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In Movies & TV Commentary

Anne Bancroft gives a great performance opposite Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate."

In Movies & TV Commentary

"The Dead Girl" is a riveting story.

In Movies & TV Commentary

Denzel Washington is the bad guy in "American Gangster."

Metcalf's DVD screening room: March 1, 2008


Mark Metcalf, co-owner of the Mequon restaurant Libby Montana, is an actor known for his work in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

This week, Metcalfe weighs in on "The Graduate," "The Dead Girl" and "American Gangster."

THE GRADUATE (1967)
The main reason I didn't like "The Graduate" when it came out in 1967 is because I found the ending to be just too depressing.

There the two of them are in the back of the bus. He has just driven from Berkeley to Los Angeles to Berkeley to Santa Barbara. She has just been married, apparently against her will. He has broken into the church. She has fled with him.

They go from this moment of supreme rebellion and the accompanying ecstasy, to the moment immediately following -- when they have little or nothing to say to each other. They sit there, alternately smiling, laughing and looking blankly, with the hint of recognition that they have accomplished nothing. She looks at him, but his self-involvement continues so he doesn't even realize it.

I find it tremendously sad.

I worked with Mike Nichols once and he described himself as being epitomized by the word bathetic. Bathetic is a form of the Greek word bathos, meaning trite, overly sentimental to the point of humorousness.

I think when I saw it originally, I didn't distance myself from it enough. I was very much in Ben's shoes, I identified with him and when I saw the abyss of afterwards in his look after gaining all that he thought he ever wanted, I felt the emptiness of my own future.

The other thing I didn't like is the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack. I now like a lot of Simon & Garfunkel, but "Scarborough Fair" is one of my least favorites. I remember watching the movie and thinking, "Where the hell is Scarborough Fair?" Is that the name of some town he was driving through? I was pretty literal in 1967. My son thinks I still am.

Now, when I watch this film I am amazed at how good it is and how it sets up so many archetypes that are still being used by people in films today. I am impressed that Nichols is such a master with the camera. Bruce Surtees was there to help, but even if Surtees came up with all the images, Nichols had to be smart enough to say yes, and knowing Nichols just the little bit that I do, I think he probably imagined most of the shots himself. Great, great landscapes using the just OK bodies of Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman.

Again and again, he spreads the frame to its very edges with two people, or puts one so far in the foreground, or a piece of someone as in the classic shot of Mrs. Robinson's leg with Hoffman way off there in the background. He lets people walk out of the frame and then re-enter it. Woody Allen did this almost to distraction 12 years later in "Manhattan."

And then there is the wonderful moment when Hoffman is trying to tell Elaine that the older woman he had an affair with is her mother when her mother shows up behind her. As Elaine turns away from Hoffman, the camera quickly racks focus to Mrs. Robinson. Elaine turns back and the camera only slowly re-focuses on her after she has had time to come to the realization of the truth and has been shocked utterly and Mrs. Robinson has left the frame. Then, we cut to the Diane Arbus shot of Mrs. Robinson huddled way at the end of the hall, wet from the rain, perhaps broken finally.

Anne Bancroft gives a really great performance. She brings a full humanity to a character that could have been just a lonely, frustrated, attractive woman about to be old.

Hoffman is very good, too. But, he is mostly good because he is so not right for the part. He has a very distinct ethnicity and he is playing blond haired, blue-eyed goyim from Pasadena. He is out of place, but the character feels out of place wherever he goes. Katherine Ross is just beautiful, and just slightly independent enough to be attractive in a more than just pretty kind of way. But her character just goes wherever she is pointed. She has been thinking of marrying the true Aryan prince with the pipe, but she also is thinking of marrying Benjamin. She is confused, obviously, but it doesn't seem to be a difficult state for her to be in. It is a great film, deserving of its place at No. 9 in the AFI funny movies list.

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bustergirl | March 1, 2008 at 2:02 p.m. (report)

Rose Byrne isn't in Friday Night Lights

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