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
Mike Nichols and editor Sam O'Steen worked well together during production and would run into the cutting room on the Warner Bros. lot every chance they got to assemble the film as quickly as possible. They also worked together every weekend so they could stay on top of the editing every step of the way. See more »
The threads suspending the "moths" flitting around George and Martha's porch lamp are visible. See more »
An undisputed classic that chronicles every appalling moment of a drunken night in hell as middle-aged George and Martha tear each other, and their guest, to pieces.
Elizabeth Taylor proves categorically that she was a truly great actress. Her Oscar-winning performance as the psychologically tormented Martha is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. Taylor's imperceptible shifting from sadism to tenderness, from bullying condescension to exhausted vulnerability, is a masterclass in character building. Martha is a truly monstrous character, and yet Taylor is able to imbue her with sympathy, allowing you brief glimpses of the warm and lovable woman she could have been.
Richard Burton is equally magnificent as George; an ageing, failing college professor whose initial meekness gives way to a raging torment all of his own. His verbal sparring with Taylor, like two pit-bulls in the ring of an endless and bloody dogfight, has become legendary. Every word drips with malice and contempt, every sentence is designed to cut the deepest wound. At times, it becomes painful to watch, but like true train-wreck television, you cannot drag yourself away from the inevitably terrible conclusion.
Quite possibly, this is as close to perfect as movies can get; beautifully written dialogue, deeply complex characters, an evolving and suspenseful storyline, beautiful photography, and a wonderfully understated score by Alex North. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards in 1967, but lost out to A Man for All Seasons and Born Free to win only 5.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "I am."
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