“Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” Film costumes have hardly ever been more character-defining than the clothes of glamorous, elegant cougar Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967). The director, Mike Nichols, was the one who insisted on her being wrapped up stylishly in nothing but animal print throughout the film. Her intentions are clearly outlined by her clothes (designed by Patricia Zipprodt). The sixties were the time when animal print was still considered the height of chic, and not the opposite of elegance, the staple it started to get over the next decades. And there is no one who has worn it more fiercely, yet ladylike, than Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson.
The 1960s may be the fashion decade I least like to refer to, but fashion did have some great moments and many of these came from the films made during that period, which have had, interestingly enough, a far-reaching influence on fashion: The Graduate, Belle de jour, Bonnie and Clyde, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Dr. Zhivago, La Dolce Vita, La piscine, Breathless. And that is because they outlined true style, not mere trends, often the fashion or costume designers working on these films imposing their own signature styles or going against what was in vogue at the time and looking to stay true to more enduring designs.
Anne Bancroft’s leg in a nylon stocking is the star of one of the most recognizable movie posters in the history of cinema.
Ava Gardner was initially considered for the film, but it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Mrs. Robinson than the ironically cool Anne Bancroft. In a 2000 interview with Charlie Rose, Bancroft said: “There was nobody else who could play the part like I did.” She found her fame after she played to perfection the intelligent, predatory Mrs. Robinson, a married woman who uses her worldly sexuality to seduce a young college graduate, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman). Her multi-layered performance reveals not only a tawdry seductress with a scheming exterior when dressed in animal print, but a vulnerable middle aged housewife when she is stripped of her clothes. Make-up and lighting were used to make her look older than she was (Anne was in fact 36, only six years older than Hoffman). Arthur Penn, who directed Bancroft in the two plays she won Tony Awards for and in the film The Miracle Worker (1962), which won her an Oscar, told the New York Times: “More happens in her face in 10 seconds than happens in most women’s faces in 10 years.” She says more by saying nothing at all, she says more with her eyes and face than most actors do in lengthy monologues. It’s all in the attitude. And doesn’t any symbol of glamour, like animal print here, first and foremost require the right attitude to wear it large and wear it right?
In a zebra-print dress.
A giraffe print skirt.
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photos: screen stills captured by me from this Blu-ray edition, except for the first one | Lawrence Turman