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5 great scenes from 'The Graduate'

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 1:20 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Graduate," from 1967, is one of Mike Nichols' greatest films
  • Movie captured zeitgeist, was a huge box office hit
  • Many scenes, lines of dialogue have become famous

(CNN) -- Of all the great films Mike Nichols made over his long career, one stands alone: "The Graduate."

The 1967 film by Nichols, who died Wednesday, was pioneering in many ways. It captured the youthful zeitgeist through the eyes of Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who's "a little worried about his future," as the tagline went.

It featured existing pop songs as part of the score, now commonplace but then unusual. And it had, at the time, a willfully experimental look, with jump cuts, long takes and odd camera angles.

It changed Hollywood, said Mark Harris, author of "Pictures at a Revolution."

"By the time 'The Graduate' was at the end of its run, it was the third highest-grossing movie in history," he told CNN in 2008. "Those are the kinds of numbers that make even hidebound executives say, 'We're in a new world.' "

Thanks to the script by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, "The Graduate" also had some of the most quotable lines and indelible scenes in movie history.

Here are five standouts:

"Plastics."

A squirmy Benjamin makes his way through a welcome-home party, wanting more than anything to avoid everybody glad-handing him. Unfortunately, he comes into contact with Mr. McGuire, who has one word for Ben, "just one word." The line captured everything '60s youth disdained: a corporate job and artificiality. It was named No. 42 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movie quotations.

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?"

Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, as family friend Mrs. Robinson, awkwardly chat in the Robinsons' lounge. As Mrs. Robinson makes advances -- "What do you think of me?" she asks -- Benjamin becomes more and more uncomfortable. "Mrs. Robinson, if you don't mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange," he says. And that's just the beginning.

Kissing Mrs. Robinson

As Ben and Mrs. Robinson begin their affair, the young Ben tries to impress the older woman. But his attempts at being suave go nowhere and he starts to lose his nerve.

The portion of the scene in which Hoffman cups Bancroft's breast -- and then bangs his head against the wall -- was improvised, Hoffman observed. He was trying to hide his laughter and Nichols kept the camera rolling.

"The Sound of Silence"

The Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack was originally just a placeholder. Nichols and editor Sam O'Steen used their songs, including "The Sound of Silence," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "April Come She Will," to help structure the film. But Nichols liked the way they worked and decided to keep them (along with a score by Dave Grusin).

"The Sound of Silence" is used three times in the film, probably most strikingly in this scene, where Ben wastes his days adrift in a swimming pool and his nights meeting with Mrs. Robinson.

"Elaine!"

The movie's finale finds Ben heading to a church to stop the marriage of Elaine Robinson, Mrs. Robinson's daughter, and her fiance. Delayed at every turn -- uncertain of directions, running out of gas, locked out of the church -- Ben finally lets cry a pained scream at his beloved. But, as the final shot reveals, even love can't defeat uncertainty.

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