TBT: The Graduate (1967)

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For the second pick of November ’15 we’re going back to what has been referred to me time and again as a classic. A coming-of-ager to end all coming-of-age films. It’s Dustin Hoffman’s second big screen appearance, one that officially opened up the doors to a promising and diverse career, one that I am ashamed to admit I have experienced precious little of. My world has been rocked today as I have learned that 1) Dustin Hoffman, and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways, has been around much longer than I had thought he had been; and 2) I hadn’t planned this at all, but this TBT is in a way commemorative. Today marks one year since the sudden and tragic passing of the much-acclaimed director of 

Today’s food for thought: The Graduate.

'The Graduate' movie poster

Worrying about the future since: December 22, 1967


An idle mind is the devil’s playground, some Philippians once decreed. Given that, I had an entire sandbox and an assortment of twisty slides to go down thinking about all of the dirty things I could be doing instead of watching this incredibly annoying movie. This character (yes, that’s right, the graduate) doesn’t do anything the entire movie but complain about upper middle-class white male privilege. “Oh no, my life is going in no direction in particular. Guess I’ll go float on a raft in the middle of my pool for the rest of the summer.”

A solid basis for a Kevin Smith movie. Let’s just watch Dustin Hoffman look really good for an hour and 40 minutes in a sun-tinged pool in some swanky house in Burbank. Or wherever the location was. I do find it kind of ironic: I have drifted for much of my post-collegiate life (because I’m no good at making actual, important decisions). I’m middle-class . . . maybe not upper-middle-class but I’ve been fortunate. Where are the cameras? Oh yeah, that’s right, I think out loud, snapping back to reality.

Two things, one probably more important than the other: 1) I’m not an attractive, young movie star and 2) I’m not an attractive, young movie star who gets his bones jumped by Anne Bancroft. See? I’m telling you, this is a movie about privilege.

The Graduate is supposed to be this whole quirky, kinky romantic thing involving Hoffman’s Ben Braddock and a family friend, the lovely but pathetically insecure Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft). The film is hardly romantic and it certainly isn’t charming. Although it does tick the quirky and kinky boxes. It all starts when she asks Ben to drive her home after a welcome home party in Ben’s honor.

Things get a bit awkward as Ben suddenly finds himself alone with her in her room as she undresses. But they won’t do the dirty here — no, they end up getting a room in a hotel where apparently all manners of trysts and assignations occur. This is where we get that iconic shot of Bancroft’s crossed legs in the foreground, with a smitten Ben Braddock lingering in the background, hands in his pockets. Perhaps if Ben weren’t such an incorrigible stiff — I mean that in the least sexual way possible — this movie would be over a heck of a lot sooner, saving me and anyone else who can’t buy into whatever charm Hoffman’s supposedly laying on in his second big screen performance from another 80-some-odd minutes of flaccid comedy.

Complications arise when Ben’s parents set him up on a date with the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), much to Mrs. Robinson’s disapproval. She hates the thought of Ben going for someone his own age. (Yeah, what a pervert.) When Ben eventually falls in love with Elaine, following a rough first date during which he attempts to distance himself from her at the behest of her mother, all bets are off that Ben’s once quiet life will continue as normal.

Early in the film a family friend encourages the young man to live a little, to enjoy himself just for awhile before he settles down. That was actually Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) who gave him that advice. Ergo, anything comical about The Graduate stems less from performances and situation as it does from our omniscient vantage point. We know everything and the poor husband knows nothing. I saw more disdain for living than pleasure in embracing life’s unpredictability. Less comedy and more pent-up sexual frustration. The Graduate is all about the latter; I’m not so sure about the former. I suppose one thing that was pretty amusing was how adamant Ben was in ensuring Mrs. Robinson he isn’t a virgin.

More mysterious than how this film has garnered such popularity is Hoffman’s awkward, wooden performance. The goal is to exude that post-graduation malaise but his delivery doesn’t seem very assured. Not to mention, being a womanizer first and a stalker second doesn’t really speak to my experience. And I doubt I’m alone. I’m also not a saint, but if The Graduate is supposed to be a commentary on that awkward ‘next step’ after college — his insufferable parents would like it very much if he attended graduate school; after all, what were those four years of undergrad for anyway? — it’s painting anyone who hasn’t had a life plan in broad strokes and in a pretty ugly color.

Setting aside thematic content, The Graduate just isn’t that creative. It assesses the budding relationship between Ben and Elaine as they continue finding common ground, while an ever envious Mrs. Robinson goes out of her way to make life exceedingly difficult for Ben. It’s another tale of home-wrecking and heartbreaking. The malleability of a young man’s happiness: if he can’t get this, then he’ll settle for that. If not that, then something else. Ben, in the latter half of the film, goes into full-on creeper mode, seeking out Elaine after a major reveal causes her to move out of her parents’ house and back to college, where she apparently is now with some other guy. And while the conclusion ends on a curiously ambiguous note, it’s not wholly unpredictable. The whole damn thing has been about indecision.

All of this ho-ing and hum-ing is set to the tune of a fairly inspired Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, which is one of a few things I’ll take from this movie and cherish. The film is brilliantly scored. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Seems other people will love you more than you will know. Just . . . not . . . me.

