the main ballroom of the hotel. They are Alice Ghostley who plays "Mrs. Singleman” (trying to find "Benjamin's" name on her list), and Marion Lorne who plays her sister, "Miss DeWitte" (Lorne also appears later in the film for a second). Both actresses appeared in films, TV, and theater, and funny enough both became very well known playing witches on the classic 1960s/1970s sitcom "Bewtiched" (Ghostly as "Esmeralda" and Lorne as "Aunt Clara"). They also both appeared in other classic films, and I've previously written about each of them in earlier posts – Alice Ghostly in "To Kill a Mockingbird", and Marion Lorne in "Strangers on a Train". Be sure to check them out.


Richard Dreyfuss peeks through the door and says two lines as an extra in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Color photo of Hollywood actor, movie star very young portrait of Richard Dreyfuss
Richard Dreyfuss

One last mention of Richard Dreyfuss, who plays one of the tenants in "Mr. McCleery’s" building, appearing when "Benjamin" opens the door, uttering two lines: "Shall I get the cops? I’ll get the cops”. Dreyfuss was an extra in the film, and lucky for him, Nichols happened to pick him to say those lines. Dreyfuss went on to become an Oscar-winning, major star of the 1970s, starring in such films at "Jaws", "The Goodbye Girl", and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". I'll talk more about Richard Dreyfuss when we visit another of his films.



Dustin Hoffman wears a wetsuit in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

"The Graduate" made such a mark in popular culture, it influenced many directors and has been referenced, parodied and paid tribute to in many movies, TV shows, and even music videos, including "Roseanne", "(500) Days of Summer", "The Other Sister", and George Michael's 1992 music video "Too Funky". An adaptation of the movie and the novel was made for the stage, both in London (which I got to see with Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys in 2000) and on Broadway.


Anne Bancroft is wet from the rain while Dustin Hoffman looks on in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

In addition to Nichols’ Academy Award win for Best Director, and the nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, “The Graduate” also earned a Best Cinematography Oscar nomination for its stunning photography by Robert Surtees.


Mrs. Robinson undresses Benjamin in bed (Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman) in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

As I mention from time to time, the films on this blog are reflections of their times and shouldn’t be viewed through today’s standards. The character of “Mrs. Robinson” would today probably be called a sexual predator and her behavior sexual harassment. But in 1967, her sexually aggressive character was seen as progressive, even liberating, and a far cry from the almost exclusively suppressed sexuality women were previously given in decades in American films. It takes many steps to grow, and this was a huge step that helped lead us to where we are today.


Dustin Hoffman asks Are you trying to seduce me Mrs. Robinson as seen through her leg in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
“The Graduate”

This week’s treat is a very funny and profoundly moving film you definitely don’t want to miss. One of cinema’s best, enjoy “The Graduate”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform movie novices and lovers through watching one recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and a deeper understanding of cinema. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications for every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!




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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):



Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock arrives to Elaine's wedding at the church  and bangs on the glass in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

Mike Nichols was unhappy with the original ending of the film, in which “Benjamin” arrives to the church in time to stop the wedding, so he changed it.


Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman sit on the bus in her wedding dress in the final shot in Mike Nichols' New Hollywood classic comedy drama "The Graduate"
"The Graduate"

The final shot in “The Graduate” is one of the most powerful endings in movies. According to Katharine Ross, she and Hoffman knew they were going to have to hold the last shot for a bit because it might be used over the end credits, so they both stayed in character. Bobbie O’Steen (wife of the film’s editor Sam O’Steen) said Nichols asked Sam to stand-in for him to shoot the shot on the bus, and O’Sheen forgot to say “cut”, so the actors just kept going, and as a result there’s a sense of “what do we do now?” which happened organically, and they left it in the film. When I was younger, I didn't understand the ending, but as I’ve grown older (and wiser), I find the looks on their faces quite profound.

4 Comments


Lizzie Maxwell
Lizzie Maxwell
Jul 12, 2023

Loved this film. I was lucky enough to meet one of my 'idols' Anne Bancroft at a screening one eve. She was as gracious as you would think she is. I felt bad I sort of snubbed hubby Mel! But he let her shine. I also saw Dustin at a screening and I was a bit taken aback. Thanks for another great historical review.

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Jul 12, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Lizzie! Nice to hear she was gracious! I really appreciate the comment.

xo,

Jay

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Mark Liptak
Mark Liptak
Jul 11, 2023

Such a great film. An all time favorite of mine. It just clicked on all the levels you discuss - director, story, cast, soundtrack, camera work and the zeitgeist. Thanks for a great review!

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Jul 11, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Mark! Definitely one of the all-time greats! Thanks so much for letting me know your read it, and for the kind words. I so appreciate it!

All my best,

Jay

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