History professor George (Richard Burton) and his boozy wife, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), return late one Saturday night from a cocktail party at the home of the college president, Marthas father. Martha announces that she invited another couple, newly appointed instructor Nick (George Segal) and his timid wife, Honey (Sandy Dennis), over for a nightcap. When the younger couple arrive, the night erupts into a no-holds-barred torrent of marital angst and verbal tirades.
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1966 American black comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is an adaptation of the play of the same title by Edward Albee. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George, with George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey.
The film was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mike Nichols, and is one of only two films to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards (the other being Cimarron). All of the films four main actors were nominated in their respective acting categories.
The film won five awards, including a second Academy Award for Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis. However, the film lost to A Man for All Seasons for the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay awards, and both Richard Burton and George Segal failed to win in their categories.
In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Mike Nichols’ film from Edward Albee's play brought new themes to the film industry. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have never been more brilliant together as they portray an experienced married couple who love each other yet verbally attack one another when they see how boring their naïve newlywed guests have made their night.
Set on the campus of a small New England college, the film focuses on the volatile relationship of associate history professor George and his hard-drinking wife Martha, the daughter of the college president. George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games with one another. After they return home drunk from a party, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches math), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.
The wives briefly separate from the husbands, and upon their return, Honey reveals that Martha has told her about her and Georges son, adding that she understands that the following day (Sunday) will mark his sixteenth birthday. George is visibly angry that Martha has divulged this information.
Martha taunts George aggressively and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him in front of her father. Marthas taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled, and Honey soon runs to the bathroom to vomit, due to too much alcohol.
Martha goes to the kitchen to make coffee, and George and Nick go outside. The younger man confesses he was attracted to Honey more for her familys money than passion, and married her only because she mistakenly believed she was pregnant. George describes his own marriage as one of never-ending accommodation and adjustment, then admits he considers Nick a threat. George also tells a story about a boy he grew up with. This boy had accidentally killed his mother. Years later, George claims the boy was driving with his father. He swerved to "avoid a porcupine" in the road, and the resulting accident killed his father. The boy ended up living out his days in a mental hospital. Nick admits he aims to charm and sleep his way to the top, he jokes that Martha would be a good place to start.
When their guests propose leaving, George insists on driving them home. In the car, the talk returns to George and Marthas son. They approach a roadhouse, and Honey suggests they stop to dance. Honey dances wildly on her own, with Nick trying to calm her drunken behavior, she eventually sits down. While Honey and George watch, Nick suggestively dances with Martha, who continues to mock George and criticize his inadequacies. George unplugs the jukebox and announces the game is over. In response, Martha alludes to the fact he may have murdered his parents like the protagonist in his unpublished, non-fiction novel, prompting George to strangle Martha until Nick manages to pull him away from her.
George persuades the owner to serve them one more round before closing and suggests that, having played a game of Humiliate the Host, the quartet should now engage in Get the Guests, before moving onto Hump the Hostess. He then tells the group about a second novel he allegedly has written about a young couple from the Midwest, a good-looking teacher and his timid wife, who marry because of her hysterical pregnancy and money, then settle in a small college town. An embarrassed Honey realizes Nick indiscreetly told George about their past and runs from the room. Nick promises revenge on George, and then runs after Honey.
In the parking lot, George tells his wife he cannot stand the way she constantly humiliates him, and she tauntingly accuses him of having married her for just that reason. Their rage erupts into a declaration of "total war". Martha drives off, retrieving Nick and Honey, leaving George to make his way back home on foot. When he arrives home, he discovers the car crashed on the drive and Honey half conscious on the back seat and sees the outline of his wife and Nick in the bedroom window, suggesting they are presently engaged in a sexual encounter. Through Honeys drunken babbling, George begins to suspect that her pregnancy was in fact real, and that she secretly had an abortion. He then devises a plan to get back at Martha.
When Martha accuses Nick of being sexually inadequate, he blames his impotence on all the liquor he has consumed. George then appears holding snapdragons, which he throws at Martha and Nick in another game. He mentions his and Marthas son, prompting her to reminisce about his birth and childhood and how he was nearly destroyed by his father. George accuses Martha of engaging in destructive and abusive behavior with the boy, who frequently ran away to escape her attention. George then announces he has received a telegram with bad news—the boy was killed in the afternoon on a country road when he swerved to avoid hitting a porcupine and crashed into a tree.
As Martha argues with George that he "cant do this" and begs him not to "kill" their son, Nick suddenly realizes the truth—Martha and George had never been able to have a baby, for reasons that are unexplained. Instead, their game together is to imagine that they have a son and invent situations and stories of him. By declaring their son dead, accordingly, George has "killed" him. (There are hints of this throughout the script that become clear in retrospect—for example, when George and Nick were sitting by the swing waiting for Honey to finish throwing up, George comments quietly that Martha never had any pregnancies.) George explains that their one mutually-agreed-upon rule was to never mention the "existence" of their son to anyone else, and that he "killed" him because Martha broke that rule (having mentioned him to Honey, earlier in the evening).
