“The Graduate” is a delightful, satirical comedy-drama about a young man’s seduction by an older woman, and the measure of maturity which he attains from the experience. Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross and relative newcomer Dustin Hoffman head a very competent cast. Mike Nichols directed in modern, uptight fashion, which wears well for two-thirds of the pic, and producer Lawrence Turman has supplied all the necessary props of a materialistic society. The young market, particularly, will dig this Embassy release (overseas, United Artists) and older audiences also will be amused. Strong b.o. prospects are likely in initial exclusive bookings, as a setup for a hotsy general playoff.
An excellent screenplay by Calder Willingham and comedy specialist Buck Henry, based on the Charles Webb novel, focuses on Hoffman, just out of college and wondering what it’s all about. Predatory Miss Bancroft, wife of Murray Hamilton, introduces Hoffman to mechanical sex, reaction to which evolves into true love with Miss Ross, Miss Bancroft’s daughter.
Had the story been told in terms of straight drama, it would have been one of those boring modern mellers — the hippie equivalent of a woman’s pic — in which vacant stares are supposed to convey emotion and plot action, and jazzed up cinematics become obvious and pretentious. To be sure, Nichols, in his second feature film, has laid on, with a trowel, most of the current gimmicks, but, thanks to a strong script, they are not noticeable for most of the film.
In the 70 minutes which elapse from Hoffman’s arrival home from school to the realization by Miss Ross that he has had an affair with her mother, pic is loaded with hilarious comedy and, because of this, the intended commentary on materialistic society is most effective. Only in retrospect does one realize a basic, but not overly damaging, flaw: Hoffman’s achievements in school are not credible in light of his basic shyness. No matter, or not much, anyway.
Miss Bancroft, feline and slinky in a manner very much like Lauren Bacall, is excellent, as is Miss Ross, an exciting, fresh actress from the Universal stable, who has a long career ahead of her. Hoffman is perfect in his role. William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson play his parents in top fashion. Small, but well-cast, supporting contingent includes co-scripter Henry, as a room clerk.
Only in the final 35 minutes, as Hoffman drives up and down the LA-Frisco route in pursuit of Miss Ross, does film falter in pacing, result of which the switched-on cinematics become obvious, and therefore tiring. Vet cameraman Robert Surtees used Panavision and Technicolor to desired advantage. It would be wrong to say that Surtees has “turned on” to new techniques; more precisely, and more importantly, he is responsive to the desire for a modern look. In other words, he is a professional craftsman.
Richard Sylbert’s production design is outstanding, again. Paul Simon wrote the good songs, sung by Simon & Garfunkel, and Dave Grusin’s incidental music is equally adroit. Sam O’Steen’s editing is sharp, and other technical credits are strong. Count this one a winner for Joseph E. Levine, Turman and Nichols.