26 March 2013

The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate
Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson
Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock
Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson
WATCHED: 2008-2009

Favorite Quotes

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you—just one.
Benjamin Braddock : Yes, sir ?
Mr. McGuire : Are you listening ?
Benjamin Braddock : Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire : Plastics!
Benjamin Braddock : Exactly how do you mean?

Hotel Worker: Are you here for an affair, sir ?

Benjamin Braddock : What happened between Mrs. Robinson and me was nothing !  It didn’t mean anything !  We might just as well have been shaking hands!
Mr. Robinson: Shaking hands!  Well, that’s not saying much for my wife, is it ?

Mrs. Robinson : It’s too late !
Elaine : Not for me !

Brief Plot Summary
Benjamin Braddock has just graduated from college and he has no idea what he wants to do next.  His parents throw him a homecoming party, at the end of which he gives a ride home to Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner.  Once at the Robinson home, Mrs. Robinson makes it clear that she finds Benjamin attractive, and offers herself to him any time he wants her.  As the summer continues, Benjamin decides to take Mrs. Robinson up on her offer, and they begin seeing each other.
Mrs. Robinson warns Benjamin to stay away from her daughter Elaine, but pressured by his father, Benjamin decides to ask her out anyway. When Mrs. Robinson finds out she is furious, and forbids Benjamin and Elaine from continuing to see one another.  She threatens to reveal her affair with Benjamin if he does not discontinue his relationship with Elaine.  In a stunningly stupid act, Benjamin tells Elaine himself, and Elaine (quelle surprise) breaks it off with him.
Naturally, Ben takes this as a sign that he is meant to marry Elaine (obviously), and he goes after her.  After he continues to pursue (let’s be honest, stalk) her, he discovers that she is to be married.  He is unable to stop the wedding however, and arrives just as she and her husband are sharing their first kiss.  So, in one of the most memorable and parodied moments in cinematic history, he bangs on the doors to get her attention (“Elaine!  Elaine!”).  And then, right there in the church, Benjamin Braddock causes an epic donnybrook.  Mr. Robinson, Mrs. Robinson, and Carl (Elaine’s brand spanking new husband) all get in on the action.  Elaine, despite her mother’s attempts to stop her, runs to Benjamin, who grabs a gold cross of the wall and uses it to beat back his foes.  He and Elaine run out of the church, using the cross to barricade the doors (because they’re classy like that).  They board a passing bus and ride off into the future.  The End.
My Reaction
            I distinctly remember the first time I watched this movie.  I distinctly remember it because I distinctly remember my reaction to the last scene.  Specifically, I remember my reaction to the use of a cross as a lethal weapon: It was awesome.  But then I watched Ben and Elaine run out of the church.   I watched them board their bus and run to the back.  I watched them look at each other uncertainly as the bus moved them further and further away from their past.  And then I watched the screen go black.
            And I said, “WHAT?”  I was in shock.  Surely something else was about to happen.  Something conclusive and awe-inspiring.  But nothing did.  So I turned off the TV, returned the DVD to the library, and spent days fretting over the ending (in my youth, I did not deal well with uncertainty).  Of course I now recognize the significance and beauty of open-ended films, and I think I appreciate them so much now in large part because of my experience with The Graduate and my subsequent days of post-watch pondering.
            But whatever you think of the ending, there is no denying that The Graduate represents a hallmark of American cinema.  Apart from its place on the Registry, it earned 8 Oscar noms (it won for Best Director) and numerous citations from AFI: It was ranked at #7 on 100 Years…100 Movies (#17 on the 10th anniversary list), #9 on 100 Laughs (although I do not consider it to be primarily a comedy), #52 on 100 Passions (oh, definitely), #6 on 100 Songs (“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel), and has two lines on 100 Movie Quotes (“Plastics!” is #42 and “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.  Aren’t you?” is #63).  It was also featured in Steven Jay Schneider’s book 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.  Furthermore, it is ranked as one of the highest-grossing American films in history (adjusted for inflation, #21).
            Apart from its formal accolades, The Graduate left behind a legacy that is still seen in today’s popular culture.  To state the obvious first, The Graduate proved a major vehicle for Simon and Garfunkel, who composed the entire soundtrack.  To this day, “Mrs. Robinson” is still played regularly on the radio, and is the song the duo is best known for.  I remember, when Anne Bancroft died, seeing newspaper headlines with her picture proclaiming, “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.”  That’s a legacy right there.
            Furthermore, the name Mrs. Robinson has become a synonym for cougars everywhere: I’ve seen countless TV shows and movies in which older females characters involved with young men are confronted by their friends taunting them with a well-placed “Well, coo-coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson!”  Anne Bancroft herself has said that it is the role that she is most identified with, and that men still tell her that Mrs. Robinson was their first fantasy (which I find interesting, since Mrs. Robinson was controlling, harsh, condescending, and a little crazy—but whatev).
            Famous scenes from the film are also open to exploitation in today’s TV and movies.  I’m specifically remembering an episode of The Simpsons entitled “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” which roughly parodies The Graduate, right down to the interrupted wedding and the bus ride at the end.  In an earlier episode for which Dustin Hoffman provided a guest voice, the famous shot through Mrs. Robinson’s legs (one of the most memorable cinematographic accomplishments in American cinema) was parodied with the lovely Mrs. Krabappel.  These scenes have also been parodied in television shows and movies like Roseanne, The King of Queens, and Wayne’s World (“Sorry!  Wrong wedding!”).  The film has also been adapted into a successful stage play that played London, Broadway and several tours, and originally starred Kathleen Turner as Mrs. Robinson, Jason Biggs (I think he would seriously be perfect) as Ben Braddock, and Alicia Silverstone (to me she’ll always be Cher Horowitz) as Elaine.
            So…yeah.  Pretty significant.
            Camille out.

