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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."
This is still an exceptional film from the 1960s. Though some of the epithets are obviously softening much stronger words, the language is frank and brutal, Martha's bludgeoning body-blows balanced by George's icepick thrusts. Edward Lehman's respectful screenplay gently opens up Edward Albee's one-set play while keeping a certain claustrophobic atmosphere. Mike Nichols' first directing effort is stunning in its lack of artifice; rarely do you feel that the director has done much more than turn on the camera and watch four actors, all at the top of their game, tear into their roles. George Segal's work in this movie is criminally underrated, but his reactive work as studly, ultimately disappointing Nick should be mandatory study by all young actors. Sandy Dennis' fluttery turn as mousy, wifey Honey is powerful also; a lot more is going on than you might think. Richard Burton is staggering as George ("Georgie Porgie Put-upon Pie"), and his performance demonstrates the magic that he could bring to a worthy role. Elizabeth Taylor's work here still astounds. The physical transformation she undertook to become aging harpy Martha is amazing enough, but her performance seems to channel a hurricane's force and fury. By turns hilarious, maddening and then, at the end, exhausted and defeated yet again, Taylor demonstrates acting, particularly film acting, at its best. The film is by no means easy or "Hollywood" in feel-- the audience is as exhausted as the characters at the end. But this was a bracing, necessary antidote to the impossible ideal of marriage usually portrayed in the movies. A towering film.
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' tells the story of two couples that
are quite different at first sight - one used to each other for years,
the other one rather freshly wed in comparison. Actually it doesn't
tell their story, but it displays their relationships.
The film begins on a Sunday morning at 2 o'clock, right after a party, and ends just after the sun rises. In these few hours we get to know these four people better then we might possibly want.
George and Martha are the older couple. He is a history professor, she is the daughter of the head of the university. Their relationship seems to be from hell, full of mutual disgust and humiliation. Their guests are Nick and Honey. He is the new, ambitious biology professor, she is his naive young wive. As all these four characters are more or less drunk throughout the entire film, alcohol works as a catalyst, and we quickly see the different kind of character traits they have: George is a cynic, Martha loves to torment her husband, Nick is an opportunist and Honey is very much a stupid blonde.
The two relationships deserve closer examination: We wonder why Martha and George married in the first place. They keep swearing at each other. Martha can't stop humiliating George, when they are alone as well as when Nick and Honey are there. Maybe there is still a rest of love in them, but there mutual respect has vanished completely. And then there is the strange story of their son, who is supposed to visit on his birthday. They way George and Martha talk about him make us feel that there is something peculiar about him. At the end we get to know more about him, and we can only guess how important the son is for their relationship.
Nick and Honey, on the other hand, seem to be quite the opposite. But, being used as weapons by the older couple, we see that their relationship isn't as perfect as it seems to be, either. Nick didn't marry Honey because he loved her, but because he thought she was pregnant and because of her money. And when Martha tries to seduce him to tease George, he plays the game with her, always in mind that this woman's father is the head of the university. Honey, on the other hand, is much more emotional than her husband, but she also is the most passive character, and the one most affected by the alcohol.
Mike Nichols assembled an outstanding cast for his film. Casting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Martha and George is a stroke of genius - not only are they terrific actors, but it also heats the imagination of the viewer how much their real-life-marriage resembled the relationship they had in this film. Elizabeth Taylor outshines her co-stars a little. Never was she any better than in this one; although her character is the meanest in the film, she manages that we still feel compassion for her at the end. But Richard Burton, George Segal and especially Sandy Dennis deliver memorable performances, too.
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' succeeds at something rather difficult: It makes us care for characters we wouldn't want to have anything to do with in real life. And although it actually consist of nothing but four people talking for two hours, it never bored us for a second.
Ailing couple George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) invite a young couple
over for a late-night drink - much to quiet and repressed George's
annoyance - and what starts off as a twisted game by sultry Martha to
annoy her husband and get her way with young stud Nick (George Segal)
ends up in a horrific duel of wits.
Adapted from the play and boasting very few locations, "Virginia Woolf" is notable for many unsuspected reasons. Designed for the stage, the film makes the story uniquely cinematic and tense, amped up by stunning photography (in Black and White, a daring choice in 1966). The younger leads are superb, but Burton and Taylor still manage to walk away with film, giving stunning renditions of the world's most demented couple. They make the surreal dialogue hurt and touch in ways never thought possible.
