Back in UK cinemas as part of the BFI’s Dustin Hoffman season, Mike Nichols’s near-flawless class satire still feels as sly, modern and bracing as it must have in 1967. Hoffman plays Ben Braddock, the twitchy, disaffected son of middlebrow California wealth who begins an ill-advised affair with Anne Bancroft’s bored-out-of-her-mind cougar Mrs Robinson, but finds himself way out of his depth. Countless scenes have leaked into the wider culture: Mrs Robinson blocking Ben’s nervous escape with one perfectly placed leg; a tedious friend of the family stopping our hero to discuss his bright future in the promising world of plastics; Hoffman floating topless on a lilo, this diminutive New York theatre actor knowingly posed as a paragon of glamorous Hollywood manhood.
Simon and Garfunkel’s cheery songs are lovely – though, as Paul Simon has admitted, the song ‘Mrs Robinson’ has no relevance to the film aside from its name. And the chase-to-the-church finale is magnificent, culminating in one of the most unnerving and downbeat closing shots in cinema. It’s possible to pick holes – Katharine Ross is badly underserved as Mrs Robinson’s comparatively bland daughter. But its blend of sardonic wit and simmering frustration hasn’t aged a day.