The famous Edward Albee play successfully makes the translation to the motion picture screen with excellent performances by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis.
Richard and Liz give the tale about a troubled middle-aged couple who impose on an innocent younger couple, a supercharged quality as two university professors and their wives explode in a bitter night of psychological furore and wounding words.
The love-hate relationship between college history professor George (Burton) and his blowsy wife Martha (Taylor) – the daughter of the college president – has been festering for years before it explodes like a boil in the faces of the young campus couple – Nick (Segal) and Honey (Dennis) – whom they invite home.
Martha is strident, vulgar, crass, sexually uninhibited and a vicious dissector of her mate’s weaknesses. He’s “in” the history department, not the head of it, and because of his marriage to the president’s daughter, is never allowed to forget his neglect to grasp the supreme opportunity (in her eyes).
As the martinis mingle with mutual loathing, both couples find themselves staring into the abyss.
The film is at once terrifying, hilarious and shattering. It is also exhausting in that it takes such a grip on the viewer’s senses. Because of its free use of four-letter words, this film did much to break the old restrictive code of American film production and bring new freedom to American moviemakers.
The film won five Oscars in 1967, including a second Best Actress award for Elizabeth Taylor and Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis.
Director Mike Nichols found the movie a tough assignment: “We had to keep coming back to the same damn room, over and over, every day. And the poor Burtons had to spit at each other and hit each other for days”.
How different from the stars’ own decorous home lives . . .