Hard to believe Mike Nicholls’ film is 50 years old, but nevertheless, here it is, celebrating the milestone with a new 4k restoration that brings it back to life with the smack of newness and impudence with which it must have impacted audiences in 1967.
It’s a strange film, so influential that it now, inevitably, looks derivative because so much else has taken from it. It isn’t hilarious these days, but it retains a power and an itch, a sexy coolness that’s practically chilling.
The story is of Benjamin Braddock returning from college to his tidy Californian existence. He’s of course played by the awkward Jewish New York theatre actor Dustin Hoffman, who immediately looks out of place amid the sunshine of Beverly Hills, aided by his folksy theme music of The Sound of Silence.
He is seduced into an affair with Anne Bancroft’s Mrs Robinson, a cougar in leopard print. One of those famous misquoted lines is here: It’s “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”.
Then Ben takes a shine to Elaine (Katherine Ross), her daughter, a huge Freudian tangle, which is both comic yet utterly satirical in the counter cultural melee into which this film plunges, as if in full scuba outfit.
Some sequences retain a new wave strangeness, Ben’s swimming pool lilo lounging intercut with diving on top of Mrs Robinson in the hotel room; her with her bra strap suntan lines; his date with Elaine in a strip club; and then Mrs Robinson practically disappearing from the second half of the picture, when it really should be about her and her lonely alienation. The finale is a cross-state dash to find Elaine, a la Richard Curtis, a la Woody Allen in Manhattan, but scrappy and messy and ending with Ben brandishing a gold cross in a church.
Did I spot early walk-on one-line parts for Richard Dreyfuss and Ryan O’Neal?
I laughed, at the jump cuts and at some of the lines. When Elaine’s boyfriend strides towards them at the Berkely zoo, Hoffman says: “He certainly is a very good walker,” destroying the guy at a stroke.
“I’m just a little upset about my future,” says Ben, nailing the ennui and unease of a generation for whom “plastics” is the future, and who were heading to Vietnam and Watergate without knowing it. Hello darkness my old friend, indeed.