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Remind Me

Behind the Camera On THE GRADUATE

Sunday August, 25 2019 at 08:00 PM

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The budget for The Graduate was approximately $3 million.

Director Mike Nichols says the scene of Ben's seduction by Mrs. Robinson "was all about him being stalked....We talked about it being a jungle, and it was a jungle. There were all these plants and the Beverly Hills garden behind the glass that surrounded the sun porch. And we talked about her being the tiger in the jungle and she had a tiger-striped dress on and it was all built to be a trap, a tender trap. We wanted to find a way to express the fact that she was being provocative... And there was her leg and it was up and it seemed logical."

Hoffman found it difficult to make The Graduate because he was used to acting on stage. Nichols would tell him what he was doing was good but to try it again without doing anything. Hoffman said he soon adapted to Nichols' minimalist style, which turned out to be just right for his character.

In the scene of Benjamin's first sexual encounter with Mrs. Robinson in the hotel room, no one knew Dustin Hoffman was going to grab Anne Bancroft's breast. He was inspired to do it by recalling schoolboys' attempts to nonchalantly grab girls' breasts. When he did it, Nichols starting laughing loudly, and Hoffman began to crack up, too. He covered by turning away, walking to the wall, and banging his head against it. Although surprised by his action, Bancroft never missed a beat and continued with the scene.

Many of the exterior campus shots of The Graduate were actually the University of Southern California in Los Angeles which served as a stand-in for UC Berkeley. Some of the scenes, however, were actually filmed on the Northern California campus and in the town of Berkeley.

The wedding scene was filmed at a Methodist church in the town of LaVerne, a suburb 30 miles east of Los Angeles. Hoffman later commented he was uneasy about doing the scene in which he pounds on the glass because a church official was watching the filming with obvious disapproval.

Nichols said the use of images to suggest Ben is "underwater" and out of his depth in life––e.g., the fish tank, the pool, the scuba outfit––was deliberate, although he didn't care if anyone noted this or not. He also emphasized the use of glass as barriers with people cut off from each other and the life around them.

Nichols and production designer Richard Sylbert talked at length about how to accurately capture the look of middle class Southern California in a unique way and not just what had been seen in movies for 20 years, "like a Doris Day picture." In a later interview, he said, "California is like America in italics, like a parody of everything that's most dangerous to us."

Anne Bancroft loved Nichols' description of Mrs. Robinson as someone who was angry with herself for giving up who she really was for wealth and security, the moment in the book that really captured his interest. When they shot the scene of Mrs. Robinson and Ben discussing art in the hotel room, Bancroft had forgotten Nichols' initial revelation about the character but managed to capture that anger and regret on subsequent takes. Nichols thought this was very important because he really wanted to drive home the point about the character having bargained away her life. "That seems to me the great American danger we're all in, that we'll bargain away the experience of being alive for the appearance of it."

The Graduate takes a different visual approach before and after Ben falls in love with Elaine. The first part is meant to have a cold, glassy, plastic look, Nichols explained, while the romantic scenes were done with long lenses and diffused shots (although he later noted it was time to retire that pictorial style for good).

Cinematographer Robert Surtees was given license to experiment with filming techniques, such as shooting Dustin Hoffman running toward the camera in extreme depth with a telephoto lens. Even though Hoffman is running very fast as his character races to prevent Elaine's marriage to someone else, the effect of the shot is that he is furiously running in place, getting nowhere.

Mike Nichols has often remarked about how Ben and Elaine in the final scene looked frightened and confused after their initial elation over escaping on the bus. Yet during an appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio in 1994, he said the looks on their faces were due to being nervous and scared after he shouted at them to laugh during the scene. He liked it so much, he decided to keep the cameras rolling and cut it into the final movie.

Nichols wanted to change the notion of a musical score by using popular songs that didn't necessarily correlate to the scene but set a certain mood. He secured the rights to several previously released Simon and Garfunkel recordings. Paul Simon also wrote one song specifically for the film, "Mrs. Robinson" (although some sources say it was a song he was already working on with the tentative title "Mrs. Roosevelt"). Dave Grusin, who had written music mostly for television shows prior to this, was hired to compose the incidental score for scenes not using Simon and Garfunkel songs.

by Rob Nixon

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