An early Mike Nichols film version of a classic Edward Albee stage play, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? features one of Hollywood's all-time best couples in action.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star as Martha and George, stalwarts at a nondescript stately college.
She's the daughter of the University's president and he's the venerable History professor who's grown a bit long in the tooth but maintains all his venom.
George and Martha laugh and bicker through the film's opening moments, just a peek at what's to come when their late night invited guests arrive.
George Segal is Nick, the new young Biology professor to the campus and Sandy Dennis is Honey, his mousy but supportive wife.
From the moment they arrive, George and Martha control the conversation and seem to spiral the four into every dangerous conversation and topic possible, unfurling their own contempt for each other while trying to inflict maximum damage on the newly married young couple.
Taylor is fantastic, ripping into George with her words like machetes, constantly shrinking his ego until she can cram it violently in a little box and jump up and down on it.
Burton is her equal, using his words more quietly but tearing deep into Martha on her lust and alcoholic cackling. You can see years of verbal abuse reflected on Burton's face as George cowers then attacks, in explosive fights that have clearly been choreographed between George & Martha for many years.
Segal and Denns are both great too, cringing like wounded animals until the unending drinks break down their inhibitions. Segal starts returning the verbal attacks and Dennis turns into a laughing, hilarious mess.
The screenplay by Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest, The Sound of Music, West Side Story) is witty, adult and filled with great one-liners from Albee's original stage play.
This was Mike Nichols first film as a director and he followed it the next year, in 1967, with "The Graduate".
The film won Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor, Best Supporting Actress for Dennis along with three other technical awards among its 13 nominations.
Fantastic film making at every level, watching Burton and Taylor tear into each other and the innocent couple is a showcase of writing and acting talent. Like some early preview or today's great stage plays by Tracy Letts, WOOLF is a black and white classic.
If you're not afraid of Martha, you just don't have a lick of sense. WOOLF gets a very respectful B+.