‘The Graduate,’ New and Improved, Returns to Theaters

A great many people can identify with being lost during their youth, adrift in the waters of adulthood in the wake of their high school or college graduation.

Some make big, sweeping, romantic decisions to travel, to commit to something big during that time — while others take the paths put out before them by others who have gone on to claim happiness, success, and decent lives.

Others find themselves far too fearful to try something new and unique, and too different and unsettled to follow in another’s footsteps.

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When Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) walks disillusioned through a party thrown by his parents that is meant to celebrate his grand accomplishment of graduating from college — and is told by this person and that person the field he should go into or what to study next — the dead eyes of a young Hoffman (at the start of his career, of course) tell us everything we need to know. He’s a square peg being forced into a round hole, and he’s too timid to say much about it and too fearful to stop it all from happening.

Eventually finding himself in love with a girl but instead engaging in a prolonged affair with Mrs. Robinson, her mother (played famously by Anne Bancroft) — Braddock became an icon for a generation. He was a man lost in adulthood and materialism and trying to find anything to latch onto — anything.

By the time he does find what he thinks makes him happy, the audience is worried it may be too late.

“The Graduate,” released in 1967 — it won an Academy Award for Best Director for Mike Nichols, along with many other awards — will be returning to theaters on April 26 with a brand new 4K restoration thanks to Fathom Events. Hard to believe this year marks the 50th anniversary of the movie.

“The Graduate” will be returning to theaters on April 26 with a brand new 4K restoration thanks to Fathom Events.

“It (‘The Graduate’) nailed solid a unique time in American history and culture and encapsulated a generation’s feelings of isolation and confusion,” said Tom Hanks at a 2010 American Film Institute event that honored Nichols. “It was, in fact, a seminal event in the history of our country, not unlike hearing The Beatles for the first time, or remembering where you were and what you were doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.”

While the film’s piercing comments on its time and Braddock’s generation made it a critical and commercial success, its enduring legacy is due more to the fact that its main character, his predicament, and his lost-at-sea persona are still all so relevant to youth in general.

Interestingly, before cameras ever rolled on "The Graduate," it was anything but a sure thing. Director Nichols went through countless actors and screen tests looking for his perfect love triangle (Mrs. Robinson, her daughter Elaine, and Ben Braddock).

Considered for the part of the seductive, manipulative Mrs. Robinson were actresses Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn. Not every performer was comfortable with the part; some made too many demands on the material, a sign of an older time in Hollywood, when stars called more of the shots. Bancroft (who passed away in 2005) eventually took the part — and it's impossible now to imagine anyone else in her place.

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Famous actresses like Faye Dunaway and Sally Field reportedly turned down the role of young Elaine Robinson. Played wrong, it could have been a hapless part. Braddock's attraction to the character needed to be thoroughly believable, and she couldn't come across as too inept or ignorant, despite being unaware of the affair's occurrence. Katharine Ross took the part in the end.

Hoffman was the actor who brought it all together. Casting him today would be a no-brainer — but in 1967 he was an untrained actor, especially in film. His background in theater made him a fish out of water when auditioning for the part. He was also dark-haired and short of stature — and not Robert Redford (who'd originally been envisioned for the role).

For his screen test, Hoffman was forced to do a love scene, which he bungled, stumbling over his lines and leaving most people in the room unimpressed. Even Ross had little faith in him, recalling later to Life magazine that he "looked about three feet tall" and "unkempt." Before Hoffman left the test, he awkwardly dropped train tokens onto the floor. The prop master picked them up for him and, when placing them in his hand, said, "You're going to need these."

However — Nichols saw something in the awkwardness of Hoffman. He saw Braddock. On the last day of shooting the movie, the prop master ended up giving Hoffman a framed picture of 10 train tokens.

"I heard about this thing called 'The Graduate,' but it was going to be Redford or people like that, that were probably going to get it," recalled Hoffman at the AFI event honoring Nichols. He recalled reading the book the movie was based on and seeing nothing in Braddock that he could see in himself — Braddock was a 21-year-old, tall, non-Jewish wasp and a young success story with track and debate in his background. Hoffman was a 29-year-old, short, Jewish, and awkward theater actor.

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"I thank you," Hoffman said at the event from a podium, looking to his director, "for casting this short, 29-year-old unknown actor with a prominent nose to play Benjamin Braddock."

"The Graduate" would go on to win the Academy Award for its director and earn nominations for Hoffman, Bancroft, and Ross, as well as one for Best Picture. It grossed over $100 million at the North American box office, a stunning feat in 1967. It is saved in the National Film Registry and has made the Top-100 Movies list for AFI multiple times.

"The Graduate" has been restored and remastered for very good reason. While it captures a unique time in history, it is also the universal story of a boy becoming a man, swimming his way to the shore of who he really is, deep down. The chemistry and conflict among the three leads is as captivating now as it was then.

"The Graduate" is perhaps a film most young men and women should watch sometime before entering the "real" world.

Last Modified: July 27, 2017, 2:27 pm

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