110 of 120 people found the following review helpful
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 biology 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 the "Woolf" trailer is surprisingly the weakest. The others in the collection are 1963's "The VIPs", 1965's "The Sandpiper" and 1967's "The Comedians".
69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
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.
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
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.
57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2002
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.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2001
Of all the stage play adaptations that have been made this one is one of my top favorites. After many years it still holds up and has proven to be a stage and film classic. The story as many know concerns an old, alchoholic, and strange (to say the least) couple, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) who invite a young couple over for a late night visit over drinks only to have the whole night become a nightmare, all orchestrated by Martha and George. The night changes all their lives forever. The adaptation of the play could not be better. It shows you how under certain circumstances the devil inside you can be unleashed. Martha and George take out their repressed feelings on their guests which in turn affects thier guests emotionally and along the way painful discoveries are made which are about themselves and who they are and about each other's personal lives. The dialogue is sardonic, witty at times, and by the standards of the time in which this movie came out it is daring and obscene at times. The characters are people who you might very well know in real life and they are very well drawn out. This movie is mainly character exposition and study. And the direction expands the play but keeps the intimate feeling of the stage play and it is directed with a kind of gritty realism in some parts. The black and white cinematography is great and it just enhances the mood and feeling of the movie. Had it been filmed in color i am not sure it would have had the complete impact it has. The acting is near flawless in this movie. Elizabeth Taylor deservedly won the oscar for her best performance. She exudes raw energy, vulnerability, rage and she is sardonic. She was laughed at when she said she would play the part. She had the last laugh. She dared to go dowdy and old for the part (in real life she was younger and slimer, here she is old and not eaxctly in great shape). Richard Burton shows repressed anger and sadness as George and he goes from showing it subtly to just screaming and acting it out( at one point he breaks a botttle of beer and nearly strangles someone to death). Sandy Dennis who won a best supporting actress oscar starts off as a mousy little woman to a woman who can barely control her emotions. George Segal's character is the only one who manages to maintain some sanity in this movie though he does go off the deep end at times too. He is righteous and a devil-may-care at once. This movie is an experience which will linger in your mind for a long time after and it requieres repeat viewings. This is a truely unique tour de force film experience. And it gives you an idea of how La Liz and her hubby Richard might have been behind closed doors since they too were on the bottle for a while.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I find myself emotionally attached to a lot of films. I tend to find bits and pieces of myself, less literally and more figuratively, in a lot of films. I think that is important for an avid movie-goer, for it allows you to truly connect and glean from the experience. While I say this, I do admit that there are few films that reflect my own personal experiences, but when they come along they completely dominate me. One such film was Ingmar Bergman's `Scenes from a Marriage'. I saw a lot of my own personal relationships in that film.
Another such film is `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'.
One of the most powerfully authentic films of all time, `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is a stunning example of pure depth and genuine characterization. The film is one of the most effective social commentaries I've ever seen, and as a character study it is nothing short of spellbinding (and the definition of haunting). I had seen this film a few years back and rendered it a masterpiece even then, but rewatchng the film recently has added layers of meaning and importance to the film for me, most likely due to recent personal experiences.
The film, adapted from Edward Albee's stage play, takes place on a single evening, after a party, when middle-aged couple Martha and George entertains a younger couple, Nick and Honey. It is apparent from the films very first scene that Martha and George have a near volatile relationship. They are heavy drinkers and heavy bickerers and they know how to push one another's buttons. When Nick and Honey arrive at their home, it is instantly obvious to the two that this was not a good idea. Despite their desire to leave, they are persuaded (or commanded) to stay. They are soon entwined (thanks to heavy amounts of alcohol) in a figurative boxing match between Martha and George as they begin to unravel before this young couple, exposing themselves and each other and soon their new companions in a sickly twisted game that takes on a life of its own.
I've heard some refer to this as a movie about the adverse effects of alcoholism, but that is just simplifying the film far too much.
