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George and Martha are a middle aged married couple, whose charged relationship is defined by vitriolic verbal battles, which underlies what seems like an emotional dependence upon each other. This verbal abuse is fueled by an excessive consumption of alcohol. George being an associate History professor in a New Carthage university where Martha's father is the President adds an extra dimension to their relationship. Late one Saturday evening after a faculty mixer, Martha invites Nick and Honey, an ambitious young Biology professor new to the university and his mousy wife, over for a nightcap. As the evening progresses, Nick and Honey, plied with more alcohol, get caught up in George and Martha's games of needing to hurt each other and everyone around them. The ultimate abuse comes in the form of talk of George and Martha's unseen sixteen year old son, whose birthday is the following day. Written by
"George and Martha,.......sad........sad........sad"
Edward Albee's award winning play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ran for 664 performances on Broadway and just closed down when this film version made its debut in 1966. The Broadway play was set entirely in the living room of George and Martha's home and starred Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Melinda Dillon, and George Grizzard. All eminently respectable players, but none of them exactly movie box office.
This film was destined to make money when the most publicized couple of the decade, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, chose it as a star vehicle for themselves. Of course what was not clear was how well a one stage play would adapt to film.
It adapted very well and went quite beyond one stage. The action of the film moved effortlessly to an all night diner at one point with some stops along the way. You'd hardly know the story as originally told only had one setting.
There's no real plot to it. For reasons I can't fathom this middle aged and bitter couple George and Martha have a younger couple, Nick and Honey, over to their house at two in the morning. I don't know about you, but I'm usually not my best at that time. Also they had just come from a party at Martha's father's house. Martha's dad is the president of a college and George teaches there. Nick and Honey are a newly hired professor and his wife.
The late night and the liquor bring out the worst in everybody. A whole lot of ugly truths get told.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was the summit of the professional team of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Playing against type, Elizabeth Taylor got her second Oscar the one she felt she earned. She always disparaged the one received for Butterfield 8 as it came on the heels of her well publicized pneumonia bout.
In fact all four members of the cast were nominated with Sandy Dennis winning Best Supporting Actress. Ironically Richard Burton didn't win, losing to Paul Scofield for A Man for All Seasons. I guess the Academy voters figured Burton would get another shot. He never brought home the big prize though.
George Segal usually gets overlooked. This film and Ship of Fools was the start of his long career, but no Oscar for him either.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is quite the indictment against marriage, especially after the love has died. It's far from the whole story of marriage. There are many who stay married longer than George and Martha and happily. But it wasn't in Edward Albee's life experience to draw from.
But this should be seen to see Liz and Dick at their very best.
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