What are the major turning points in American movie history? The birth of the talkie? The release of Star Wars? Sure. But since it's his birthday, let's make the case for the casting of Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock in director Mike Nichols' 1967 groundbreaker, The Graduate.
Superficially, the part seemed made for Robert Redford, a 5'10" strawberry-blond Adonis who could just as easily pass for an East Coast Wasp as a West Coast surfer dude. But Benjamin also needed baggage that Redford conspicuously lacked: neuroses, insecurities.
When Nichols instead called on Hoffman – then a little-known 5'6" stage performer, whose Aunt Pearl once told him he was "too ugly" to act – Hoffman was convinced he looked too Jewish to play Benjamin. But Nichols reassured him that the film's troubled hero was "Jewish inside".
Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
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Dustin Hoffman, Judi Dench and a tortoise in Esio Trot
2/10 Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
The right side of the tracks: Dustin Hoffman stars in HBO's 'Luck'
3/10 Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
Lust chance: Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey'
4/10 Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
Warren Beatty stars alongside Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani in 1987's 'Ishtar', which was about two untalented American lounge singers who get caught up in a Cold War stand-off. The film was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Picture.
5/10 Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man
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Straw Dogs (1971)
Dustin Hoffman stars as a Mathematician who experiences some harassment from local men, who go on to rape his wife Amy, leading him to respond with a violent attack.
The initial rape scene was criticised, as Amy begins to find it pleasurable due to a sexual history with the rapist. Feminist cinema critics accused director Peckinpah of glamorizing rape and the BBFC asked for cuts to the scene, but the film was finally passed fully uncut for DVD in September 2002.
Released in the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the increase of violence in cinema.
7/10 Dustin Hoffman career in pictures
Dustin Hoffman, Justin Henry and Meryl Streep star in Kramer vs Kramer
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Actress Anne Bancroft staring alongside actor Dustin Hoffman in the movie "The Graduate
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Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman on the set of The Graduate
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Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross at the end of 'The Graduate', Paramount Studios, 1967
The "New Hollywood" era, between The Graduate and the birth of the blockbuster, is generally thought of as a director's decade, when US auteurs such as Altman, Polanski and Scorsese exploited the shifting fundamentals of the studio system to make tricky, personal works.
But the faces in front of the camera were changing, too. There had been tortured protagonists before, but they were played by Marlon Brando and James Dean. After 1967, leading men could be Hoffmans, not just Redfords – compelling yet unconventional.
Hoffman blazed a trail for his friends and contemporaries Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall – one that's still open to the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, even the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (no relation). Indeed, 2015 is also 48AD: "After Dustin".
Four years on from The Graduate, Redford lost out on another role. Paramount producer Bob Evans had urged Francis Ford Coppola to pick him as the lead in his new mobster movie. But the bullish director insisted on casting a virtually unknown, 5'7" Sicilian-American called Al Pacino. But would Pacino have been the Godfather if Hoffman hadn't been the Graduate?
One last note: a recent Time Out list of the greatest movies ever – chosen by actors, not critics – was topped by Tootsie, starring Hoffman as an actor who dresses as a woman to win a role. The Godfather came in second.Reuse content