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in 'The Graduate'

Recommendation: If you like your movies testing your every last nerve, you might try out The Graduate. Yeah, it’s an early Dustin Hoffman performance but I didn’t find it a great one. A coming of age movie with almost no wisdom to impart, I have to say I am massively underwhelmed by this thing. 

Rated: PG 

Running Time: 106 mins.

TBTrivia: In Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft’s first encounter in the hotel room, Bancroft did not know that Hoffman was going to grab her breast. Hoffman decided offscreen to do it, because it reminded him of schoolboys trying to nonchalantly grab girls’ breasts in the hall by pretending to put their jackets on. When Hoffman did it onscreen, director Mike Nichols began laughing loudly offscreen. Hoffman began to laugh as well, so rather than stop the scene, he turned away from the camera and walked to the wall. Hoffman banged his head on the wall, trying to stop laughing, and Nichols thought it was so funny, he left it in.

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23 thoughts on “TBT: The Graduate (1967)

    • Yeah man I may have come down a bit harsh on this but it just didn’t suit me. Perhaps if I had seen it when it first came out it would have had more of an impact. . .


  1. Good read buddy! I always enjoy seeing a sacred cow get taken down. To be honest it’s 25 years since I saw the Graduate, so I really don’t feel like I can offer an opinion on it, although I think I liked it at the time. My memories of the film have been distilled by seeing the same few clips over and over and the Lemonheads’ video for Mrs Robinson a bunch of times in the 90s.

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    • Thanks for the feedback man. There are a few amusing moments in this film to be sure. I honestly went into this expecting to be blown away, which is kind of unfair. But hey, you win some and you lose some, right? 🙂

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    • Ah man, that’s too kind of you! 😀

      The Graduate certainly seems to have had its time, I’m talking to a lot of people now that don’t seem to rate it that highly (or as highly as I might have expected). It’s considered by major film aggregate sites to be a classic, but I just didn’t feel it. It’s comprised of some fairly obnoxious people, and while I have gotten along well with films that feature unlikable characters, this one was a tall order!


  2. Kind of sounds a tad like Kubrick’s Lolita, which I also didn’t love, but had extremely strong performances from James Mason and Sue Lyon.

    Always been interested in this one but never got around to viewing. Maybe on TCM/AMC one day. In no real rush to do after reading your take, though, either 🙂

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    • I think it’ll go down as one of my more disappointing viewings of the year. It’s not poorly made, or low-budget or anything like that. Perhaps it’s just not for me. Not in my taste. I do like Dustin Hoffman though. 🙂

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  3. I don’t think you’re in the minority. I’ve yet to see it as I keep encountering the ‘disappointed-by’ crowd. One day I accidentally caught part of the ending – might just have been an out-of-context thing – but it was enough to smother any further interest.

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    • It seems that way, which is good news for me as I felt I kind of was hard on this film. It still didn’t get the job done for me, though. I wasn’t very entertained. I appreciated some sequences but overall this was one for the ‘meh’ pile. 😉

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      • Sometimes “meh” is honestly worse than “bad”. At least bad movies give you the opportunity to have some fun mocking & bashing them. Meh’s, though, you almost feel like you’re apologizing for not loving them. :/

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    • Hahah! Glad you liked that. I know it may seem odd but this just wasn’t a good movie to me. It was so lazy and annoying. But I know i’m in a very small minority on that, even if, by the looks of some of these comments, it is a movie that may not have been as ‘classic’ as I may have presumed it to be before


  4. Nice review. I’m a fan of the movie even though I don’t hold it in as high regard as many. I will say it features one of my favorite final shots in cinema history. In the back of the bus as S&G’s “Sound of Silence” kicks in. The camera just sits on Hoffman and Ross. Not a word is spoken but so much is said. Love that scene.

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    • It certainly ends on an interesting note, doesn’t it? I’m not sure, I might have to give this another go. I just couldn’t find much to like about this one at all. But that’s how it goes sometimes I suppose!

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  5. For pretty much every film program and intro cinema class I’ve been in, we’ve always had to talk about the “Sound of Silence” scene.

    Nice review Tom. I haven’t seen The Graduate in its entirety for years, but I do remember thinking it wasn’t the classic others have told me it was.

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    • I left pretty underwhelmed by it all, I”ll say that Charles. It’s got a great soundtrack and I really liked the way the music fit into it but on the whole I think I must have missed the boat on this one. Maybe a lot of praise over the years is to blame. Thanks for reading!


  6. “So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Seems other people will love you more than you will know. Just . . . not . . . me.” – LOOOOOOL! Well played!

    I keep meaning to watch this because I have never seen it, but your review gives me pause. I suppose I will still get to it at some stage. But I guess I shouldn’t expect much…

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    • Cheers! Haha! Me being snarky yet again. . .

      I don’t know Zoe, I think my opinion here is going to be in the VAST minority. It’s frequently hailed as a classic and one that has given rise to many coming-of-age films that deal with sexual awakenings and the like. But the one thing I heard so much about more than anything else was how great Dustin Hoffman was in it. That part supremely let me down. This wasn’t a great performance at all in my eyes. You might give it a go and see what you think, but for me this didn’t quite crack it

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      • Snarky is the best thing!

        Meh. I hate it when that happens with a film (I have encountered that far too often for my liking). Well, I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

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