With that one word, spoken to the disaffected Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) by an associate of his father’s, the audience viewing 1967’s film The Graduate, could both laugh and sneer along with Benjamin. After all, “plastics” stood for all that was superficial and fake in society. Mike Nichols, directing only his second feature film after a successful Broadway career, was anything but subtle as he masterfully threaded the film’s themes throughout every aspect of the production. To represent Benjamin’s most inner thoughts on the film soundtrack, Nichols called on Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. To represent, well, “plastics,” the composer Dave Grusin was enlisted, and turned in a number of faux lounge compositions. There’s much for which The Graduate is remembered today. There are the cherished lines like “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me…aren’t you?” or screenwriter Buck Henry’s droll cameo as a hotel clerk: “Are you here for an affair, sir?” There are, of course, Anne Bancroft’s stunning legs that go on forever. You could recall the hypnotic swimming pool sequences or the climactic, comedically unexpected use of a cross to jam a church door. But more than any other one facet, The Graduate may be best remembered today for its music.
To cap off a week on which Simon and Garfunkel are being celebrated for the 40th anniversary of their epochal Bridge Over Troubled Water album (Sirius/XM is even offering 24/7 Simon and Garfunkel Radio for a limited time!), today’s Friday Feature celebrates a cinematic landmark, and a film that still vividly conjures the generation gap that existed in 1967: The Graduate. Hit the jump to join Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Dave Grusin, Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson!
Charles Webb’s first novel was published in 1963. Webb’s The Graduate deftly satirized the social divide of the 1960s, a divide that was even more pronounced by the time Hollywood got around to filming it in 1967. Buck Henry and Calder Willingham adapted Webb’s novel, while sophisticated comedian and stage director Mike Nichols (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) tackled his second film, after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
While shooting, Nichols hit upon the notion of scoring the film with the music of Columbia recording artists Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Simon was signed to compose original songs and those songs, of course, would be performed by the duo. Dave Grusin was brought on board to write the music for the “adult” world depicted in the film. Grusin was also a film neophyte; The Graduate and Bud Yorkin’s comedy Divorce, American Style were his first films as composer, and both were released in 1967.
The Graduate debuted on December 21, 1967, and American audiences instantly took to the story of Benjamin Braddock. Alienated from his parents’ generation, he begins an illicit affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a much older woman who is the wife of his father’s business associate. Little does Benjamin know that he will fall in love with Mrs. Robinson’s teenage daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Consummate pros Elizabeth Wilson and William Daniels portrayed Benjamin’s parents, and Bewitched favorites Marion Lorne and Alice Ghostley made brief, memorable appearances. The Graduate was a first-class production in every respect, and the critics responded accordingly. Hoffman, Bancroft and Ross were all honored with Academy Award nominations, while the film itself was a contender for Best Picture. Willingham and Henry were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Robert L. Surtees was up for Best Cinematography. Mike Nichols took home the coveted statue for his direction.
Original Soundtrack, The Graduate (Columbia CK/PST 3180, 1968 – reissued Columbia CD CK 3180, 1986 & Sony/BMG Japan, 2007)
- The Sound of Silence
- The Singleman Party Foxtrot
- Mrs. Robinson
- Sunporch Cha Cha Cha
- Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Interlude)
- On the Strip
- April Come She Will
- The Folks
- Scarborough Fair/Canticle
- A Great Effect
- The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
- Mrs. Robinson
- The Sound of Silence
Tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 composed by Dave Grusin. Tracks 5 & 9 composed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. All other tracks composed by Paul Simon.
The soundtrack was released two months after the film itself, on February 21, 1968. It soon rose to No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart. The original soundtrack recording of The Graduate plays almost like two distinct scores on one disc. Yet the juxtaposition of Simon and Garfunkel’s evocative themes with Grusin’s knowing pastiches of lounge music made for a remarkably cohesive listening experience. Columbia’s LP was produced by Teo Macero, probably best known for overseeing the long career of Miles Davis, including 1959’s Kind of Blue. In reviewing the picture, Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote that Simon’s score was “dandy modern folk music, sung (offscreen, of course) by the team of Simon and Garfunkel” and that it “has the sound of today’s moody youngsters.”
Simon was responsible for eight of the album’s fourteen tracks. Originally committed to writing three original songs, Simon actually wrote “Overs” and “Punky’s Dilemma” for the film. Nichols, however, rejected them, preferring to score key scenes with songs from the team’s back catalogue: “April Come She Will,” “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine.” The one original song that remained was, of course, “Mrs. Robinson.” Some accounts have disputed that “Mrs. Robinson” was intended for The Graduate, but Simon’s own version affirms that he was at least considering the song for his film commitment.
