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Ghost Canyon

'The Graduate - 40th Anniversary Edition'
(Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Ross, et al / 2-Disc DVD / PG / (1967) 2007 / MGM-20th Century Fox)

Overview: Nominated* for seven Academy AwardsÂ(r) and winner for Best Director, this ground breaking and "wildly hilarious" (The Boston Globe) social satire launched the career of two-time OscarÂ(r)-winner** Dustin Hoffman and cemented the reputation of acclaimed director Mike Nichols. Pulsating with the rebellious spirit of the '60s and a haunting score sung by Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate is truly a "landmark film" (Leonard Maltin). Shy Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home from college with an uncertain future. Then the wife of his father's business partner, the sexy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), seduces him, and the affair only deepens his confusion. That is, until he meets the girl of his dreams (Katharine Ross). But there's one problem: she's Mrs. Robinson's daughter!

DVD Verdict: If there is one film deserving of a full-blown renaissance, it is this seminal 1967 social alienation comedy, and this 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD presents an especially pristine print, as well as several extras that will please die-hard fans. Based on the wry 1963 Charles Webb novel, the film itself holds a special affection among its original audience even now, the aging Vietnam War-era population who championed anarchy and the people who revise their personal histories, so they can think they were members of the now-fashionable counter-cultural movement. At the same time, it has a timeless quality for new generations simply because it's a consistently witty, observant piece of cinema targeted to anyone who has experienced that sense of post-academic confusion when the responsibilities of real life inevitably intrude.

This is an accomplished film for someone directing only his second film. But then again, judging from his subsequent work all the way to Angels in America and Closer, Mike Nichols seems to have come into filmmaking fully understanding the frailties of the human condition and knowing how to convey them in a way that audiences could empathize. It is a testament to Nichols and screenwriters Buck Henry and Calder Willingham that the social comedy aspects of this film do not seem at all dated. In fact, despite its provocative veneer, it's really old-fashioned in key ways from the protagonist's moralistic tendencies to his romantically compulsive motivations toward the end. Dustin Hoffman was pulled out of complete obscurity to play Benjamin, the alienated, recent college graduate drifting amid his parents' Southern California upper-middle class, swimming pool-centered ennui.

As Benjamin figures out what to do with his life and faces unwanted advice from his parents' friends, enter Mrs. Robinson, a bored, restless wife, a self-proclaimed alcoholic and about as sympathetic as Lady Macbeth. It's hard to imagine what the original choice, Doris Day, would have done with this role, as it takes Anne Bancroft's formidable arsenal of skills to bring this vituperative woman to life. She gives a masterful performance. The hotel sequence where Benjamin awkwardly asks Mrs. Robinson for a drink is shrewdly observed and downright hilarious - the suspicious hotel clerk (Henry, the film's co-screenwriter) eyeing Benjamin's every move; the reception line which Benjamin pretends to know (TV veterans Alice Ghostley and Marion Lorne, Esmeralda and Aunt Clara from Bewitched, make indelible marks here); and the predatory Mrs. Robinson's business-like approach to seduction.

Complicating matters exorbitantly is Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine, played with relative nonchalance by Katharine Ross. The film then turns into a revenge comedy with Mrs. Robinson trying to prevent the inevitable coupling of Benjamin and Elaine. She almost succeeds but not before a series of revelations and dramatic encounters that lead to the classic ending aboard the public bus. Some of the comedy and characterizations seem a bit extreme, for example, Hoffman seems to amplify his character's nebbishness a few too many times, and Elaine's fiancée appears like a textbook 1960's TV stereotype. There are also a few forgivable geographic gaffes - most of the campus scenes are not filmed at Berkeley as portrayed in the film but at USC, and Benjamin crosses the Bay Bridge in the wrong direction to hunt for Elaine.

The 2007 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD contains two separate commentary tracks, both insightful but for different reasons - the first is an anecdotal remembrance with Hoffman and Ross quite engaged with details of the filming (Hoffman apparently had quite a crush on Ross and still does), and the second has Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh discussing all aspects of the production from casting to camera set-ups within specific scenes. The main featurette is the new 25-minute "Students of `The Graduate'", which amounts to an extended appreciation of the film from Henry; producer Lawrence Turman; two film scholars; various directors (Harold Ramis, Marc Forster, Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, David O. Russell); and film critics (Newsweek's David Ansen, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman). The second new short, "The Seduction", is a nine-minute retrospective look at the famous scene where Mrs. Robinson nonchalantly pounces on Benjamin. The participants from the first featurette are involved here as well, and it provides a good dissection of not only the scene but the sexual mores prevalent at the time of filming.

There are two holdovers from the 1999 DVD release. The first is the 22-minute "'The Graduate' at 25" produced in 1992 for the laserdisc release. It has the advantage of participation from Hoffman and Ross but otherwise echoes the information presented in the newer retrospective featurette. The second is a 22-minute interview with Hoffman done in quick takes. He lends invaluable and often amusing insight into his selection for the role and the filmmaking experience. He also talks about the proposed sequel which one can assume eventually turned into 2005's execrable Rumor Has It.... Beyond the original theatrical trailer, the DVD contains a print of the film that makes it look as good as it did in its original release. There is a bonus soundtrack sampler CD with four of the distinctive Simon and Garfunkel songs featured in the movie - "The Sound of Silence", "Scarborough Fair/Canticle", "April Come She Will", and of course, "Mrs. Robinson". Lastly, there is a helpful six-page booklet that fills in the rest of the blanks on the production. This is a great package for a classic film. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Audio Commentary by Actors Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross
Audio Commentary by Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh
Screen Tests with Video Introductions
Coming of Age: The Making of The Graduate
Would You Like Me to Seduce You?: The Seduction Scene Revisted
One on One with Dustin Hoffman
Behind the Scenes Documentary
Original Theatrical Trailer