(Images: Authors Poster Collection)
Could it really be 50 years since Director Mike Nichols released the motion picture that literally burst onto the scene of the worldwide consciousness and caused so much chaos? In 1967, an unknown stage actor named Dustin Hoffman was cast along with Katherine Ross as Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson, respectively. Terrified at the prospect of appearing on camera, Hoffman genuinely felt he was miscast and his angst in the movie is real. The film became a cultural phenomenon and earned in 2017 dollars the equivalent of $740 million during its debut and an Oscar for Mike Nichols as Best Director. It took nearly three years to cast Benjamin and Elaine. Robert Redford was rejected for appearing over-confident. Co-star William Daniels, who played Ben’s father remembers. “Paramount wanted Robert Redford) but Mike insisted on Dustin”. Last week, the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival celebrated what screen writer and actor Buck Henry remembered as a scandal with Elaine Robinson’s mother (played by the late Anne Bancroft) seducing 20 year-old Ben, just after graduation from an East Coast university as a Halpingham Scholar in track.
The film resonated with the public, primarily for capturing the sense of alienation the counterculture era was experiencing during the days of Vietnam, Materialism was a poor stand in for parents seeking to escape emotions. Film historian Mike Harris stated, “It’s about trying to understand who you are and what your place in the world is going to be, as opposed to the place in the world your parents have picked out for you. Many actors were hired and replaced. Gene Hackman felt uncomfortable as Mr. Robinson and was replaced with veteran actor Murray Hamilton. Ava Gardner and Doris Day turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson when they learned that nudity was required. Even Anne Bancroft refused the nude scenes (a stripper was hired to stand in for the picture frame glass reflection of the naked seductress).
Oddly enough, Mike Nichols was opposed to retaining the one word line spoken to Dustin Hoffman’s character of Ben in the midst of a graduation party at this parents home: “Plastics”. However, Buck Henry fought successfully to keep the word in the movie and it became one of motion picture’s biggest catchphrases.
Driven by the recorded music of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle, the soundtrack was wed with a stroke of genius to the film. A half century later, the film’s themes of alienation, love and loss continues to inspire generations.