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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

5.0 3
Director: Mike Nichols

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal


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"You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games." Thus read the ad copy for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which in 1966 went farther than any previous big-studio film in its use of profanity and sexual implication. George (Richard Burton) is an alcoholic college professor; Martha (Oscar-winner Elizabeth Taylor) is his virago


"You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games." Thus read the ad copy for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which in 1966 went farther than any previous big-studio film in its use of profanity and sexual implication. George (Richard Burton) is an alcoholic college professor; Martha (Oscar-winner Elizabeth Taylor) is his virago of a wife. George and Martha know just how to push each other's buttons, with George having a special advantage: he need only mention the couple's son to send Martha into orbit. This evening, the couple's guests are Nick (George Segal), a junior professor, and Honey (Sandy Dennis), Nick's child-like wife. After an evening of sadistic (and sometimes perversely hilarious) "fun and games," the truth about George and Martha's son comes to light. First staged on Broadway in 1962 with Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill, Edward Albee's play was adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman, who managed to retain virtually all of Albee's scatological epithets (this was the first American film to feature the expletive "goddamn"). Lehman opened up the play by staging one of George's speeches in the backyard, and by relocating the film's second act to a roadside inn (he also added four lines--"all bad," according to Albee). Thanks to the box-office clout of stars Taylor and Burton, not to mention the titilation factor of hearing all those naughty words on the big screen, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a hit, and it won 5 Oscars, including awards for Taylor and Dennis, though it lost Best Picture to A Man for All Seasons. First-time director Mike Nichols lost the Oscar, but this movie gave him a perfect transition from his stage work and established him as a hot young Hollywood director, leading to his acclaimed (and Oscar-winning) work on his next movie, The Graduate.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Bruce Kluger
Mike Nichols (The Graduate) made one of the most auspicious directorial debuts in the history of cinema with his screen version of Edward Albee's emotionally volatile domestic drama. A relentless assault of wrenching revelations and barked expletives that had knocked Broadway theatergoers out of their seats three years earlier, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won five Oscars, with nominations going to every member of the cast. (Elizabeth Taylor won for Best Actress; Sandy Dennis for Best Supporting Actress.) The film is a superb showcase for screen veterans Taylor and Richard Burton, who deliver tour-de-force performances as Albee's vituperative protagonists: George, an alcoholic college professor, and Martha, his loud and emasculating wife. Throughout the course of a liquor-drenched evening, the couple reveal to each other -- and their guests, played by Dennis and George Segal -- the dark and ugly truths about their marriage. Nichols and screenwriter Ernest Lehman were successful in retaining the play's salty language, which at the time of the movie's 1966 release was considered quite racy. By opening up the play just enough to keep movie audiences riveted, while remaining faithful to Albee's searing material, Nichols created an unforgettable portrait of a dysfunctional marriage.
All Movie Guide
Seething with acidic ill will and unmitigated vitriol, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? remains one of the cinema's most honest, affecting trips down the corpse-strewn path of marital dysfunction. Adapted for the screen from Edward Albee's play (deemed the "best American play of the last decade" by The New York Times), it was a scathing, uncompromising drama that on its release earned almost as much controversy as kudos. Much of this controversy emanated from the filmmakers' refusal to delete the expletives--scatalogical and otherwise--that marked the original play. Controversy aside, Who's Afraid represented the remarkably accomplished movie directing debut of Mike Nichols and featured spectacular performances. The only film at that point in history to have its entire main cast nominated for Academy Awards, Who's Afraid elicited Oscar-winning turns from Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis. Taylor in particular did some of the best work of her career, screaming, bullying, and scheming her way across the screen with raw, full-bodied anger. Both imposing and pathetic, her Martha remains one of the more astonishing examples of an avenging harpy that the screen has to offer. Aside from boasting such fine work from its leads, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? became known as one of the most successful examples of stage-to-screen adaptation. Much of this was due to Ernest Lehman's script, which remained scrupulously faithful to the original material, and the legendary Haskell Wexler's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Above all, Who's Afraid owed its success to Nichols' direction, here comprising one of the screen's most self-assured and controlled debuts.

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"No one under the age of 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by a parent or guardian." That adage would become the obligatory accompaniment of any film receiving an R rating, when the policy of rating motion pictures was established in the late '60s. The first film to carry this commentary was 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", which in its time marked not only the significant screen translation of an important play (the best drama of the decade, according to some) but also the latest of those important movie milestones which help redefine the notion of the Hollywood product. Here were two of the current superstars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, fresh from their success in the ultimate, and one of the last of the old-fashioned Hollywood super spectacles, "Cleopatra" but here they were now speaking language that had never been heard in an American commercial movie before, as they forsook the glamor of their previous pictures. "Virginia Woolf" created a strong public outcry for more stringent censorship of films, simultaneously excited and upset various portions of the moviegoing public, and forever left behind the notion that American films could not deal with adult material. In point of fact, Edward Albee had managed to shock even the legitimate theater when his play was first produced in 1962. In the early '60s, Albee's symbolic shorter plays - including "The Sand Box", "The Zoo Story" and "The American Dream" - had been presented off-Broadway, where these searing studies of the sickness in American society had been perfect in keeping with the avant garde attitudes of the audiences. Then, Albee's first ful-length play was presented in the legitimate Broadway Theater. Though his characters were no longer allegorical figures, but believable people caught up in a domestic situation of infidelity, self deception, and an inability to discriminate reality, "Virginia Woolf" still contained the acerbic implications and outlandish language of Albee's earlier works. By bringing them to Broadway, even in the guise of a domestic melodrama, Albee proved himself to be a creative force in the new, evolving generation of important playwrights. "Virginia Woolf" altered both the mentality and the conventions of legitimate drama and when, only four years later, the play was transferred to the screen, almost everyone assumed it would have to be hopelessly watered down since movies were at the very least ten years behind Broadway in terms of maturity. But Jack L. Warner, the old fashioned studio head who personally stood behind the project, insisted it be done without the expected hedging. So producer/screenwriter Ernest Lehman was given the go ahead to keep almost all the film's language intact, making only minimal changes in locale (the single room setting was opened up slightly to include the entire house) and retaining practically all of the play's salty language. Anyone who feared the super sexy couple of the decade would glamorize the frustrated college professor, George, and his blowsy wife, Martha, quickly discovered Burton and Taylor were actors as well as movie stars. Burton successfully squelched his strong screen magnetism, making himself look every bit the meek, mousey fellow, while Taylor ranted and raved with enough conviction that she came off as a miserable college town matron rather than a longtime Hollywood celebrity. In order to assure the project would be handled properly, Warner decided to hand the directorial chores to a young man who had never before done a motion picture - but was clearly in tune with the current styles of the 60s. Mike Nichols had worked as a popular satirist with Elaine May, and then achieved notoriety with his handsome direction of several Broadway plays by Neil Simon. Sensing the material in "Virginia Woolf" marked so drastic a departure from the usual screen fare that his stoc
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