This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mike Nichols’ classic film, “The Graduate.” At the time of its premier, the filmmakers had diffident profit-making expectations for what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house movie adapted from a first novel by 24-year-old Charles Webb, a new graduate of Williams College.
No one anticipated that this out of the ordinary story about a recent college graduate having an affair with one of his parents’ friends, and then running off with her daughter, would draw huge audiences and produce a mind-blowing profit. It collected seven Academy Award nominations.
Author Beverly Gray presents a detailed treatment of this iconic film. She divides the book into three sections: the behind the scenes details of the production; a run-through of the plot; and an analysis of the film’s effect on society. I found the third part the most interesting because the production details were tedious, and I am familiar with the film and did not need it to be rehashed.
“The Graduate” was a “visual watershed” for filmmaking. It reflected the era’s evolving views of sex, work and marriage. The casting of Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman in the lead was “a shock to Hollywood which had spent decades trying to sidestep the Judaic roots of its founders.”
The notion of breaking away from the values of one’s parents broke new celluloid ground. In 1967 “Hollywood movies finally acknowledged the dramatic changes occurring with the American landscape.” This included the plight of African-Americans, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and the rise of a youth culture mistrustful of the established order. It was also the first movie “to tell the story through a character’s (Benjamin’s) point of view.”
Dustin Hoffman was propelled to stardom by this one role. The word “plastics” became shorthand for a utilitarian consumer, corporate culture and a nationwide conversation was initiated about what later came to be called “the generation gap.”
Gray gathered information and reached her conclusions over an extended period of time. She interviewed many of’ the film’s key players from both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, including Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Turman, the producer.
This is an enjoyable, quick read—ideal for a holiday weekend or vacation. The book is full of fun facts and trivia. It is also a serious review of important cultural changes during the last 50 years. Those who came of age in the late 60s and early 70s will especially welcome it.
Beverly Gray earned her PhD in American literature at UCLA. She spent nearly a decade in the film industry as a story editor. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill is the publisher; 282 pages.