WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) B/W widescreen 129m. dir: Mike Nichols
w/Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal
Edward Albee's brilliant, biting play about the love-hate relationship between a middle-aged, resigned college professor and his vitriolic, denigrating, yet seductive wife is turned into a movie experience to be cherished. It's a cinematic feast thanks to Nichols' astute debut as a director. The entire cast was nominated for Oscars (with only the women winning in their respective categories), and deservedly so: Taylor's towering portrayal of the foul-mouthed Martha is matched all the way by Burton as the tortured George; Dennis and Segal are right on the money as the young couple.
From The Movie Guide: "The Liz and Dick Show. A vitriol Valentine to that most famous of public marriages. The Battling Burtons, in their finest work (together). Our tabloid awareness of their union informs us they were living out their real-life roles, so a side of the viewer champions the authenticity, even when it sometimes looks actorly. Albee's play opened in October, 1962, and shocked even blasé New Yorkers with its language and dark subject matter (Uta Hagen and Arthur Hiller created the Broadway roles). The attendant publicity when the film was cast guaranteed an audience no matter what. And many big names had wanted the roles. (Bette Davis wanted to play it opposite Jimmy Stewart, supposedly. Can you imagine Davis doing a parody of herself saying, 'What a dump!'? We ideally would have cast Susan Hayward and Henry Fonda.) If Taylor's early scenes sometimes seem more like showing off, she ultimately ropes you in --- it's a pity so few films have taken advantage of her bawdy penchant for black comedy. Burton's only disadvantage is his accent; his portrayal seems a trifle more fully realized than hers. ...
"Producer [Ernest] Lehman's screenplay left most of Albee's play intact, which shocked movie audiences not accustomed to hearing four-letter words cannonading off the screen. At first, the Production Code seal was denied to the movie, but Jack Warner used his personal clout and secured the deal. The play was bought by Warners for half a million dollars; an additional million each went to the Burtons --- out of a total budget of $5 million. The movie grossed large numbers at the box office, nearly $15 million the first time around, due, in part, to the draw of the stars.
"Dennis in her second role after a small part in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS was absolutely right in a part that became the definitive Dennis role. The same cannot be said for Segal, who lacks the bulk and WASP look for Nick --- where was Robert Redford when Nichols needed him?. [sic] Burton and Taylor both took British Oscars for their work. Hiring Nichols (comedy partner of Elaine May) in his directorial debut was a risk because the former nightclub comic had done only lighter work. But the script is fueled by acid, sarcastic dialogue which his direction paces flawlessly, his sense of comic timing serving him well. The film was rehearsed like a play for three weeks before a camera ever turned. This also marked Lehman's debut as a producer. Strong stuff, intensely watchable, but definitely not for children."
The film won Oscars for Best Actress (Taylor), Supporting Actress (Dennis), B&W Cinematography (Haskell Wexler), B&W Art Direction (Richard Sylbert), and B&W Costume Design (Irene Sharaff). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Burton), Supporting Actor (Segal), Screenplay Adaptation, Editing, Original Music Score, and Sound.
Haskell Wexler, the film's Academy Award-winning director of photography, provides commentary about the film on the Warner Bros. DVD. If you have access to this new and wonderful technology, FilmFrog urges you to take advantage of the opportunity to view this film through a fascinating and different perspective.