The young couple departs quietly, and George and Martha are left alone as the day begins to break outside. They speak quietly, and in the last lines Martha answers the title question with "I am, George, I am."Elizabeth Taylor as MarthaRichard Burton as GeorgeGeorge Segal as NickSandy Dennis as HoneyAgnes Flanagan (uncredited) as Roadhouse WaitressFrank Flanagan (uncredited) as Roadhouse manager
Edward Albees 1962 play was replete with dialogue that included multiple instances of "goddamn" and "son-of-a-bitch", along with "screw you", "up yours", "great nipples", and "hump the hostess". Opening on Broadway during the Cuban Missile Crisis, audiences who had gone to the theater to forget the threat of nuclear war were instead assaulted by language and situations they had not seen before outside of experimental theater.
The immediate reaction of the theater audiences, eventually voiced by critics, was that Albee had created a play that would be a great success on Broadway, but could never be filmed in anything like its current form. Neither the audience nor the critics understood how much the Hollywood landscape was changing in the 1960s, and that it could no longer live with any meaningful Production Code. In bringing the play to the screen, Ernest Lehman decided he would not change the dialogue that had shocked veteran theatergoers in New York only four years earlier. Despite serious opposition to this decision, Lehman prevailed.
The choice of Elizabeth Taylor—at the time regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world—to play the frumpy, fifty-ish Martha surprised many, but the actress gained 30 pounds (13.5 kg) for the role and her performance (along with those of Burton, Segal, and Dennis) was ultimately praised. When Warner Bros. head Jack L. Warner approached Albee about buying the film rights for the play, he told Albee that he wanted to cast Bette Davis and James Mason in the roles of Martha and George. In the script, Martha references Davis and quotes her famous "What a dump!" line from the film Beyond the Forest (1949). Albee was delighted by this cast, believing that "James Mason seemed absolutely right...and to watch Bette Davis do that Bette Davis imitation in that first scene—that would have been so wonderful." However, fearing that the talky, character-driven story would land with a resounding thud—and that audiences would grow weary of watching two hours of screaming between a harridan and a wimp—Nichols and Lehman cast stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Edward Albee was surprised by the casting decision, but later stated that Taylor was quite good and Burton was incredible. In the end though, he still felt that "with Mason and Davis you would have had a less flashy and ultimately deeper film."
As filming began, the Catholic Legion of Motion Pictures (formerly the Catholic Legion of Decency), issued a preliminary report that, if what they heard was true, they might have to slap Virginia Woolf with the once-dreaded "condemned" rating, although they promised to wait to see the film. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) followed with an even stronger statement, warning the studio—without promising to wait for a screening—that if they were really thinking of leaving the Broadway plays language intact, they could forget about getting a Seal of Approval.
Most of the films exteriors were shot on location at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. Nichols insisted on this for verisimilitude, but later stated that he had been misguided, that it added nothing artistically, and that these scenes could as well have been shot on any sound stage.
The films original motion picture score was composed by Alex North. At the time of the films release, a gatefold two-LP record soundtrack album set that included the entire films dialogue was released by Warner Bros. Records as the "Deluxe Edition Two-Record Set". This was one of the only cases in which a film studio released an album of a films vocals in its entirety, as the film (at that time) could never be shown in reruns on network television. The only piece of music heard throughout the entire album is a song titled "Virginia Woolf Rock" that plays while Martha and Nick are dancing (but plays a little differently than it does in the film).
In at least two instances alternate takes were used: Taylors memorable "Goddamn you!" line is altered to "Screw you!", and some of the dialogue from the dancing sequence was lifted from another take. As Martha tells her story about punching George in the jaw in front of her father to Nick and Honey, it is heard very clearly while in the film it became distant and muffled as the camera followed George into another room to get a gun. The album also ran a half-hour shorter than the movie as most pauses and long silent moments were removed. However, virtually every line remains intact.
The albums cover has the four main actors on the cover and the back cover has some background information about the four actors, information about the five month shooting schedule, some information about Albee, and a brief synopsis of the film. This album is out of print, was never re-released in any other formats, is extremely rare and hard to find, and is highly prized among collectors in almost any condition.
The music from the film was issued as a single-LP release that featured 11 tracks of film composer Norths score from the film. The album also included snippets of dialog on a couple tracks, such as Taylor shouting "SNAP!". This album was bootlegged unofficially onto an undated German CD and issued on CD by DRG in 2006.
The film adaptation differs slightly from the play, which has only four characters. The minor characters of the roadhouse owner, who has only a few lines of dialogue, and his wife, who serves a tray of drinks and leaves silently, were played by the films gaffer, Frank Flanagan, and his wife, Agnes.
