When I was almost 16 years old, I took my girlfriend to the cinema to see a film that everyone was raving about. It was a coming of age drama starring an actor I had never heard of, and an actress I liked a great deal. Critics and the viewing public were raving about the performances, the script, and even the soundtrack, which included songs by the very popular duo, Simon and Garfunkel. But I only wanted to see Anne Bancroft. She was 36 years old at the time, but looked older. Undeniably gorgeous, at least to me, she was my teenage dream of a mature woman.
If you don’t know the story, it concerns the emotional turmoil of an American 21 year-old university graduate, Ben Braddock. (Hoffman) He comes from a wealthy family, but since completing his studies, he seems to have no direction or ambition in life. We see him bored and listless, spending time in the family swimming pool, or just lounging around. His parents give him a large party to celebrate his graduation, where he encounters the sexy Mrs Robinson, (Bancroft) a family friend. They embark on a regular affair, with her controlling every aspect of it, and using the young man for her pleasure. Back then, it was unusual to see a female role with such power, and I have to admit it was intoxicating. I wanted to be Ben, and badly wanted Anne Bancroft to be my older lover.
But the Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross) arrives on the scene, and Ben is cajoled into asking her out on a date. His parents and Mr Robinson think they are the perfect match, but neither he nor his lover are happy about the situation. To put Elaine off, he takes her on an awful date, and behaves badly. He later regrets that, and accepts that he has feelings for the girl. But she discovers his affair, then is shocked to realise it has been with her own mother. Elaine returns to her college, and Ben follows her, to try to convince her it is over with her mother, and that he loves only her. But the redoubtable Mrs Robinson arrives, and after threatening Ben, takes her daughter away to marry a former boyfriend.
At the last possible moment, just as the vows are to be exchanged, a distraught Ben turns up at the church, hoping to stop the wedding.
I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it.
This is a film of its time. Rich young Americans, even richer older Americans, and a love triangle of the type rarely examined before. Hoffman is ideally cast as the confused young man, and Ross is perfect as a desirable girl of the 1960s. It is good to look at, and the drama works alongside some humour. Then there are those famous songs, and a complimentary soundtrack, as well as the excellent direction from Mike Nichols. But it is Bancroft’s film. She commands every scene she is in, looks wonderful, and portrays the predatory older woman with precision and perfection. I left the cinema with one thought though.
If I had been Ben, I would have ditched the soppy girl, and ran away with her mother.