The Graduate


So here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.

So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.

(1967) Comedy (AVCO Embassy) Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson, Buck Henry, Brian Avery, Walter Brooke, Norman Fell, Alice Ghostley, Marion Lorne, Eddra Gale, Richard Dreyfuss, Elaine May, Mike Farrell, Kevin Tighe, Ben Murphy, Harry Holcombe, Noam Pitlik, Elisabeth Fraser, Lainie Miller. Directed by Mike Nichols

With Mike Nichols, one of the more acclaimed directors of the 60s and 70s, passing away recently it behooves the critic to look back at some of his best films and this one, his second feature, is considered by many to be his best which is a difficult choice to make when you consider you also have Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Carnal Knowledge and Silkwood to choose from.

Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) has just graduated from a prestigious Northeastern university and like many 21-year-olds then (and now) has not a clue where to go from here. After a party thrown by his parents to celebrate his graduation, he drives the wife of his father’s law partner, Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft) home where she tries to seduce him. A little unnerved, he turns her down and scurries home.

Afterwards, he reconsiders and awkwardly arranges a hook-up at a local hotel. The affair continues on through the summer; Mrs. Robinson just in it for the sex. Mostly though Benjamin just drifts in the pool at home, not able to make a decision on graduate school or heading directly into the workforce. He’s not even looking to date anyone, although Mr. Robinson (Hamilton) and Ben’s dad (Daniels) push him into dating Elaine (Ross), the daughter of the Robinsons. Benjamin is at first reluctant and does everything possible to sabotage the date but realizes that he was unkind to the poor girl who ran out of the strip club he took her to in tears. He tries to make it up to her and the two end up connecting and Benjamin feels like he might be falling in love.

Mrs. Robinson is NOT pleased and wants him to cut things off with her daughter. Benjamin has no intention of doing so, even though Mrs. Robinson threatens to come out with their affair so Benjamin heads this threat off at the pass and tells Elaine about it. This does not go well and she ends up fleeing back to Berkeley in the fall.

Benjamin, thoroughly besotted at this point follows her there and tries to explain what happened. That’s when Mr. Robinson gets involved, letting Benjamin know that their relationship is over and he will press charges if he continues. He also lets him know he is pulling Elaine out of Berkeley and marrying her off to Carl (Avery), a high school sweetheart leaving Benjamin at a crossroads.

The American Film Institute lists this as the 17th best movie ever made which is pretty impressive when you consider that well more than 100,000 films have been made all time just in the United States alone. Nichols established himself as one of the finest film directors of all time with his first two movies (Virginia Woolf was his first) after making his name as a theatrical director, which he returned to regularly over his long career.

In many ways this was a counterculture film in the sense that it looked at the hypocrisy of American culture and examined the angst of the younger generation which was at the time beginning to rise up and rebel against the norm. When placed in the context of its time, this was a monumental touchstone to the film industry who began to break away from the strictures of the studio system and were making movies that reflected the growing unrest and taking artistic and creative risks that would redefine the medium in the 70s and set the stage for a new golden age of movies.

Hoffman was not well known when he was cast for the part; his audition consisted of a love scene with Katherine Ross which Hoffman, who had never done one, felt awkward about. It was that awkwardness that convinced Nichols to cast Hoffman, as he was looking for a kind of underdog quality to Benjamin. Hoffman’s performance was a career-maker; it established him as a major new talent and led to one of the more interesting acting careers in the history of Hollywood. Bancroft also turbo-charged her own career, playing an older woman even though she was merely 35 at the time. Her performance here is considered one of the finest of her career.

And we can’t discuss The Graduate without talking about the soundtrack. “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel was one of the greatest songs ever written for a movie and plenty of other Simon and Garfunkel songs pepper the soundtrack, most notably “The Sounds of Silence.” Few films have ever utilized the songs of a single artist the way this one did and as well.

This is definitely a movie of the 60s and while some of the visual and dialogue references are somewhat dated, the movie stands up surprisingly well. Even today the affair between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin can seem a little bit daring. One wonders how the movie would have fared if it had been made in 2014 and released now (as a matter of fact this Tuesday is the anniversary of the movie’s release). Something tells me that modern audiences would have taken to it as much as the audiences of its time did (see the Box Office Performance if you don’t believe me).

The Graduate is a bona fide classic and should be required viewing for all film students and film buffs alike. There are many transcendent moments in the movie – the climactic scene in the church is one that I can watch over and over again, for example. While the movie may feel a bit too sophisticated for some, it nonetheless remains a movie whose greatness cannot be denied.

WHY RENT THIS: Bancroft and Hoffman both set the bar high. One of the best films about sexual politics ever. One of the greatest soundtracks ever. Holds up pretty well approaching 50 years later.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little dated in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult themes and situations, sexual situations and a bit of mild foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Faye Dunaway was offered the part of Elaine but turned it down in favor of Bonnie and Clyde.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a one-on-one interview with Dustin Hoffman and an extensive six-page booklet with notes and photos from the film. The 40th Anniversary edition (from 2007) includes the Hoffman interview but oddly not the booklet. It does contain a featurette on how the movie influences modern directors, a four-song CD with the Simon and Garfunkel songs from the movie and finally, a featurette on the seduction scene and what prompted the characters to do it.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $105M on a $3M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental/Stream), Amazon (Stream only), Vudu (buy/rent), iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goodbye, Columbus
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: From Russia With Love

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Goldfinger


Goldfinger

Shirley Eaton is just golden.

