A word of advice: If George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) ever ask you over for late-night cocktails--pass. On the other hand, if you have the opportunity to see Mike Nichols's scorching film version of Ed... more »ward Albee's sensational play, don't miss it! Elegantly photographed in crisp black and white by the great Haskell Wexler, the play has been "opened up" for the screen by director Nichols (The Graduate, Primary Colors) and producer-writer Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest) without diluting its concentrated, claustrophobic power. Taylor has never been better or brasher as Martha, letting loose with all the fury of a drunken, frustrated academic's wife on one crazy Walpurgisnacht bender. Burton plays her husband, George, the ineffectual history prof married to the college president's daughter. And George Segal and Sandy Dennis are young, callow Nick and Honey, who have no idea what sort of mind-warping psychological games they're being drawn into. Among the most successful theatrical adaptations (artistically and popularly) ever brought to the screen. The entire principal cast was nominated for Oscars--and Taylor, Dennis, and cinematographer Wexler won. --Jim Emerson« less
Samantha B. (brown0187) from WASILLA, AK Reviewed on 5/28/2010...
This movie is superb and yet painful to watch. There are no special effects, no glitzy set, no edge of your seat thrills...just the torment and horrors that people subject each other to in the name of love and a sense of obligation. The actors all put in fine performances but it is Burton and Taylor that really make this film shine. Taylor absolutely embodies disappointment and hatred, her beauty has evolved into something savage and wicked. Burton revels in sarcasm and unflinching cruelty while depicting the weariness of both physical and emotional defeat. They feed off of one another, verbally attacking with such force that it is nearly impossible to believe either of them could still be standing. The young couple that witness the derailment of their relationship recognize that they too are on the same dark path; one where small lies and character flaws can evolve into sheer hatred. This is a stark and shocking look at two people that have changed into something drastically different and almost inhuman, blaming one another for their downfall. This film is definitely not for the faint of heart but the powerful performance leaves the audience feeling every bit as drained and alienated as the lead characters at the end.
F. Gentile | Lake Worth, Florida, United States | 09/23/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I consider this one of the most intelligently written and acted movies ever filmed. The psychological devestation that George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor)inflict upon each other casts a spell which, though it at times makes the viewer uncomfortable in its realism, is impossible to turn away from. George Segal and Sandy Dennis are the unfortunate co-passengers on this mad ride to "truth". Though they are not stupid, they are naieve and inexperienced to the point of seeming arrested development, and George and Martha go in for the kill. This is the film where Elizabeth Taylor shattered her glamour image, a pretty brave thing to do at that time, and it worked. Though her beauty was always obvious, I was never a big fan of many of her film roles, until I saw this film. It is not only her best performance, but I consider it in the ranks of the top female performances ever filmed, and Richard Burton is equally superb. That they were able to play so well off of each other in spite of, or maybe because of, their personal off-screen relationship, is amazing. Movies that do not insult the intelligence are rare these days,... I guess most of todays paying movie audience wants glorified ear-splitting music videos, with the plot secondary, if considered at all. This film is a perfect example of the mostly forgotten noble intention of the medium, which was ,yes, to entertain, but aspired to craft an experience that would also move you, make you think, and, stand in awe struck appreciation of REAL talent."
Special Edition DVD Showcases Albee's Vitriolic, Take-No-Pri
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 12/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Edward Albee's vituperative play about marital warfare, an acknowledged classic even during its first run, came to the screen with searing fervor by an unlikely combination of talents at that time - stage director Mike Nichols helming his first film, screenwriter Ernest Lehman coming off the big box office treacle of "The Sound of Music", and two mega-stars who were more famous as notorious tabloid-saturated lovers than as character actors. The highly successful 1966 adaptation of the Broadway hit was considered quite daring because of its frank portrayal of a sadomasochistic marriage and the frequent use of profanity throughout. The groundbreaking film also signaled the end of the Hayes Code, which held a censorship stranglehold over Hollywood productions since 1934. Now in a new 2006 two-disc DVD set, the movie seems marginally tamer now, but the lacerating wit of Albee's fearless dialogue and the powerful performances still make this a great picture albeit not a joyous one.
