Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Here's to You Graduates (and Mrs. Robinson)

June is graduation month and what a great time to revisit one of my all time favorite movies The Graduate (1967). With its reflective Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, risque-at-the-time older married woman and young graduate/virgin theme coupled with two sixties keep-up-with-the-Joneses families in southern California, the film was a major statement on the times.

For those of you who have not seen this classic (hard to imagine), a young graduate named Benjamin Braddock (played by a thirty year old Dustin Hoffman) has no clue about what to do with his future and spends the summer embroiled in an affair with his parent's best friend's wife -- and then falls in love with her daughter. Incidentally, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland and Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were up for the roles as Mrs. R and Benjamin respectively while Patty Duke tested for the role of the daughter. Just imagine what a different movie that would have been. The groundbreaking film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Mike Nichols winning best director.

I was very fortunate years ago to interview the film's production designer the late Richard Sylbert who also gave us such classics as Chinatown, ShampooRosemary's Baby and Bonfire of the Vanities (and also added head of production at Paramount to his resume). His twin brother Paul was also a production designer whose many credits included Heaven Can Wait, Prince of Tides and Kramer vs. Kramer. Sylbert lived and played hard and always wore a khaki jacket on set as he related movie production work to "being in a war."

Sylbert on the set of Bonfire of the Vanities

The sets for The Graduate revolved around the two families, the Robinsons and the Braddocks. Using the metaphor of the Montagues and Capulets, Sylbert designed two houses  that were identical but the designs are reversed and both in black and white and round versus square shapes. The Robinsons have a round staircase, round arches and a rectangular swimming pool while the Braddocks residence has square or rectangular openings. Both houses are an interplay of contrasts from the marble checkerboard floors to Mrs. R's white shag carpet lair. Even "Mr. Gladstone's" hotel room is white with black accents.

Mrs. R's Bedroom

Anne Bancroft's Mrs. R was costumed in leopard (I love the fact she wears a leopard pillbox hat to her daughter's wedding!) which represents another metaphor, that of a predator (and yes, possibly she was the precursor to "cougars").

                                                       Photo by Bob Willoughby

And the iconic image still so identifiable today....

Movie Poster

Illustrator Harold Michaelson's storyboards

Check out the 40th anniversary edition on DVD, it is still a classic.

Photo Credits: Lillian Michaelson Research Library, United Artists


  1. Great post! The director Nancy Meyers said that the audio commentary by Mike Nichols on the 40th anniversary edition is fabulous and one of the best she has ever heard. I love listening to those commentaries. You learn so much. Also, I had read that Doris Day turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson because she thought it was too risque for her image.

  2. I love the commentaries -- very informative. I had heard that about Doris Day and think she was also too typecast to pull that roll off with moviegoers.

  3. One of the greatest and most stylish movies. Period. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Cathy, "The Graduate" is one of my all-time favorites. Its look is so original that it is timeless, even as it exemplifies a certain '60's style.

    And don't you miss the wonderful movie posters of the time? So provocative, intriguing!

  5. I know, the film posters are not nearly as creative as they used to be.

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