Today in Movie History: December 22

As usual, there’s an eclectic mixture of titles that saw release today, starting with a classic Universal monster picture. Carl Freund’s The Mummy opened in today 1932, featuring Boris Karloff in his second brilliant role for Universal. Today also saw the release of The Mummy’s Curse in 1944: the third sequel of the remake of the original, featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. in the role. (See? Hollywood never had any original ideas.)

After scoring one of his greatest triumphs with Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean followed with Doctor Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak’s celebrated novel about the advent of the Russian Revolution. Though a step down from Lawrence, it remains a handsome effort from one of cinema’s greatest directors at the peek of his powers. It opened today in 1965.

The Coen Brothers have developed quite a canon of their own, though different from Mr. Lean’s. Two of their best were released today. O Brother, Where Art Thou, a cheeky retelling of The Odyssey set in the Depression-era South, was essentially just an excuse for the Coens to indulge in their deep and abiding love for folk music. Either way, it’s still a hoot. It opened today in 2000. Ten years later, their revamped version of True Grit actually outdid the celebrated John Wayne original, with Jeff Bridges bringing his own distinctive take on the beloved Rooster Cogburn. True Grit opened today in 2010.

Speaking of remakes, Philip Kaufman created one of the best ever when he updated Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the post-Vietnam 1970s. The chilling story of humans replaced by emotionless alien drones speaks volumes to our fears of conformity and the power of the mob, and Kaufman manages the difficult trick of making the story his own without treading on the feet of Don Siegel’s equally terrifying original. This version opened today in 1978.

We’ve had some crappy Bond films released this month, so it’s only fair we celebrate one of the better ones. Sean Connery appeared in his fourth outing, Thunderball, which opened today in 1965: it’s a step down from its predecessor Goldfinger but still grand fun for 007 (and, when you adjust the numbers for inflation, still the highest grossing Bond film to date).

Over in the animation department, the Fleischer Brothers released their flawed but interesting feature Gulliver’s Travels in an effort to keep up with that Disney guy across town. The film did decently, but the Fleischers could never quite capture the momentum that Uncle Walt did. It opened today in 1939.

Finally, Mike Nichols’ Boomer-coming-of-age saga The Graduate opened today in 1967. I’m not saying more because I don’t much like the film: whiny and self-indulgent even in the best of times. But it’s worth noting, and I’ll never say boo about the marvelous Anne Bancroft. Don’t go disrupting any weddings, you crazy kids.


The Graduate: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Review by: Robert Trate
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Buck Henry (screenplay), Charles Webb (novel)
Original Year of Release: 1967
Run Time: 106 minutes
Rated: PG
Spine #800
Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) is a film we all discover at some point in our lives. You don’t necessarily have to have seen it in the theatre or when it came out, just seeing it is enough. With that being said, Criterion’s release of The Graduate (Spine #800) sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt before, dislike for the film.

Before we get too far, let me explain myself. I love The Graduate. I was fortunate enough to experience the film for its first widescreen home release. This was a big thing in the nineties, as now you could see more of the scenes and moments that really matter. It preserved the cinematography of the film. Ironically enough, must people hated these presentations, as they felt it cut off the top and the bottom. Now our TVs are present in this ratio. I saw the film just when I started college. It was sort of a wake up call as to what may lay waiting for me after graduation. I visited the film from time to time in college and grew to sympathize more and more with Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman). When you could place music on your cell phone, I made it a point to have Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on me so I could enact the scene at the airport. I figured I hummed it already, now I could just hear for it real. In college, my roommate and I even recreated a scene for his film project. Yes, I was fan.

Here I am now, closer to the age of Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) and critiquing the film that has literally been with me all my adult life. To top it all off, I am going to review the Criterion Blu-ray. The first thing that pops out at me is how in shadow all our major characters are. Literally, they talk in almost every scene with shadows covering their faces. Perhaps it was years of watching it on VHS that I never noticed that aspect of the film. When you watch a new “4K digital restoration” you expect to see more. Instead, I noticed several things. Our cast of characters is shrouded in darkness. This could be because the world in which they inhabit is not a happy place. I’ll keep believing that because I love the film. In learning that Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson) and Dustin Hoffman (Ben) are, in real life, only 6 years apart, I think the director was trying to hide their ages. In looking closely at their faces, I also notice how right off the bat, Ben is uber tan. Sure, twenty minutes into the film when it has been weeks of him laying around the pool, I expected it, but right off the plane? Having gone to an East Coast school, I was never tan, ever.

What I mentioned above may be technicalities, but I also notice a huge plot hole. Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) and Ben go out on one date and instantly hit it off, enough that Ben has his sights on marrying her. We can believe the Romeo and Juliet scenario in most films, but in this film, Ben’s sticky situation is just too much of a nightmare. I believe Ben being in love with Elaine, finally finding that one person he connects with, but all out love and marriage? Perhaps if there was more to their own story. We are given a crappy all night date that turns into a great one. Elaine learns the truth and runs back to college. Ben then becomes her stalker and it turns out she went off and got engaged to someone else. My sympathy is more with Elaine, but the story reveals that her fiancé is a heel as well.

Films can change over time, yet can remain classics, Watch Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983, Spine #720) in your twenties and watch it again in your thirties. The film has a very different meaning. I still sympathize with Ben Braddock. I am still trying to figure it all out. Today, however, I think I need a bit more realism and character development for a story about a graduate who sleeps with his dad’s partner’s wife and tries to woo their daughter. If anything, I think I need a greater real life age separation between my two lead characters.

Special Features:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

Optional 5.1 surround remix, approved by director Mike Nichols, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray

Audio commentary from 2007 featuring Nichols in conversation with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh

Audio commentary from 1987 featuring film scholar Howard Suber

New interview with actor Dustin Hoffman

New conversation between producer Lawrence Turman and screenwriter Buck Henry

New interview with film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen about editor Sam O’Steen’s work on The Graduate

Students of “The Graduate,” a short documentary from 2007 on the film’s influence

“The Graduate” at 25, a 1992 featurette on the making of the film

Interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters, from a 1966 episode of NBC’s Today show

Excerpt from a 1970 appearance by singer-songwriter Paul Simon on The Dick Cavett Show

Screen tests


PLUS: An essay by journalist and critic Frank Rich