The simple-sounding story focuses on the aptly named George and Martha, a middle-aged associate history professor and his older, shrewish wife. Staggering home after an alcohol-fueled faculty party, they trade their usual barbs and then are joined by Nick, a young assistant math professor, and his wife Honey, whom a drunken Martha had invited over for a late-night nightcap. Despite the late hour, Nick readily accepts the invitation since Martha's father is the university president. What ensues is a series of vitriolic cat-and-mouse scenes of tension and black comedy among the four principals. In fact, there is no one else in the movie other than a roadside café owner and a waitress in the background. Delusions and deceptions contaminate the often nasty comments, and the conversations strip away the characters' self-protective veneers. With his debut film, Nichols manages to open up the story with scenes in the front yard and at the café, but he maintains the claustrophobic atmosphere necessary for the primal instincts to ignite and fester among the quartet.
Haskell Wexler's textured black-and-white cinematography and Sam O'Steen's edgy editing add immeasurably to the often harrowing proceedings. However, what remains most memorable is the fine cast guided by Nichols. Even though Elizabeth Taylor is nearly two decades too young to play the 52-year old Martha, she throws herself into the harridan with abandon. Overweight with a gray wig and bosom-heaving outfits, Taylor makes Martha flamboyantly vulgar and sadly pitiable at the same time. It's her best movie work by miles. Richard Burton is more ideally cast as George, who begins as a despondent, beaten-upon husband but soon matches his wife's emotional blackmail ploys with cyclonic force. Out of a dozen professional attempts, this is the only time Taylor and Burton seem to justify the intrigue of their off-screen exploits. In her first major role, Sandy Dennis is impressive as the fragile Honey liberating herself with alcohol. Perhaps because Nick is the least developed role, George Segal comes off as the most pallid of the foursome.
The print is clean and nicely presented in a letterbox format. The DVD extras start out strong with two alternate commentary tracks - the first a newly recorded one with Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh, the second with Wexler that was recorded for the Laserdisc release several years ago. Nichols and Wexler both provide invaluable insights into the production, while Soderbergh seems rather superfluous with his fan reactions to the movie. The second disc has two new featurettes - the twenty-minute "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: A Daring Work of Raw Excellence", which discusses the production in retrospect, and the ten-minute "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Too Shocking for Its Time" about the censorship problems around the film and how it kick-started the rating system still in use today.
Also on the second disc are two archival pieces of lesser interest - an eight-minute 1966 interview with Nichols on NBC's "Today Show", which shows the filmmaker as less than illuminating at this point in his career, and a superficial 1975 TV special called "Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait". Hosted by a meandering Peter Lawford, the latter program has interviews with Rock Hudson, directors Vincente Minnelli and Richard Brooks and even Taylor's American mother Sara but no involvement from Taylor herself, who is seen only in archival footage. Of more interest is footage from Dennis's screen test opposite Roddy McDowall, showing the actress already well prepared for her complex role. There are four trailers included for the films included in the newly released Taylor-Burton DVD set, of which "Woolf" is surprisingly the weakest. The others in the collection are 1963's "The VIPs", 1965's "The Sandpiper" and 1967's "The Comedians"."
Virginia Woolf? No Way, I'm Afraid of Martha
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 09/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An absolutely flawless film adaptation of an absolute brilliant play by Edward Albee, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was a triumph for first time feature director Mike Nichols. "Woolf" has long been one of my favorite films, I'd say it's in the top three of all time along with "The Lion In Winter" and "All About Eve". So, needless to say, I am thrilled that it's finally receiving an updated Special Edition. So many unworthy, mediocre films are getting deluxe makeovers that it is gratifying when something great gets included!
Because "Woolf" is based on a play, it relies heavily on performance and writing. The sets have been expanded a bit, but primarily what you see is concentrated to a couple of hours in a house. This can be jarring in the day of quick cuts and rapid scene change. This film is a lot more claustrophobic than what you might be accustomed to--but this closeness is used to great affect throwing these characters into confrontation.
This film has one of the strongest, most powerful screenplays ever. Primarily, the story is about George and Martha--a dysfunctional married couple in a university town. They spend their days fighting and retreating, sparring constantly, playing games of one-ups-manship. It is an absolutely chilling, grotesque portrait of codependency. One fateful evening a younger couple join them for some "entertainment", little suspecting that they will be drawn into an intense night where they are alternately challenged and used as pawns in George and Martha's struggle. This is not for the squeamish viewer. Even though the film is 30 years old, you will be shocked and surprised about how far George and/or Martha is willing to go for victory. It is an absolute verbal bloodbath--fast, cruel, uncompromising, adult. You will be challenged as a viewer, and what a treat that is to see something as razor sharp and super intelligent!
