Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? changed the very course of Hollywood itself. The film is based on the 1962 play from Edward Albee that caused quite a stir with its lewd and vulgar content. The dialogue being kept intact meant the original Production Code left Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? unrated. Although PG-13 by today’s standards, audiences weren’t used to hearing profanity in pictures. Even I was a little shocked, but I knew to expect 2 hours of non-stop fighting. It feels all the more authentic with the often turbulent Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the leads. Despite its controversy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of only 2 movies nominated in every eligible category.
Best Picture for producer Ernest Lehman’s persistence and first time director Mike Nichols for his ability to translate the stage to the screen. Having only 4 actors meant the entire cast was nominated for acting. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? follows the failing marriage of George and Martha. Burton plays the passive history professor of a university and Taylor plays the aggressive daughter of the university’s president. The title refers to an in-joke that they sing to each other. They unwillingly entertain the young, good looking, and well built biology professor Nick and his hip wife Honey. George Segal and Sandy Dennis fill the remaining roles. Over the course of only one night of heavy drinking, arguments begin to escalate very quickly. It’s a unique character study that’ll make you laugh as well as wince.
George goes from timid to ruthless with his casual insults and “games” that he plays with his guests. Nick goes from non-confrontational to pushed around by almost everybody. Despite the men receiving a bit more attention, it’s the women who both won an Academy Award. Honey wants to leave at first, but Dennis becomes a very convincing silly drunk who can’t hold her liquor. Really most of the attention understandably went to Taylor playing against type. Martha is very overbearing as she puts down her husband, but she can also be flirtatious towards Nick and vulnerable when certain topics are brought up. Just about everything is discussed, but it’s George and Martha’s son that feels the most poignant. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a black & white classic with a modern sense of storytelling.