Anne Bancroft, 36 when cast as Ben Braddock’s seducer in The Graduate (1967), was not the first choice for the role. Patricia Neal, Doris Day and Jeanne Moreau turned it down. Close your eyes and TRY to picture anyone OTHER than the very HOT Ms. Bancroft as the first cougar now. Dustin Hoffman was a thirty-year-old journeyman actor when Mike Nichols cast him as a college graduate worried about his future.
1967 was a good time to be worried about your future. Ben graduated into a strange and violent world. Communists were playing with dominoes. The only way to stop the spread of evil red ideas was fight them with blood and treasure in some out of the way place. Had to find a proxy country to keep nukes out of the conflict. Ben Braddock,a Frank Halpingham scholar, was prime Vietnam draft bait. Reason enough to be worried about your future.
Nichols innovations happen frequently and quickly. The Graduate was one of the first films to use numerous songs from a single group. Simon and Garfunkel score perfectly mirrors The Graduate’s onscreen montage and plot lines. I’m watching the Sound of Silence montage as I write this. Possibly never has film and music been so perfectly match. Telling Ben’s story in song by moving from Sounds of Silence to April Come She Will is film making genius.
“What then were those four years of college for,” asks a Ben’s father expertly played by William Daniels as “young Ben” floats aimlessly in the pool. “I have absolutely no idea,” comes Ben’s acerbic response. Ben’s father is beta dog to Mr. Robinson’s alpha. Strict mores forced Mrs. Robinson into a loveless marriage. Pregnant as an Art History Major in college, Mrs. Robinson’s choices were narrow, constrained by rigid cultural constraints:
Some commentators have seen in this era a classical Jungian nightmare where a rigid culture unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom broke free of the social constraints of the previous age through extreme deviation from the norm.Mrs. Robinson, the “broken down alcoholic” and first cougar, uses sex as a revolutionary weapon. We think of the sixties as revolutionary, and it was for some, but most obeyed tight social order rooted in conformity. The sixties as revolution didn’t became packaged and consumable until the seventies. How could Mrs. Robinson act like Camille Paglia and live to tell the story? Having an affair with her husband’s partner’s virgin draft bait son maybe? Sounds like a cougar’s move, the first cougar’s move.