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Cec Linder, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn, Shirley Eaton. Directed by Guy Hamilton

There are many who consider this to be the ultimate James Bond movie and quite frankly, I’d have to agree with them. All of the elements come together and make this the standard against which not only all other Bond movies are measured, but all other spy movies as well.

James Bond (Connery) is in Miami having a little R&R when he receives a call from his boss M (Lee) to assist the CIA in observing Auric Goldfinger (Frobe) who happens to be staying at the Fontainebleau as is Bond. Felix Leiter (Linder), the CIA liaison, gives Bond the low-down; Goldfinger comes to the pool area every day to cheat at canasta, having a young beautiful blonde by the name of Jill Masterson (Eaton) report what his opponent’s cards are via shortwave radio to his hearing aid. Bond, being Bond, decides to mess with Goldfinger. He seduces Masterson, causing Goldfinger to lose. However, Goldfinger doesn’t take kindly to losing and sends a flunky named Oddjob (Sakata) to knock out Bond and repay Masterson for her betrayal by painting her gold, suffocating her skin.

As it turns out, MI6 has a big interest in Goldfinger owing to his smuggling of gold in and out of the UK. They’re wondering how he’s doing it and put Bond on the job. He follows the portly villain to Switzerland, where he has a run-in with Tilly, Jill’s sister. Oddjob murders her as well, making the score Oddjob 2, Masterson girls 0. He also captures Bond, which gives Goldfinger the opportunity to set up an industrial laser aimed for the Bond family jewels. It also gives Goldfinger to deliver the all-time classic villain line when Bond asks “You expect me to talk?” (For the record, the response is “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die”).

Bond, thinking quickly on his feet (or on his back as it were), implies that he knows a lot more than he actually does. This forces Goldfinger to send Bond back to his Kentucky horse ranch under the watchful eye of his personal pilot Pussy Galore (Blackman), the dirtiest character name in the history of movies. There, he uncovers Goldfinger’s real ambition; to set off a nuclear device at Fort Knox, irradiating the largest gold supply in the world and making his own supply ultimately far more valuable. Can Bond stop the nefarious plot and overcome the seemingly indestructible Oddjob?

This was the Bond that essentially became the template for all the Bond movies to follow. It set the bar and quite high as well. For better or worse, all other Bond movies are measured against this one, just as all Bond villain are measured against Goldfinger, all Bond flunkies are compared to Oddjob and all Bond girls are compared to Pussy Galore.

The ultimate Bond car is the Aston-Martin DB5 that makes an appearance here. With its changing license plate, rocket launchers, oil slick dispensers and ejection seat, it was the ultimate spy vehicle. The car became so popular that two working models were built (complete with ejection seat) and toured the world in support of the film.

Like most Bond films of the era, the attitude towards women is pretty dated. While Pussy is a strong, independent woman, she is no match for Bond’s machismo; in fact, all it takes is a single kiss for her to see the error of her ways, a kiss that is forced upon her, I might add. In our more enlightened times, we might call that sexual assault.

It is the action that makes Goldfinger what it is, and that action is breathtaking. The assault on Fort Knox is one of the most awe-inspiring action sequences in the history of the movies. While some of the special effects look a little clunky, it still stands up 45 years after the fact.

I’m not saying this is the perfect movie, mind you. It is pretty darn close, however. It’s a reflection of its times, and that certainly needs to be taken into account, but it is timeless in all the important aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen Goldfinger yet, your film education is incomplete without it.                    

WHY RENT THIS: By far, the best of the Bond movies. Frobe is one of the best baddies of all time and Connery was never better than he was here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Well, maybe you just don’t like movies made in the 20th century. Your loss.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surprising amount of violence, much smoking (remember, that was common for the era) but still pretty tame by modern standards.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the hoodlums gathered at Goldfinger’s ranch is played by an uncredited Garry Marshall, future director of Pretty Woman and Valentine’s Day, among others.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The new Blu-Ray contains a digitally enhanced print and there are a number of contemporaneous features about the making of the film. There are also some screen tests of some other actors who tested for the Goldfinger part, as well as a featurette on the phenomenon of the movie and one on the Aston Martin DB5, possibly the most popular movie car of all time.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: You Only Live Twice

Dr. No


Dr. No

A debonair James Bond enters M's office for his next assignment.

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Anthony Dawson, Regina Dawson, John Kitzmuller, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell. Directed by Terence Young

There are few characters in the movies more iconic than James Bond. The suave, sophisticated British superspy can karate-chop a bad guy into submission, or kill him in a particularly gruesome fashion and save the day with an urbane quip. He can seduce just about any woman nearly at will. He is the man every guy wants to be and every woman wants to be with, and no actor embodied him as well as Connery, even to this day.

