Seduced by Mrs Robinson by Beverly Gray

So here’s to you…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The Graduate was released in 1967 and won an Oscar for its director, Mike Nichols. Beverly Gray was at the same stage of her life as the young hero of the movie, Benjamin Braddock – just leaving college and part of a generation that was seeking something different to the plans their parents had made for them. This book is partly about the making of the film, partly about the influence it has had on later culture, but mostly about the impact it had on Gray herself and her peers. Because of the type of book it is, it’s of course full of spoilers for the movie, and so will be this review.

I’m maybe a decade younger than Gray and The Graduate didn’t have the same impact on me when I first saw it, on TV probably in the late 70s (and quite probably with some bits cut, I’d imagine – British TV was like that back then). I liked it well enough and loved the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, but it didn’t speak to me about my life. I thought of it as an enjoyable rom-com – a bit racy, perhaps, but by the late ’70s, frankly, what wasn’t? So I was intrigued to see if Gray would deepen my appreciation for it.

Gray starts by discussing her own reaction to the film on its release, and how those reactions have changed somewhat as she has swapped the optimism of youth for the realism (or cynicism or pessimism, depending on how you look at it) of experience. The ending in particular – seen at the time as a hopeful rejection of their parents’ values – seems more ambiguous looking back. OK, so they’d run off – now what?

She then goes back in time a little to discuss the origin of the film and its production, She introduces us to the writer of the original book, Charles Webb, and tells us about his own life on which he drew somewhat for the plot (though his affair with his parents’ friend was purely wishful thinking). The book didn’t take off at first – reviews I’ve read of it suggest it’s not terribly well written. Gray says it was compared in style to The Catcher in the Rye and clearly was in the same vein of trying to capture that generational shift that happened in America during the ’60s. Although the film came out in ’67 at the height of Vietnam, the book places it closer to ’62, which is why Benjamin is not living in fear of being drafted. Despite its relative lack of success, it attracted the attention of an aspiring movie producer, Larry Turman, who managed to get Mike Nichols interested, and also persuaded backer Joe E Levine to put up the money.

Gray then takes us through the making of the film, though more from the perspective of the people than the technical side of it. We learn how the young Dustin Hoffman got the role, how Nichols got the performances out of his stars, whose leg it actually is in the rolling up the stocking scene. (Admit it – you’re intrigued now, aren’t you? Send me chocolate and I might tell you…)

Then she takes us through the film scene by scene, pointing out some of the techniques and effects Nichols used. I found this was the perfect stage to re-watch the movie. This is an interesting section, done well, getting a nice balance between detail and overall impression. It’s done from the perspective of the viewer rather than the film-makers, so she points out what has been done rather than how it was done. For example, she points out the use of mirrors, glass and reflections throughout the film, or tiny details like Ben being anti-smoking before his rebellion and then taking up smoking at round about the same time as he… ahem… takes up with Mrs Robinson. These are all the things I never notice, so I found this added a lot to my appreciation of how Nichols achieved his story-telling effects.

The final section tells us how the film impacted on the later careers of its stars, not always positively, and how it has been referenced in popular culture in the decades since its release. Some of this made my eyes glaze over a bit, partly because a lot of the references related to specifically American things, like ads, and partly because, not being an avid movie watcher, I hadn’t seen a lot of the films she mentioned. However it would work better for American cinema enthusiasts, I’m sure.

Gray writes lightly and conversationally, with a good deal of fairly waspish humour sprinkled over the pages, and the book is enjoyable to read. It doesn’t have the depth of a deeply researched production critique (like Citizen Kane, for instance), but that’s not its aim. The personal aspect of how it touched Gray and her generation adds interest, though occasionally she has a tendency to dismiss any interpretation of it that differs from her own. And of course it relates directly only to a small subset of that generation – well off, college educated, white – something Gray doesn’t really acknowledge, at least not explicitly.

I enjoyed the read and the re-watch it inspired, and I found, like Gray, that my advancing years had made that ending look a lot deeper than my young self had spotted. In fact, the final scene of Benjamin and Elaine on the bus feels much less victorious to me now. Gray explains how Nichols managed to catch the ambiguous expressions on the actors’ faces, almost by accident, and yet it gives the film a depth and poignancy it might not otherwise have had.

If like me you haven’t watched it in years, treat yourself to a movie night – it has more than stood the test of time. And if you’re a fan of the film, then I happily recommend the book.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Algonquin Books.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

51 thoughts on “Seduced by Mrs Robinson by Beverly Gray

  1. This is a lovely review and the book sounds very interesting. As a film buff, The Chap would absolutely love this, so if he is well behaved I will get him this as a present. This has inspired a re-watch of the film, I’ve not seen it for years 🙂

    • I reckon anyone who loves the film will enjoy the book, but are Chaps ever well behaved?? The film is well worth re-watching – I enjoyed it more now than I did when I was nearer the age of the characters. So maybe you should wait a couple of decades… 😉

      • The Chap has flashes of good behaviour (oo-er!) and is good with opening jars so he may yet gain enough credit to warrant a small gift 😉
        I don’t think I can wait a couple of decades. If I watch it first thing in the morning I will at least look a couple of decades older 😀

        • Ah, yes, jar-opening is one of those things that make it worth allowing men to continue to share the planet. That and sewage work. 😉

          Hahahaha! *slaps on some early morning wrinkle cream*

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the movie, being about a decade younger than Gray too, but feel as if I have because I know so much about it. Maybe time for an actual viewing, enticed by your review. I like reading about the book and its insights, but don’t think I would read it myself – too many books, too little time….

