George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) 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 fuelled 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 (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), 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
Still powerful, harrowing view of the "Anti-Ozzie and Harriet"
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.
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