User ReviewsReview this title
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."
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!
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.
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
Liz Taylor and Richard Burton play a couple of drunks who are married and spend all their time destroying each other. Now, according to the film it's because of the death of their son but they would have been terrible people regardless--they truly despise each other and themselves. Then, as if an afterthought, some guests arrive and actually stay and watch as this couple destroy each other right in front of them. And so, the newcomers get drunk and the drunks get drunker. Wow...now THAT'S fun! Then, tongues loosen some more and a lot of unpleasantness results.
Sure, having worked with alcoholics I understand that Taylor and Burton did an excellent job here. But for a two-hour plus film it's an endurance contest I don't wish to do again. So the overall verdict is that it's well made but thoroughly awful. If you can endure and appreciate this, fine. But if you can't, don't feel like you must. Just because it's rated so highly on IMDb does not mean it's a "must-see"--especially because this film may well leave you feeling depressed and in need of a drink!
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.
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.
The two main characters are uninteresting, crude, gloomy people whose dismal lives are engineered by their own dismal personalities. It held a morbid interest to me for about the first 20-25 minutes but then got very old very quickly. Regarding story, as far as I'm concerned there was none. The entire movie takes place during a single unbearable evening in which a new young teacher and his wife visit an unhappy, unsuccessful, drunken, obnoxious middle-aged couple of a college history department. As liquor flows the elder couple proceeds to tell the young couple the boring story of their miserable discontented personal lives, including dirty laundry, in a lengthy vulgar drunken loud argument. No plot, no moral, no endearing qualities. One descriptive adverb for this film is "over"; over-dramatic, over-acted, and mostly over-irritating; another word that comes to mind is "dumb", and another is "vulgar". The dialog of this movie is just a stream of vulgar sarcasm spewed by gloomy characters. Not my cup of tea. It gets a rating of 4 from me only because of the acting (the other three actors performances were also quite good) and the good film production.
Anyway, Liz and Dick were married in real life and it was reported that they had similar encounters with Jack Daniels and boisterous 'conversations' at home, so this should have been a walk-in-the-park acting job for both of them.
But, it was awful. The story was repulsive as were all the characters. I feel that trying to analyze drunken behavior in a movie is a pointless endeavor that, for some reason, actors and directors think is a life affirming philosophic inquiry......or something. I would compare this to trying to pass a driving test while drunk. It doesn't work.
Burton does his usual Shakespearean speechifying. Taylor is a caricature of whatever she is supposed to be. Bette Davis's Baby Jane Hudson was more real and realistic than Martha. At times, the lighting and camera work inside the house reminded me of very early 1950s TV soap operas.
All in all, a lousy evening for the 4 of them and me.
The title connection to the story is either extremely limited and painfully unimaginative or the writer/director assumes a great deal. One of the many things that will leave you asking, "Was that all there was to it?" For future filmmakers, a film should not need to be explained. It is the nature of a film, or a play as this is based on, that being enclosed from the rest of the world and uninterrupted that it should explain and give context to itself. Woolf massively fails this most basic aspect. It partially makes up for it in other ways, like deep relationship, marriage, and family insights, which is why I'm not rating it a 1.
The score is exceptional and simple, but the soundtrack music is, at best, less annoying than the story.
Compared to another film that, like this, is essentially composed of a room full of people less than happy with each other, it reinforces how great 12 Angry Men is, despite being done a decade before Woolf. A recent film, Compliance (2012), does it much better and also works with hard to believe dumb/naive characters.
The plot: Plot-less, Nothing but an example of bad hospitality right from the moment they opened the door to their guests.
Characters: Hosts (Martha, George), Guests(Nick and Honey), Other characters only mentioned in conversation (Father in-law and a dead son) and the main character (Alcohol).
Topics of conversations: Who are the guests?, Nick's profession (He's a biologist damn it), George's insecurities like the boxing match during which he plays a prank and as the movie progresses I so wish it was not a prank as the movie would have ended sooner; his books, The fact that their son is dead.
Such a drag. Why oh why?
For me, a film whose sole focus is to zero in on some seriously demented marital dysfunction certainly gets to be a mighty big bore, real fast. If you don't take this film's stinking bull at face value, then having to endure watching the blowzy, lard-assed Elizabeth Taylor verbally duking it out with the loud, obnoxious Richard Burton can quickly become quite humorous, almost cartoonish in nature.
I mean, can you just imagine (for over 2 frickin' hours) having to tolerate that porkette Taylor and that pricko Burton (a couple of real grotesque clowns, indeed) tearing away at each other's throats and chewing up the scenery (especially Taylor), non-stop?
Back in its day, this film was considered groundbreaking (and, I guess, that it was) for its high level of profanity and sexual implications. This was the first film to use the word "bugger", and the phrase "screw you" in its dialogue. And it was also the first to be given the MPAA tag - "No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by his parent."
Personally, I've always hated this film's title, which really has nothing, in the least bit, to do with the story. And, believe me, no one will ever, ever convince me that that bloated bag, Elizabeth Taylor, was at all deserving of the Oscar she won for her portrayal of Martha.
This steaming pile of yeck seems to go on for weeks, even though it takes place in one evening. It is the story (if you can call it that) of what must be the world's meanest couple getting plastered and acting like the biggest jerks in the world. This is entertainment? The characters are all both hateful and stupid, not to mention exceedingly mean-spirited. I didn't see one single character in this entire film that was not in desperate need of serious psychiatric help.