“I was sitting around writing it but I was singing ‘Mrs. Roosevelt,’” Simon told author Bill Flanagan. “I sang ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ too. Artie said to Mike Nichols, ‘Paul’s writing a song called ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ He said, ‘You’re writing a song called ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and you didn’t tell me? I said, ‘Well, I don’t know if it’s ‘Mrs. Robinson’ or ‘Mrs. Roosevelt.’ He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous! We’re making a movie here! It’s ‘Mrs. Robinson!’” Simon’s lyric was filled with potent imagery, and the song’s apparent lamenting of lost idealism (“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”) was of a piece with the film’s scorn for “plastic” values.
Yet “Mrs. Robinson” wasn’t heard in the movie in the version we all know. The song appears twice on the soundtrack album, first in a version with just vocalizing, ominous strings and the guitar riff. It’s developed a bit further as the LP’s penultimate track with unique lyrics (“Stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson/God in Heaven smiles on those who pray”) but this version, too, clocks in at barely a minute long and lacks the polish or sheen of the single version. Simon, in fact, had to be persuaded to flesh the song out for the recording that appeared a couple of months later on Bookends, released in April 1968 as Columbia CK/PCT 9529. (“Punky’s” and “Overs” made belated appearances on Bookends as well.) The album and the song both became national touchstones and reached the top of the charts; Simon was duly rewarded with Grammy Awards on top of the great commercial success. Ironically, “Mrs. Robinson” wasn’t eligible for an Academy Award despite being one of the best-known film songs of all time. Simon has recalled that the proper papers weren’t filed with the Academy to warrant its eligibility, while others have asserted that its possible non-film origin precluded it from nomination.
The Graduate spawned another massive hit, too. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” made its debut on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (Columbia CK/PCT 9363, 1966) but due to its inclusion in the film, it appeared on the pop charts in March 1968 and reached No. 11. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” also features twice on the soundtrack, once as a brief interlude and once in a lengthy version that seems to have its basis in the familiar track.
Of the remaining Simon and Garfunkel tracks, “The Sound of Silence” opens the album in its “rock” rendition and closes it in a unique, spare and appropriately haunting arrangement. “April, Come She Will,” originating from the LP Sounds of Silence (Columbia CK/PCT 9269, 1966), underscores one of the spellbinding pool sequences, and “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” (from Parsley, Sage) is heard during Benjamin’s first date with Elaine.
Simon and Garfunkel were the clear headliners of the soundtrack album; Dave Grusin’s name (as “David Grusin”) was in print a fraction of the size of their names. Yet his contribution to the soundtrack shouldn’t be discounted. On “The Singleman Party Foxtrot,” he offers a delicious spoof of starchy dance music, while “Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha” is a satirical homage of the kind of lounge music Henry Mancini could write effortlessly. “On the Strip” is a Tijuana Brass-style mariachi tune, and “The Folks” is brassy and lightly swinging with its tinkling cocktail piano. In his LP liner notes, Charles Burr writes that these “conventional” tunes represent the “external, superficial and nervous world we live in and walk through almost without sensation; the sound effects of our adult society.” “Whew” is the only Grusin composition to be of a piece with Simon’s folk-rock; it utilizes the riff of “Mrs. Robinson” and also quotes “Scarborough Fair.”
Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation of the book and film played Broadway in 2002 after a London run, and retained from the film “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Sound of Silence,” adding Simon and Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” to its playlist as well as Simon’s “Red Rubber Ball,” recorded by The Cyrkle. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ “Love Potion No. 9” filled in for Grusin’s Alpert homage, while other “conventional” music included Andy Williams’ “Moon River” and Percy Faith’s “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’.” The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” figured prominently in both the stage play and its companion CD.
The Graduate: Music from the Broadway Comedy (Columbia/Legacy CK 86468, 2002)
- Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel
- Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson
- Moon River – Andy Williams
- California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & the Papas
- Sunshine Superman – Donovan
- Turn! Turn! Turn! – The Byrds
- Theme from “A Summer Place” – Percy Faith & His Orchestra
- The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
- Black Coffee – Peggy Lee
- Love Potion No. 9 – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
- You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood Sweat & Tears
- Red Rubber Ball – The Cyrkle
- San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) – Scott McKenzie
- Baby Driver – Simon & Garfunkel
- Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
Amazingly, the original soundtrack to The Graduate has never received a reissue in America. A limited-edition Japanese paper sleeve edition was released in 2007 which was remastered, but the only CD still available in the U.S. is the original issue, now over twenty years old. A freshly remastered edition, hopefully expanded with additional music and cues (and the single version of “Mrs. Robinson” as a bonus!), is still eagerly awaited.
The music to The Graduate endures to the present day. Some critics have revisited their opinions of the film, now very much a period piece; your author humbly disagrees with those revisionists and still finds the film a potent piece of satire and entertainment. But that said, very few have doubted the longevity and relevance of the soundtrack. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.