We saw an interview with Mike Nichols, the last one he did before he died. This was his second film. He had been taken with the music of Simon and Garfunkel, and intended to use it in the film, which was a very unusual thing to do in those days. Mostly it would be stuff they had already recorded, but he also wanted an original song that had something to do with Mrs. Robinson. Simon wrote two of them, and when S&G performed them, Nichols disliked them both. So the boys retired to another room and in a very short time returned with “Mrs. Robinson.” Nichols loved it, and was stunned that they had produced it so quickly. So Simon admitted he had already written it, but it was going to be “Mrs. Roosevelt.”
(This is not the story told in Wikipedia, but since I heard it from the man himself, I’m going to believe him.)
It was groundbreaking in so many ways that we tend to forget just how revolutionary it was. The musical montages, the camera angles, the story itself were all hugely influential in later films. And has there every been a movie hero as awkward as Benjamin Braddock? The scenes of him trying to check into the hotel (the Ambassador, a deeply historical building recently torn down by the Los Angeles School District, of all things!) had me rolling in the aisles. (Possibly because I had played out a similar scene in New York a few years previously, checking into the Statler-Hilton.) There is a long list of people who were considered for the role, and every one of them would have been a disaster. I mean, can you imagine Steve McQueen playing it? There was another thing mentioned in the interview with Nichols, which was how he turned down Robert Redford. Here’s how it went:
<<< Nichols thought that Redford did not possess the underdog quality that Benjamin needed. When he talked with Redford, Redford asked what he meant. "Well, let's put it this way," said Nichols, "Have you ever struck out with a girl?" "What do you mean?" asked Redford. "That's precisely my point," said Nichols.>>>
What surprised me upon this recent viewing (2016) was how much I disliked Ben this time around. Back in 1967 he was appealing, because he seemed to be of my generation. (He was actually thirty, only six years younger than Anne Bancroft!) It was his refusal to try to fit in with the suburban dreams of his parents, I guess. Made him seem like a rebel. Actually, he was an obsessive, self-centered jerk, basically a stalker. But what I loved then, and now, was that Nichols included that famous long last shot on the bus, after their “happy ending” escape from the wedding. He lingers on them, and we see them gradually realizing the enormity of what they have done, and probably wondering where they go next. And I predict the marriage will not last long. He would be terrible to live with. It is a brilliant movie in just about every way there is, from Buck Henry’s script, to the acting of everyone involved.
One more anecdote: We all remember scene in the hotel room when he first kisses Mrs. Robinson. He holds it while we see her eyes moving around a little anxiously. He breaks the kiss, and she releases a lungful of smoke. But there was another, when she takes off her slip, businesslike as always, and he grabs her breast and holds it for a minute. She ignores it, and he lets go and walks over to the wall and starts banging his head on it. That was not scripted. Bancroft had to improvise, and since she didn’t break character Nichols decided to leave it in. Which was a brilliant decision.