    • Ha – there are a few movies I feel I’ve seen too just because clips get shown so often. The film is well worth watching – I enjoyed it more now than I did when I was Benjamin’s age. Gives a different perspective…

  3. Nicely done!
    I haven’t seen this movie in years! I saw it on TV without any understanding of the impact it had. (And it had been cut to fit in commercials.) I was probably an older teen when I saw it many years after its production. I remember thinking it was racy, as you mentioned, but just okay. It makes sense that someone leaving college at that time would see it as more iconic.

    • Thank you! Yes, I was probably in my late teens too, and also didn’t think it went too far – especially in comparison to some of the films that were coming out in the late ’70s by which time every film seemed to have to include nude sex scenes… maybe influenced by this one! I hadn’t seen it for years either, and actually enjoyed it more now than I did when I was Benjamin’s age. A different perspective…

  4. This is actually one of my top five or so films, FictionFan. There are so many nuances to it that you don’t get from the first (or second, or….) viewing. And it sounds as though the book really does it justice, which I’m glad to hear. In general, I think the topic of the way films influence us is interesting, anyway. I think you have a good ‘un here.

    • I can understand why, Margot – great performances and I found I got a lot more out of it now than I did when I was Benjamin’s age. I think it’s a very American film – I’m not sure many Brits of that generation would have felt it was casting insight on their own lives, which is probably why it seems to have had more cultural impact there than here. But in the intervening years, our societies have grown more similar so it actually seems more relevant now somehow…

  5. I haven’t realized that it actually became a cult film tho heaven knows it did have quite an impact for those of us in that generation. America changed so radically during that time that hubby and I had a difficult time adjusting after he got out of the navy in ’70. Good review!

    • Thank you! Yes, I hadn’t realised what an impact it had had either, but looking at it now from a different perspective, I can see why it would have won over so many people with similar experiences. The ’60s and ’70s were pretty strange, weren’t they? Fun in some ways but also quite disruptive. Not sure if society really improved as a result of throwing out the old values… hmm…

  6. I loved that movie and should re-watch it. I didn’t know about the new book. Know I want to read it too ! Thanks for this post!!!

    • Ha! It must have been fun to do on stage! The acting in the film is quite stagy, now I think about it. If you liked the play, you’d probably enjoy the film… 🙂

  7. I like the idea of a close study of a film, I’ve never read a book like that before. I watched this film a few years ago. Seemed like one that everyone should see, referenced in conversation a lot. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was enjoyable. Nice review, FF!

    • Thanks, Laila! I’ve only read a couple – both of films I felt I didn’t appreciate enough – and they definitely do make me see the films more deeply. This wasn’t one of my favourites before, but having read the book and then re-watched it, I think it might be now. I’ll certainly watch it again…

  8. I saw this in the cinema – X-rated! – with a gang of my fellow-students. Can’t say it did much for me at the time, and I was surprised it went on to be such a cult. Oh well, what do I know?

    • Yes, I think it really had very little relevance for Brits of our era – it’s very American. But watching it now from a different perspective, I actually appreciated it much more than I did when I was Benjamin’s age…

    • I like sometimes reading about a film I feel I don’t fully appreciate – it tends to make me understand much better what I missed. The film is well worth re-watching, and the book is very enjoyable… 🙂

  9. I feel like I know this film, but I never saw it. Now that you’ve done such an outstanding job reviewing it and the book, I just might have to make amends! So much has changed in those decades — it might be nice for a change to NOT see people hypnotized by their cell phones, ha!

    • The film is well worth watching. I enjoyed it more now than I did when I was the age of the main characters – a different perspective helped! Ha – when I rule the world, all electronic devices will be banned. Except Kindles and laptops… 😉

  10. I never saw this movie; it’s way before my time. However, I have an IDEA of how it ends thanks to a spoof on Mrs. Robinson near the end of Wayne’s World 2, which will surely go down in history as one of America’s best film sequels. 😂

    • Ha – that was one of the films she referenced in the book. I haven’t seen it though. You might enjoy The Graduate – even though it’s from the 60s it still feels quite relevant, and the acting’s great.

  11. This is one of those classic films I hear about, but have never seen. I admit that the plot never appealed to me over-much (not as much as other films of ’67 like Bonnie and Clyde or In The Heat of the Night), but feel like I really ought to see because of its place in cinema history. Perhaps a book would give me greater incentive? It sounds most informative and is interesting about what it meant at the time of it’s release.

    That is really interesting about the ending and the ambiguity of the ending!

    • The plot is actually deeper than it sometimes seems – it’s really more about the change in attitudes during the ’60s rather than just being about his affair with Mrs Robinson. The book is very good but full of spoilers, so if you did decide to go for it, I’d tend to watch the movie first. Yes, the ending is definitely capable of being read more than one way, and actually is maybe what lifts the film from being a rom-com to being something altogether more meaningful. I suspect you’d enjoy it… 🙂

  12. I do remember watching this film and of course I loved the music too. This sounds like a brilliant book for those who loved the film although I was completely unaware by the time I saw it, of the impact of it.

    • I wasn’t really aware it was considered so influential either till I read the blurb for this. I suspect it doesn’t work for Brits the way it does for Americans – it doesn’t reflect our lifestyle at all. But I did find the book made me appreciate it more, and I spent happy hours listening to Simon & Garfunkel!

  13. This sounds fascinating! I watched it first when I was about 17 I think, and found the ending devastating, I couldn’t believe the the look they gave one another, I was used to teen happy-ever-after films. I watched it with my Dad and I remember him proclaiming “Ha! They’ll split within the year.” I find the film funnier now than I did then – probably its cynicism appeals to me more as I become older and embittered 😉

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