Though there are countless reasons to recommend this jewel of a film, there are also reasons why one would wish to avoid it. This is the kind of film that makes you feel like having a showing (or a very concentrated drink) to wash away the grit and human evil and pain absorbed. You'll feel dirty, but in a way you'll also feel enlightened: that a small character film can carry more punch than any explosion-packed blockbuster out there is a thing of beauty indeed!
Who's afraid of Virgina Wolf? contains what I would call the most outstanding old school actor/audience experience I'ver ever seen. This movie is 131 minutes long and only contains 5 actors, on of which hardly gets any screen time and the two leading characters played by the famous couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are on screen almost the whole time. Also this movie only contains a couple of locations so the whole project depends almost entirely on these two actors superb performance. The two of them fight almost the entire movie and it never gets boring for a second. Well, I gave this movie ten stars..... definitely a classic must see if you're interested in acting.
Simply put, this is one of my favourite films of all time. Great acting, great writing and great camerawork make this close to cinematic perfection. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton give the performances of their lives. Sandy Dennis also shines in an early-ish role. It's a dramatic film, but the wicked humour that permeates the film is absolutely devastating, and I mean that in the best possible way. Many moments in the film I find myself laughing only to think, "Should I be laughing at this." Certainly the film is loaded with uncomfortable moments, enhanced by the camerawork replete with uneasy close-ups. Most of all, this film shows how a lot can be accomplished with just a little: a cast of four and minimal scenery changes. "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf" has become an absolute icon of American cinema. If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's hard for me to accept a film as perfect. This is partly because of
IMDb the movie ranked highest on the Top 250 list ('The Godfather')
has a mere 9.0, meaning there is ten points worth of things wrong with
even the best film ever made. What IMDb voters fail to realize is that
if a movie has an intention a purpose and it serves that purpose
effortlessly and hits every note that it's supposed to hit without even
the remotest hint of an off key, it is perfect by its own right, and
therefore worthy of a ten out of ten. 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'
is one of those movies.
The plot is ecstatically simple: a troubled married couple (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) has a younger and we assume happier couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over late at night for quick drinks. The reason for the get together is that Martha's (Taylor) father runs the university where George (Burton) and Nick (Segal) work, and the father told them to 'be nice' to the younger couple, so Martha invited them over for a late party. Like I said, the plot is simple, but the characters are so deep and complex it'd take a whole lot more than 1,000 words to describe them correctly (but I'll try with what I got).
The film starts with George and Martha coming home from a late party. Both are drunk (Martha is a loud and obnoxious drunk but George just has a headache) and Martha constantly berates George when he fails to come up with the name of the Bette Davis movie she's thinking of (and dozens other reasons). It's early in the movie so we don't know if her insults are for real or if they're just a way of being playful with her husband. George acts to stone faced that we can't tell if he's being hurt or played with.
It's when Nick and Honey (Sandy Dennis) come over that we get to really see how George feels. Martha insults him, calls him names, yells at him while Nick and Sandy look on, baffled as to whether they should laugh or not. As the insults keep on coming George's anger and hurt grow, and the tensions reach a high when he takes a rifle from the closet, points it at Martha and fires. But surprise! It's just a toy with an umbrella that shoots out of the barrel.
As the movie goes on the characters get drunker, angrier and some painful secrets are revealed, and the actors never lose focus. Burton is sort of disintegrating in front of our eyes, both physically and emotionally, from the drink and his wife. He starts off rigid and unbreakable but soon turns cruel and sadistic, while still keeping his sort of suave, charming personality.
Taylor won an Oscar for playing Martha, and it was an Oscar well deserved. At the beginning she looks like the most vile, unlikable character, but as thick layers are torn away we get to see the hurt and pain her character feels from years of berating George. She loves him, she says, but she doesn't deserve him because of how horrible she is. She doesn't want to be happy, but she does at the same time. We feel for this woman because she is a person, not a caricature of a drunken wife.
