‘The Graduate’ still earns top grades

Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate”

Benjamin Braddock forever will be a little worried about his future.

And for good reason. If he’s not quite sure where he’s going at the start of director Mike Nichols’ 1967 classic “The Graduate” — currently streaming on Hulu — he doesn’t have much cause to be any more certain in the picture’s famous climax, though it might appear on the surface that he’s charted his course.

What happens in-between is the stuff of which iconic movies are made. Dustin Hoffman had been acting professionally for several years, largely on television, when Nichols made him an immediate star by casting him as very nervous college grad Benjamin (a part for which Robert Redford, Hoffman’s later “All the President’s Men” co-star, had tested).

After brilliantly setting up the privileged background from which Benjamin hails (the scuba suit in the pool!), Nichols and screenwriters Buck Henry — who also has a great cameo as a hotel desk clerk — and Calder Willingham shift to the main story, the seduction of Benjamin by calculating family friend Mrs. Robinson (a sterling Anne Bancroft, in a legendary role Doris Day steadfastly turned down). Benjamin has his doubts about the secret affair, and those only are amplified when he reconnects with unsuspecting Robinson daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross, whose contribution to the film tends to be underrated beside those other fellow “Graduate” stars).

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel also are invaluable to “The Graduate,” Nichols having made the inspired choice to use their mood-enhancing music throughout the picture. The filmmaker also cast every other character perfectly, from William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson as Benjamin’s social-standing-minded parents to Murray Hamilton as Mr. Robinson and Norman Fell as a landlord who simply doesn’t like tenant Benjamin. And as a graduation-party attendee, Walter Brooke always could be identified afterward for one sincerely delivered word of advice: “Plastics.”

Despite the fact that it’s now more than 50 years old, “The Graduate” is one of those movies that never loses its freshness, thanks to its superbly original adaptation from a novel by Charles Webb. Though there never has been a sequel (mercifully, in the eyes of many), the tale factored into the 2005 release “Rumor Has It … ,” in which Kevin Costner’s character is thought to be the inspiration for Benjamin.

Indeed, “The Graduate” continues to stand alone — and in an industry increasingly marked by reboots, spinoffs and remakes, that is something still to be celebrated.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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