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
It can now be said: 1. Apart from its widespread critical acclaim, it has provoked more discussion, interest and excitement than any other picture in memory. 2. People want to see it - in unprecedented numbers. In its first engagements it has shattered every record in the history of all theatres involved. 3. It has become a significant and extraordinary entertainment event. It is truly a unique motion picture. See more »
Jack Valenti, the newly appointed head of the M.P.A.A. at the time, said years later, "This film was like a burning arrow that was flown into a haystack." When issues over certain dialogue were raised with the Production Code office, the studio pressured Mike Nichols to make certain changes. For instance, the scene towards the beginning of this movie had Martha yelling, "Screw you!" to her husband just as he opens the door to their guests, Honey and Nick. Dame Elizabeth Taylor had already shot the scene and said the line as written. Warner Brothers, however, had Nichols change the line to "Goddamn you!" which Taylor then re-recorded. Since the new phrase clearly didn't fit over the words her mouth was saying on the footage, Sam O'Steen used a shot of her back as she starts to say it juxtaposed with a shot of Richard Burton opening the door. It worked perfectly. Even with the line change, the Production Code office refused to give this movie its seal of approval, citing its overall content and language as too vulgar. Warner Brothers appealed, but the decision was upheld. See more »
The first scene of George and Martha entering the living room shows a three-bulb floor lamp in the corner of the room. The next scene of the area shows a single-globe lamp hanging from the wall. The single-globe lamp remains through out the film. 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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