Analysis without concession of an America divided between puritanism and the sexual revolution, The Winner quickly became the icon of a society which was present its cultural upheavals.
Of course, Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf ? had cardstock in 1966 in between furiously the two holy monsters Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in a brilliant session of psychotherapy of marriage. Despite the success, Mike Nichols kept the label of a new director at the start of his second feature film, THE prize-WINNER, an adaptation of a novel by Charles Webb , adapted by Calder Willingham (Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Little Big Man) and Buck Henry (Heaven Can Wait), Ready for Anything). It must be confessed, that the adventures of the young graduate, Benjamin Braddock, struggling with the attempted seduction of mrs. Robinson, femme mure, wedding and, incidentally, rich, had everything to twist the neck to conformism ambient as had been able to do that Lolita (Kubrick, Nabokov) a few years earlier. Obviously, the film wants a little more than the fall into the abyss of a dépucelage in good and due form. And the difficult transition to the adult world of the main character will even have to be in some form of convention that is diverted by a great escape and life-saving.
Before anything else, to draw this portrait of a woman sulphide that plays to the under with malice, Mike Nichols will consider Jeanne Moreau. In the eyes of an american, the status of French made it more naturally fit to distract a young man from the right path ! But many great figures of Hollywood are also interested in the project : Joan Crawford, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Claire Bloom, Angie Dickinson, Rita Hayworth, Simone Signoret, Anouk Aimee, Ava Gardner , and even Angela Lansbury knocking at the door of the director ! His choice was finally on Anne Bancroft (oscar winner in 1962 for the Miracle in Alabama). Next young pups, two strangers are selected. Katharine Ross (Elaine) is preferred to Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda , while Dustin Hoffman (age 30, but his juvenile air gives 10 less) passes in front of Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford. The beautiful world in the making ! Yet the film is absolutely not promised success. Rather arty and intellectual, there is nothing to indicate a potential for popular success.
For his business, Mike Nichols will take the short cuts and biases of staging subtle and claustrophobic. This way to entrap the characters in their condition asphyxia Benjamin (swimming pool, aquarium, car, diving suit), crushed by its environment and literally trapped as evidenced by the encounter with Mrs. Robinson, at her home, in a hostile environment. A jungle revived and the mistress of the house in a predatory, sensual. This prison emerges from the onomatopoeia of a hero in loss of balance, which is vautrera in a form of anti-establishment facade that America is dusty. This inertia of the characters, into their lives, their moral code, their beliefs, the conflict between puritanism ambient and the sexual liberation that are running are transcribed by the realization inventive Nichols (the famous shot where Dustin Hoffman appears behind the leg of Anne Bancroft), a camera very mobile (which changed to the speed droop relative of his first film), games of shadows and lights, a few shots subliminal, and the variation of the focal length to better isolate the characters or understand the domination of Mrs. Robinson on his prey. Mike Nichols, who came to the scene of a comic, and addicted to the New Wave in French, will be rewarded by the Oscar of the best director for this aesthetically effective works the symbolic to the body. The intro scene with Dustin Hoffman moving mechanically on the conveyor belt of an airport on a background of “The Sound of Silence ” by Simon and Garfunkel is one of the most obvious symbols.
The performers, all outstanding, carry the film beyond its subject. Dustin Hoffman will become the spearhead of the new generation of comedians to come (Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Harvey Keitel, etc) and the huge success of the film will be enhanced by songs, stunning (including the timeless ” Mrs. Robinson “, of course) and then the score of Dave Grusin (composer of record for Sidney Pollack). If Charles Webb will not publish belatedly a sequel to his novel (Home School, 2007), THE WINNER will become to him only a film purely generational. Whether it aged well or badly, in the past 50 years the testimony sociological unequivocally that he offers is still essential to think better today in the shadow of yesterday.
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• Achievement : Mike Nichols
• Screenplay : Calder Willingham and Buck Henry
• Main actors : Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
• Release Date : 1967
• Duration : 1h45min