This film is, without doubt, about the crushing power of regret. Nick and Honey torment Martha and George with their mere presence because they represent a past that seems to far removed from who they became. Throughout the film, Martha and George constantly berate one another for the course they took and what it is that they have amounted to. They have lost all mutual respect for one another because they blame one another for their own shortcomings and grievances. It is apparent, through drunken confessions, that Nick and Honey are headed in a similar direction. The couples, while different, are similar in many ways. They are both very reliant on their families for their positions; both men relying on their fathers-in-law in ways that surely is demeaning to their masculinity. Both men also feel a strange resentment to their wives for similar reasons, most likely stemming from their obvious dependence on them. Both couples are wearing figurative masks, hiding who they are in an attempt to become something the only wish they could be. Therein lies the significance of the song `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", a song sung in times of destructive desperation. For these `intellectuals', Virginia Woolf represents a public image they strive to conform to. To be `afraid' of Virginia Woolf (an author regarded as complex) would underscore their vulnerability and make them appear weak, especially to themselves. So, figuratively, they refuse to acknowledge their fears, putting up a front to conceal them from the hurt they have caused themselves.
And then there is the `child', a metaphor for different choices and a different life; a life without regret.
So, the reason I say that this film affects me more now is that after twelve years of marriage and for years of friendship (with me) my best friend (now EX best friend) and his wife turned into Martha and George. They became self consumed, self centered and self destructive and their own bitter resentment at their own state of affairs left them void of all emotional morality. It's oddly uncomfortable to relate so deeply to this film. The sad truth is that I've seen all of this happen. I've seen the drunken fights, the loud and abrasive belittlements. I've felt the tense aroma of resentment fill a home and I've personally been attacked and dissected by someone I considered a friend, all so that he could feel better about himself.
The fact that Martha and George are not the exception but the rule is a scary and sobering fact.
This story, as weighty as it is, would be nothing without the performances that embody it. In my personal opinion, Elizabeth Taylor's Oscar win can rest alongside Vivian Leigh's (for `A Streetcar Named Desire') as one of the most deserved in the history of Oscar. The way she expertly crafts this performance from scene to scene is just utterly brilliant. She can come across over-the-top to some, but when taken in the context of the film (this is a theatrical adaptation) it serves the film gloriously, and her final moments, as the camera draws in to see her soul collapse, are some of the most genuinely tender examples of humanity at its rawest that I've ever seen. Matching her every step of the way is Richard Burton, who understands his characters bitterness and the sarcastic apathy he uses to mask his true feelings. I also consider George Segal's performance to be simply stunning. I saw so much of myself in him (scary), from the way he eases into confessions with George to the way he fights his own discomfort for the sake of his hosts. He knows that what is happening is wrong and will destroy him in the long run, but he lacks the ability to walk away. Sandy Dennis is the weak link here, but her character has the smallest arc (and the smallest amount of screen time) and thus she kind of suffers from being overshadowed and so she seems to try and overcompensate at times. In the long run, it works, but at times she can come off as a bit much.
In the end, `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is certainly one of the most important films in the history of cinema, a film that was and still is a poignant look at humanity at its rawest form. Director Mike Nichols was pure genius here, creating a film that practically foamed at the mouth with authentic and heartfelt tension and aggression. Accompanied by slick editing, noteworthy dialog and some of the most effective (and beautifully shot) black and white cinematography (how a single room can evoke so much emotion is beyond me), `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is a rarity among film; and film that is flawless.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2008
I'm not sure how many people would agree with me, but after watching this movie again I was struck by something that I'd never noticed before. (Spoiler alert.)