From when we first see him we know that there is more to Nick than meets the eye. He seems, in a way, sort of ashamed and embarrassed of his goofy wife, and doesn't put up much of a fight when Martha makes advances on him right in front of Honey's eyes. Of course, he's not just the clichéd hotshot character of so many movies either. He has an agenda he feels he needs to use to further his career, but he doesn't like using it. He says early that he doesn't like to get involved in other's problems, and gets increasingly awkward and uncomfortable as the movie progresses. Nick also thinks he's the only sane one in the whole house, even insulting his own wife.
Sandy Dennis' Honey seems like the smallest character of the film, but her work is in the background. Watch the movie twice, and focus only on her the second time. She reacts; she is always the character who's reacting, never in control. And she has the hard task of acting like a drunken moron for the majority of the film, a task that she excels at. But she only appears as an idiot, she knows what's going on around her but she denies it and tries to act like a playful child to rid herself of the horribleness that's happening. None of this is spoken, of course, but we see it in her face. She won her Oscar for the movie too, and deserved it.
This is a horrifying film of the dangers of the lies we tell ourselves (with other themes, too, like alcoholism and marriage). It is a perfect film. Few have reached this equality of tragedy, drama, suspense and dark comedy. A recommendation to all, no one could turn away this film.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf leaves no scabs or stones unturned with
the characters. George and Martha are a couple who have a marriage that
is truly love-hate. They can never be called too unemotional, though to
say whether or not they're being truthful at all in the 'games' they
play with married Nick and Honey is a little trickier. Martha invited
them- at her father's insistence (he IS the chairman of the university
where George and Nick are professors)- at two in the morning for a
quick drink. Or rather, make that many drinks, like chain drinking, if
one could call it that, where George and Martha prove themselves as
pros in that area, with bitter slinging of enraged bouts of bile at one
or the other.
This goes on the rest of the night, also leading to a roadhouse on the way to drive a flustered Nick and hammered Honey home, and then it starts all over again, with Nick and Honey picking up the tortured and, as well, fractured personalities of this middle-aged couple. Bitter, enraptured, hateful, and, in a way, also sort of filling a void, George and Martha become two of the most powerful characters in modern drama.
Edward Albee's play is full of the kind of stinging dialog that made it controversial in the 1960s, and today it still retains its potential for hitting its characters on to the audience in a shockingly overwrought and, in connection with this, very funny manner. How can one not cringe and give a laugh of relief/perplexity when George goes to get a shotgun after getting p-o'd by Martha and then opening it up to everyone's shock as... an umbrella!
There's a dementia to these characters, but it's one that makes for the kind of drama that is lacerating and, as off-putting as the guessing game that the son element becomes in the equation (dead or not dead?), it somehow works. This was before most dramas of today, which are made with that big colossal twist that suddenly jolts the characters into perspective. Here, it just makes them more human and fallible and deconstructed. As Mike Nichols directs it, he doesn't shy from getting personal with his angles, close and intrinsic as, in a weird way comparable with, Bergman's Persona, also released that year.
What Nichols and Albee present for audiences is a logical next step following other plays from before them that broke ground from the likes of Miller, Beckett and, especially, Williams- it's more adult, or rather more for mature audiences (the first quasi rated R movie ever released), and it hits to a cynical nerve that was further gestating by this time in America, that everything would not be alright in the American marriage, that something, as Martha says, will "SNAP!"
It should also be mentioned, acting here is classic, fearless. Burton and Taylor have rarely been as good as they are at digging so deep into these characters that, especially with Burton, we can't imagine these people being anyone else. It takes a little to get used to Segal and Sandy Dennis (the latter because her character isn't quite as "deep" as the others), but then again their characters are the uncomfortable outsiders, "us" as one might say (however, as the play peels the layers away from the characters they're all rotten and ultimately very vulnerable instead of just "normal").
It packs a punch, it jiggles its little glass full of bourbon or brandy or gin, and as a first feature from its director it could only get better from here. It's a dangerously fun, dangerously emotionally violent picture. Will look forward to seeing it next time it's on TV
This is one of the most powerfully written and acted movies I have ever seen. I was emotionally drained at the end and could not imagine how actors could have done this on Broadway night after night. The terrible verbal inhumanities Taylor and Burton inflicted on each other were done so well, one never knew what was truth and what was game. A must see if you can handle such a well acted but emotionally traumatic film.
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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