Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Anniversary for THE GRADUATE

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me," the nervous young man says.  It is a Mike Nichols classic.  On December 21st in 1967, THE GRADUATE was released.  This movie was a big hit with critics and the public.  Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft would be in the Oscar race for Best Actor and Best Actress.  Hoffman would be on his way to stardom.  Bancroft had won the Best Actress Oscar for THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962).  Mike Nichols would win the Best Director Oscar for this film.  THE GRADUATE would be a nominee for Best Picture.
I'm one of those folks who feels that Mrs. Robinson, the predatory cat in an upscale suburban jungle of Southern California, is the most interesting character in the movie.                                              
Mrs. Robinson is intoxicated with her own privilege, independence, cunning and social class.  A college graduate is the middle-aged woman's sexual prey.  In secret, that is.  Mrs. Robinson is classy and decayed. Manipulative and smarter than the college graduate.

She's also a fierce protector.  She's out to protect her daughter from the graduate.  Just like in MILDRED PIERCE, we see that a mother and her daughter are involved with the same man.
Anne Bancroft was fascinating in this role.  It's one of her top screen performances.
I had a thought about other casting the last time I watched THE GRADUATE.  I'd like to know if you agree with me.

Had THE GRADUATE been made in the 1950s instead of the 1960s, Barbara Stanwyck could have played the absolute living hell out of that Mrs. Robinson role.  Can you just imagine?  Yep.  Barbara Stanwcyk would have totally rocked as Mrs. Robinson in THE GRADUATE.  That's my opinion.

One lesson I wish today's filmmakers would learn from classic films is how to make the frame, make the image, stand for something.  Utilize set decoration and cinematography.  Mike Nichols had Robert Surtees as cinematographer for THE GRADUATE.  His credits included Minnelli's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, Wyler's BEN-HUR, SUMMER OF '42, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and THE STING.  In my film studies class in college, our professor noted Nichols' use of the widescreen and set design to add to detail to character.  In the above shots, notice that the predatory Mrs. Robinson is framed with plants to give her the look of being a jungle creature.  Notice the animal print in her clothing.

In a famous frame with Dustin Hoffman's character, the professor noted how Nichols added to the eroticism of the scene with the way a lighting fixture is shot.  Look on the upper middle of the frame.  The shadow of the hotel room light fixture looks like a sex toy -- which is what Benjamin (Hoffman) basically is to the carnal Mrs. Robinson.
I noticed something similar in an older classic that starred Barbara Stanwyck.  When she makes her entrance as Phyllis, the femme fatale in Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), look at the shadow of the light fixture on the upper right side of the frame with the barely-covered Phyllis.
We see her as the horny insurance salesman, Walter, sees her.  That shadow equals the sexual charge of the scene and Walter's excitement.  Walter hormones will lead him down a dangerous path.

Stanwyck was great in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.  Had THE GRADUATE been made in the 1950s, she could've been great in that too.

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