Today in Movie History: February 12

Frank Langella — who played a pretty mean Dracula himself — summed it up best. “It’s Bela’s cape. The rest of us are just keeping it warm for him.” Horror legend Bela Lugosi starred in the role that defined his career (and to a large extent defined the character) in Tod Browning’s Dracula, which premiered today in 1931.

In other news… it came ten days late, but considering it’s one of the best comedies ever made, we’re gonna let that slide. Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day opened today in 1993, putting Bill Murray’s smarmy weatherman in an endless time loop that forces him to become a better human being.

On a much darker note, the original (and superior) adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives opened today in 1974. Though overtly satirical in many ways, director Bryan Forbes understood the inherent creepiness of the scenario, in which Katharine Ross’s liberated feminist arrives with her family in a small town where the women seem permanently stuck in Donna Reed mode.  As social commentary, it works just fine, but its real power comes as a pro-feminist horror movie.

Today in Movie History: October 24

The 1960s saw a slow revision of the western as a genre, as the likes of Sergio Leone took it in a different, darker direction and even stalwarts like John Ford found undercurrents more in keeping with the time than their previous work. That came to a head with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a breezy, almost comedic romp marked by a growing sense of doom as the two title outlaws (Paul Newman and Robert Redford at their very best) search for frontiers that may no longer exist. The film opened today in 1969 and is still considered one of the best Westerns ever made.

The original version of The Manchurian Candidate set the standards for eerily plausible Cold War paranoia, involving brainwashed U.S. soldiers unwittingly doing the bidding of their communist masters in the heat of a presidential campaign. It was pulled from release following the assassination of JFK, and it’s not hard to see why: its power is absolutely terrifying. It opened 55 years ago today in 1962, and in light of our current political situation, it may pay to give it another look.

Despite a stellar run on the stage, the 1978 film adaptation of The Wiz is generally regarded as a dud. It’s too long, too slow and takes too much time to get its concept across: though a great director in his own right, Sidney Lumet may not have been the right man for the job here. But the songs remain a hoot and some sure-fire casting keeps it from being a complete disaster. It opened today in 1978.

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