First, I've seen this movie about a dozen times over the years, and like most people, what always stuck with me was the level of psychological damage that these two characters inflict upon each other. Edward Albee seems particularly sharp in showing how self-contempt and contempt for one's partner become symbiotic in "dysfunctional" relationships. George needs Martha's contempt as well as her love, just as she needs his contempt as well as his love. For them, the two emotions are two sides of the same coin--to such an extent that each emotion even seems to be a manifestation of the other. I've never seen a film that captures this psychological chemistry as powerfully as Nichols's adaptation, and the Burton-Taylor performances are truly remarkable. One can only guess how much the actors recognized these emotions in their own lives.
Moreover, when one eventually realizes the sort of "game" that's being played, the bizarre nature of the premise seems to be a pretty striking commentary on how our intimate relationships are based on understandings that are only exposed as "fictions" (or rather, only become "fictions") when consensus no longer exists. However weird the whole setup is with George and Martha's "son," Albee seems to have meant it as only a more extreme, exaggerated illustration of this dynamic. When our relationships begin to erode, the premises or assumptions that they've been based on begin to erode as well. If George and Martha's son can be taken literally as a sort of psychic "buffer" or "crutch" they've created to sustain their tenuous marriage, the son can also be taken as a sort of metaphor for such unspoken premises in any relationship. Their pathology, I think, has a certain level of psychological truth that applies in a less extreme way to "normal" relationships as well.
But what really hit me this time was something else. What I never fully appreciated about this film is that for all its psychological violence, for all the outbursts and cruel mind games that we see on display, the film ends with George and Martha still together--quietly, hesitantly considering whether they can now start their relationship on some new basis without the sustaining fiction of their "son." True, there are no guarantees here, but I think that any view of this film as overly bleak is very misguided. If anything, George and Martha's relationship actually has a much greater chance of surviving than the sort of marriage in which each person has given up on each other for good. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that I've seen what a truly numbing, deadening effect that failed marriages can have on people. Compared to what I've seen, George and Martha's story resonates with vitality in all its sound and fury, and the final scene brought tears to my eyes not because of what they'd lost--but for what they still have the chance to preserve in some new form. When I saw Nichols's close-up on their held hands in the final shot, I realized that what I was seeing was still very much a love story...free of easy cynicism on the one hand or easy sentimentalism on the other hand, and instead ending with a very fragile, hard-earned sense of hope.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 1999
Taylor and Burton are at their finest hour in Mike Nichols' film adaptation of Edward Albee's play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" This is one of my absolute favorite movies and I think it should be considered one of the best films ever made. The supporting cast, Sandy Dennis and George Segal, are phenomenal in their portrayl of the young, nieve couple Nick and Honey.
George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) invite the new young couple into their home for an evening of psychological mind games and drinking. By the end of the evening, startling revelations occur concerning George and Martha's relationship and their family life.
One must not miss this film!!!!!!!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2005
Though "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" as brilliantly directed by Mike Nichols, is almost 40 years old it still has real impact on anyone lucky enough to see this new DVD transfer.
This play and film will most likely be the zenith, the Signature Play of Edward Albee's tremendous career, though he has written much since the Broadway production of this play in the early 1960's.
Though, at the time it was thought of as mostly a way to cash in on their major stardom, the casting of Taylor and Burton is perfect: as each of them reaches way above and sometimes below the surface of the written page to come up with the truth and heart of Albee's words (though Nichols and Ernest Lehman adapted the screenplay).
Albee is concerned here with the little and big lies we tell ourselves and others in order to keep going: "Truth or Illusion," George and Martha intone several times during this film ("Truth or Illusion, George, doesn't it matter to you...at all?"). And only when George "kills" the Illusion of an imaginary son do we feel that there is any chance for George and Martha to continue:
Martha..."before I'm through with you you'll wish you'd died in that automobile
[...] George:..."and you'll wish you'd never mentioned our son!"
Albee has set "WAOVW" in New Carthage, which was founded in the 9th Century B.C. The Romans razed it to the ground in 146 A.D. By the 5th Century it had again become a power, which St Augustine, in his "Confessions" called a "Cauldron of Unholy Loves."
Amen, Brother, Amen.