In his first big screen adventure (a television version of Casino Royale had been made some years earlier, but it had been Americanized and has been mercifully lost to the mists of time), Bond is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the murder of an MI6 field agent named Strangways who at the behest of the Americans had been investigating mysterious radio interference of rockets being launched from Cape Canaveral. Bond discovers that Strangways had been looking into a sinister place called Crab Key, an island off the coast of Jamaica that the locals are afraid of visiting because of rumors that a dragon patrols the beach. Bond also discovers that Strangways had submitted some rocks to his bridge partner Professor Dent (Dawson) to examine.

Bond is aided by CIA operative Felix Lieter (Lord) and Quarrel (Kitzmuller), a local boatman who has assisted the CIA in the past. Several attempts are made on 007’s life before he finally heads out to Crab Key along with Quarrel. They meet the fetching Honey Ryder (Andress), a comely but no-nonsense seashell collector who has been taking shells from Crab Key to sell in Jamaica. The three eventually discover that the island’s owner, Dr. No (Wiseman) has an evil plan up his sleeve and is the member of an organization called SPECTRE, bent on the destabilization of the world.

Coming up on its 50th anniversary, the movie holds up surprisingly well in some ways. Yes, it’s hopelessly dated in its attitudes towards women, minorities and politics, but if you can get past some of the special effects (which are admittedly primitive but keep in mind that this was a low-budget production even for its time) and the dialogue which can be laughable, you’re left with some wonderful action sequences, amazing set design and of course Bond.

Here is the first appearance of the James Bond theme, the first time “My name is Bond, James Bond” is uttered. It’s the first appearance of the Walther PPK, the first time we see M (Lee), the head of MI6 and his wonderfully efficient but oversexed secretary Moneypenny (Maxwell).

The Hollywood conceit of a megalomaniac on an island is essentially established here, one that would be followed in many a Bond movie to follow as well as in other spy and action movies over the next half century. The urbane Dr. No would be a model for Bond villains; suave, sophisticated, brilliant and egomaniacal but ultimately done in by his own hubris.

It seems hard to believe now but United Artists was not pleased with the choice of Sean Connery as James Bond (and Ian Fleming apparently wasn’t happy either, at least until he saw the movie for the first time). The rugged Connery was not the picture of a sophisticated upper class Englishman (Connery is a working class Scot) that the books had suggested.

When watching Dr. No, you can’t help but be aware of the times in which the movie existed. John Kennedy was president (and a big fan of the Bond series, which was one of the selling points for the movie) and the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full bloom, making nefarious doings in the Caribbean all the more believable for nervous American (and global) audiences. The Second World War was twenty years in the rear-view mirror and the Cold War was at its peak. The space race was just beginning and the New York Worlds Fair was only two years away (the architecture of the fair was foreshadowed by the ultra-sleek lair of Dr. No). It was a time of great optimism yet a time ruled by enormous fear.

James Bond played into both. Yes, there was much evil in the world, and evil geniuses plotting to take over but with Bond on the case, the Free World could rest easy knowing that 007 was laying the smackdown on wannabe world dictators (the memory of Hitler still fresh in the minds of many). He conformed to the ideals of manhood of the time; virile, decisive, rough, smart and sophisticated, able to wear an expensive Saville Row suit at the baccarat table with a stunning sex kitten on one arm, a (shaken, not stirred) martini in one hand, his trusty Walther PPK in his waistband and impeccably coiffed hair barely ruffled after beating the crap out of a thug (and uttering a bon mot over the inert body of his assailant).

Times have changed and feminists no doubt cringe at the attitudes of Bond, but all the same he still holds a fascination that has carried him through nearly five decades of nearly continuous missions that still continue to this day. Bond was, at the time, unlike any other hero that had ever appeared on the silver screen and is unlikely to be duplicated ever again (Indiana Jones comes close). Dr. No stands up today not just because it was first but because it’s actually a very good movie, despite its flaws.

WHY RENT THIS: This is where it all began. Connery is electric as Bond and the action almost never stops.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hopelessly dated, some of the dialogue and effects are laugh-inducing.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surprising amount of violence, much smoking (remember, that was common for the era) but still pretty tame by modern standards.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ah, where to begin? It’s the only Bond movie in which Bond sings and doesn’t feature a pre-title sequence. Also, Bond’s armorer is known as Major Boothroyd (not Q as in later films) and is named after a reader who wrote Ian Fleming asserting that a true British spy would never use a Beretta as Bond does in the early novels, but a Walther PPK. Fleming concurred and the incident was actually used in a kind of backhanded way in the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The new Blu-Ray contains a digitally enhanced print that cleans up some of the graininess of the original and actually looks better than when it was released theatrically. There are a number of contemporaneous features about the premiere, and on-set featurettes. There’s a nice feature on the guns of James Bond and a piece on the restoration of the print.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Goldfinger