All four actors were all nominated for Oscars, with Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis winning. This is a Master Class of acting. Elizabeth Taylor is a wonder. Having an earlier career that capitalized on her beauty, she is a revelation as the desperate, viscous, sexual, middle-aged "hag". Probably regarded as one of film's greatest performances, it's a can't miss (I've heard Bette Davis also wanted to revitalize her career with this role). Richard Burton as a hen pecked husband, George Segal as a young rival, and Sandy Dennis as his naive wife are all spot on--captivating, moving, ferocious.
What I didn't mention is just how funny this movie is! It is a wicked, nasty, bitterly hilarious story. I want everyone to see this movie, especially if it's new to them. Treat yourself to an awesome entertainment, great writing, and magical performances. A classic for adults! KGHarris, 9/06. "
AFIs Great Love Stories: #89 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is one of the most important plays in the history of American Drama, representing a sort of merging of the psychological drama represented by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller with the existential plays of Samuel Becket and Eugene Ionesco. After a faculty party George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) have invited a young professor, Nick (George Segal) and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis), back for a few drinks. What happens is ironically described as fun and games, which end up airing everyone's dirty laundry in a compelling death spiral of brutal confrontations. All four players were nominated for Oscars, with both of the ladies winning in the finest ensemble performance since "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Burton lost to Paul Schofield in "A Man for All Seasons" and Segal to Walter Matthau in "The Fortune Cookie." Haskell Wexler also earned a richly deserved Oscar for Best Black-and-White Cinematography. I think this is clearly Elizabeth Taylor's best film performance (Burton's too). I remember someone asking Katharine Hepburn if she thought any other actress had ever shown a range comparable to herself and she mentioned Taylor. It makes sense. They have both done plays by William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Albee. Not even Meryl Streep can say that.The film does have one major problem, which Albee himself has repeatedly pointed out, namely, it was a mistake director Mike Nichols to let the two couples leave the house and go to a roadhouse in the middle of Act II. The play is a one set play, of course, and Albee consider the claustrophobia it produced part of its main effect. By getting them away from the house, or even having George and Nick have their big talk from Act III out in the backyard, the idea that Nick and Honey are trapped with no way out. But I think this is something that bothers people who have studied the play intimately more than fans of the cinema. Most Romantic Lines: Yeah, right. I think the nicest thing Martha says to George is "You make me puke," and the most famous line from the play, "What a dump," is taken from a Bette Davis movie (Yes, I know which one, but, no, I am not telling). If you like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" then check out these other films on AFI's list: #84 "Double Indemnity" and #48 "Last Tango in Paris." Why? They are also tales of twisted love."
Watch this movie if you want to be an actor...
Robert J. Willert | LOS ANGELES, CA | 06/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If there is ever a film acting students must watch, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is it. Personally, I had no problem with the DVD. Burton and Taylor are simply marvelous in their roles as two seriously disturbed people who have been married for...much too long. Taylor won an Academy Award and Burton should have won (no disrespect towards Paul Scofield for A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS). Edward Albee's brilliant characters and writing is simply breath-taking. That is if you can take 2 1/2 hours of absorbing drama about four miserable people (George Segal and Sandy Dennis are also excellent as the guests). It is true that a film like this isn't for everyone. The negative reviewers concern themselves with the mood of the film...why would anyone want to watch 4 people yelling at each for over 2 hours...but that isn't a review, and people expecting a Disney version of Albee's play shouldn't be watching it in the first place. Real life isn't easy to watch. Albee's story about an alcoholic professor and his over-bearing alcoholic wife is not easy to watch. Instead, the viewer must watch the film as life-like art, and an example for all filmmakers to follow. Director Mike Nichols had it filmed in black and white (Haskell Wexler), and most of the original play (screenplay by Ernest Lehman) remained intact. In a day when your average movie-going experience involves empty-headed entertainment (Matrix, X-men, Hulk, American Pie, Dumb and Dumberer, etc. - you know what I mean), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, even if you need to be in the mood to watch it, is far easier to take in the long run."