22 February 2013

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
James Stewart as Jefferson Smith
Jean Arthur as Saunders
Claude Rains as Senator Joseph Harrison Paine
WATCHED: 2000s

Favorite Quotes
Jefferson Smith: Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say, ‘‘I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will.’’  Boys ought to grow up remembering that.

Jefferson Smith: Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!

Brief Plot Summary
Bright-eyed idealist George Bailey Jefferson Smith is appointed to the Senate in the hopes that he will prove a perfect patsy.  To keep him busy and out of the way, Senator Paine, his mentor, suggests he propose a bill.  Smith uses this as an opportunity to further his pet project, a national boys’ camp.  He proposes a land purchase for the camp, and a tidal wave of young boys send in the contents of their piggy banks to fund it.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Smith and his constituent of hopeful urchins, the land he wants to purchase is tied up in a dam-building scandal under the supervision of Paine.  When this comes out, Smith is implicated in the scandal, and his reputation is trashed.  To regain his position, he counters with one of my favorite political tactics: The Filibuster.   After talking for over twenty-four hours, he is confronted by Paine entering the chambers with hundreds of letters from Smith’s constituency, supposedly vilifying him.  In a brilliant defense tactic, Smith passes out.  While Smith wows the Senate with Operation: Unconscious, a guilt-filled Paine attempts to commit suicide, but decides, instead, to confess his guilt and clear Smith’s name.  The End.

My Reaction
            Despite the fact that It’s a Wonderful Life was released after Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I had great difficulty separating Jimmy Stewart from George Bailey the first time I saw this movie when I was in junior high.  In fact, I found it impossible until I watched Jefferson Smith, enraged at Washington’s dirty dealings, punch out a reporter in a vicious rage.  I kept waiting for the dream montage to end, but, alas, it wasn’t a dream: My dear, sweet, gentle Jimmy Stewart had just sucker-punched an unsuspecting boob square in the face.  After that I found it considerably simpler to accept that Stewart was not George Bailey, though I was still upset by what I had seen.  Fortunately, that was the only part of the film I found unpleasant, and I heartily enjoyed the rest of the movie.  Furthermore, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is significant for two reasons.
            First, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington represents the genius of one of America’s greatest directors, Frank Capra.  Widely considered one of his best films, it is characteristic of Capra’s career-long focus on the essential goodness of man, and the idea that even the most seemingly insignificant person can shake the world.
            But even more importantly, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington derives great significance from the sheer magnitude and range of responses it produced in the viewing public.  Upon its release, it was vilified by American politicians and critics as unpatriotic, un-American, and even Communist.  Congressmen attempted to stop international release of the film, and there was even talk of legislation to encourage theaters to refuse to show films that may damage the country’s reputation.  It was banned by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Franco, and many other countries re-dubbed the dialogue to change the message of the film.  On the other hand, many countries on the brink of Nazi domination screened it as an act of defiance.  Reportedly, one Paris theater showed the movie nonstop for an entire month in rebellion of the German ban, and many theaters chose to make Mr. Smith Goes to Washington their last screening before their theaters were closed down.  More recently, the film has been cited as a driving force behind Washington D.C.’s first Whistleblower Week in 2007.
            Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has met every possible reaction, from the most vicious disparagement to the highest praise, from viewers ranging from U.S. Senators and international ambassadors to small-town movie critics.  It is the quintessential jaded-but-hopeful look at corruption in government, and for that it certainly deserves its place on the Registry.