The play is set entirely in Martha and Georges house. In the film, one scene takes place at the roadhouse, one in George and Marthas yard, and one in their car. Despite these minor deviations, however, the film is extremely faithful to the play. The filmmakers used the original play as the screenplay and, aside from toning down some of the profanity slightly — Marthas "Screw you!" (which, in the 2005 Broadway revival, is "Fuck you!") becomes "God damn you!" — virtually all of the original dialogue remains intact. (In the version released in the UK, "Screw you" is kept intact. In an interview at the time of the release, Taylor referred to this phrase as pushing boundaries.)
Nick is never referred to or addressed by name during the film or the play.
Warner Bros. studio executives sat down to look at a rough cut, without music, and a Life magazine reporter was present. He printed the following quote from one of the studio chiefs: "My God! Weve got a seven million dollar dirty movie on our hands!"
The film was considered groundbreaking for having a level of profanity and sexual implication unheard of at that time. Jack Valenti, who had just become president of the MPAA in 1966, had abolished the old Production Code. In order for the film to be released with MPAA approval, Warner Bros. agreed to minor deletions of certain profanities and to have a special warning placed on all advertisements for the film, indicating adult content. In addition, all contracts with theatres exhibiting the film included a clause to prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from admittance without adult supervision. Even the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures (NCOMP) refused to "condemn" the film, with the office ruling it as "morally unobjectionable for adults, with reservations." It was this film and another groundbreaking film, Michelangelo Antonionis Blow-Up (1966), that led Jack Valenti to begin work on the MPAA film rating system that went into effect on November 1, 1968. It is also said that Jack L. Warner chose to pay a fine of $5,000 in order to remain as faithful to the play (with its profanity) as possible.
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? premiered on June 22, 1966, at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California. The film went on to become a financial success, earning a North American rental gross of $10.3 million in 1966.
The film was first released on to DVD in North America on October 1, 1997. It has since been re-released in a 2-disc special edition that was concurrently released across North America and much of Europe.
The film is one of only two films (the other being Cimarron) to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards. Each of the four actors was nominated for an Oscar but only Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis won, for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. The film also won the Black and White Cinematography award for Haskell Wexlers stark, black-and-white camera work (it was the last film to win before the category was eliminated), Best Costume Design and for Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, George James Hopkins). It was the first film to have its entire credited cast be nominated for acting Oscars, a feat only accomplished twice more, with Sleuth in 1972 and Give em Hell, Harry! in 1975.
The film received the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source.
In AFIs 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition), Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ranked #67.
Mad Magazine published a spoof of the film, entitled Who in Heck is Virginia Woolf?! At one point, it is remarked "This is an art film, so the censors have to let us talk dirty!" Most of the swearing is replaced with grawlixes: when Martha asks George "%$?" and he replies "What kind of profanity is that, Liz?!", she says "I was just asking what percentage of the gross were getting!" Their son turns out to be real, and to George and Marthas dismay, a clean-cut non-dysfunctional bore, in keeping with Mad???s tradition of altering the endings of the films that they parody.The film was spoofed on The Benny Hill Show (Season 7, Episode 4), "Sale of the Half Century", with Hill playing both Burtons and Taylors parts. This parody used the method that transferred widescreen films to videotape, pan and scan-cropping.A couple from a scene in The Simpsons Season 2 episode "The War of the Simpsons" is based on George and Martha.In the American Dad episode "Camp Refoogee", Roger and Francines role-playing as a married couple is essentially taken from Albees original play. It should also be noted that all four characters are wearing clothes that match the film, and the other couple resembles Segal and Dennis.The 1989 dance club hit remake of "Tainted Love" by the studio group Impedance was remixed by J.R. Clements for the Art of Compilation white label D.J. series. Clements remix is entitled "The Raging George & Martha Mix," and incorporates some of the argumentative dialogue from the film into the remix."Never Mix, Never Worry" is a 2009 pop/rock song by The Sour Notes that is themed and titled after the film.In the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Dick in Law", Marys squabbling parents are named George and Martha, which is most likely a subtle reference to the play. Actors Elaine Stritch and George Grizzard who played her parents were in the original Broadway production, Stritch as understudy to Uta Hagens Martha, and Grizzard as the original Nick.A sketch on the comedy show SCTV featured a "Fast-Talking Playhouse" version of the film, starring motor-mouthed TV pitchman Harvey Keitel as George, Barbra Streisand as Martha, Broderick Crawford as Nick, and Sandy Duncan as Honey. Interestingly, the title is sung to the tune of Whos Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf instead of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush as is done in the film and stage productions to avoid paying music rights.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Sandpiper. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Divorce His - Divorce Hers. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Comedians. Elizabeth Taylor appears in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Boom!.