After all the hype I had great expectations for this, but it is IMHO one of the very worst films I have ever seen. You bet I'm scared of Virginia Wolfe, I'll run like hell the next time I see it!
So what is all the hype about?? Same old studio b.s. I think. It's just that with so many talents in one film, the multiple Oscar nominations (but thirteen?? Geez, no way!) were probably inevitable. As you can see, I would only rate it two out of ten stars (or one out of four). Here's why: Both Taylor and Burton are highly accomplished, skilled actors at the top of their form in this era. But I think they both overreached and overacted in this film. The script was really awful IMHO. I didn't like it enough to recall the many awkward lines, but there are plenty of them (the writing might have fit public taste in the 50s, but certainly doesn't hold up now). This opinion has nothing to do with so-called "decency" or mores--I'm a die-hard liberal.
Again, I'd have never chosen to film the play of the book, so that's strike one. Strike two for me was the direction... the pacing is poor: it has almost no plot momentum and is filled with awkward silences (which I realize were probably intentional and part of the story/Nichols's choice to dramatize the heavily slanted relationships he was trying to portray). Each character seems to stand in contrast to the other, as if the director said, "you just get into your part and don't have chemistry with the other actors as in an ensemble piece (which is apparently how it was intended to happen on stage)." When I read on the DVD that they spent 20 weeks filming this on the Warner lot, it dawned on me: here was Hollywood's top acting power couple screwing off for five months and getting paid handsomely. Well good for them (but that doesn't mean I have to love it). I feel sorry for Mike Nichols being so "successful" his first time out; it probably means his standards were that much lower (and although I'm a total nobody in Hollywood, they're far below mine; if I had five months on sound stages to do this film, I could have done it a lot better!).
On the positive side, I think the b&w cinematography was excellent (as in all of Haskell Wexler's work!) and the editing, too. But they couldn't compensate for lame direction and overwrought acting performances borne of ignorant, selfish, quirky readings of the original work. Taylor's Oscar may have (in context of the year's other mostly not memorable fare) been somewhat deserved: she is a great American actress... but that in itself doesn't hold the rest of the parts of this film together for me.
The only reason I give it any stars is that there are a few dramatic moments (and the cinematography and editing), like the first gun surprise, that were done quite well. But I'm just sure that it must have worked far better on stage. Burton's expansive gestures and incredible dramatic voice would have been far better utilized in a film of Macbeth or other Shakespeare play, not this! I think my intuition about this was right: I could've waited another forty years to see it.
A professor of history(Burton) and his wife(Taylor)invite young couple to their home.When the young couple come, they start venting their anger on each other and on the couples as well. They decide to torment the couple's mind. The real person who's tormented is the viewer for his decision to watch the movie. Elizabeth Taylor acts well as a chronic alcoholic.There ends the positives of the movie.
If someone asks me who's afraid of Virginia woolf, i would definitely say "I am" !!
George (Burton) is an associate professor of history at a small college. He doesn't have much in the way of ambition, we gather, because his shrewish and vulgar wife Martha (Taylor) keeps twitting him about it. Taylor is magnificently slatternly. She'd played Cleopatra a few years earlier but age cannot wither nor custom stale her infinite vulgarity.
George and Martha have two late-night guests, a newly arrived professor of biology (Segal) and his naive wife (Dennis). The evening begins with the four of them sitting around the living room with nothing special to say. But the booze flows like Niagara and they all loosen up -- not that Martha requires much loosening.
Albee's dialog is cynical, bitter, and exploitative. Cutting insults keep the viewer awake as do the sometimes embarrassing revelations, like Sandy Dennis's hysterical pregnancies and frequent vomiting. When Albee latches on to what he feels is a good turn of phrase, it gets repeated until it becomes laughable per se. "It's good that you're a biologist," Taylor tells Segal, "because you're right in the MEAT of things." She comes up with this again and again until Burton cuts her off with the observation that she's obsessed with the phrase and that it's vulgar.
The comparison of Taylor's father, who is president of the college, to a big white mouse is repeated as well. And Taylor refers to her husband as, variously, a swamp, a bog, and a fen.
Insults fly in all directions. One person may reveal a secret to another, who then runs over and trumpets the information to the others. They play what Burton calls "games", such as Humiliate the Host and Hump the Hostess. People make things up as they go along or present fantasies as historical fact. At one point, Segal knocks Burton to the floor. The exception to most of this verbal and physical violence is Sandy Dennis, who is too dumb to know what's going on much of the time.
The party lasts all night and peters out at dawn, with Segal and Dennis leaving the house in a state of shock, and Burton and Taylor exhausted by their strenuous conflict.
It's directed in a straightforward manner by Mike Nichols who doesn't pull any stylistic tricks. No flashbacks, no slow motion, no wobbling camera. That kind of razzle dazzle isn't really needed. How can you possibly pep up a volcano? I rather enjoy it. I get a kick out of its malice. Albee is gay and perhaps it takes a gay man or a straight woman to coax ignominy into such polished form. Maybe not. I don't know. I just know I like it when Burton accuses Taylor of "braying" and there follows a sharp argument over whether she "brays" or not, with Taylor sounding exactly like a mule.