Thursday, August 20, 2009

1966 - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Everyone has a film that they unconditionally adored during their childhood. You'd watch it over and over, and laugh or cry, or whatever you were meant to do, in all the right places. Now, as a fully grown adult, the nostalgia you feel for the film seems to overpower any critical thinking, and you simply won't have anyone speak ill of your favourite little filmy-wilmy. It's your film-baby. We all have one. Last night, my beautiful wife Kat introduced me to her film-baby, a whodunit farce entitled The Private Eyes. You may not have heard of it, and there's a fairly good reason for that.

It stars Tim Conway and Don Knotts as a pair of bumbling detectives attempting to solve a series of murders at an English manor. It comes complete with all the comedy cliches, including a revolving false wall and even a "Walk this way" gag. But it was made in 1980, so I guess it's all forgivable.

When the film ended, I was half expecting Kat to turn to me and say, "Hmm, it's not as good as I remember," but alas, she simply sighed with nostalgia and forced me to admit that I loved it, too.

Now, so as not to contradict my post from a couple of days ago (when I mentioned that I love ALL movies), I must confess that it had its moments. And I must have been at least a little engrossed because I still wanted to find out who, indeed, had dun it. In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, I can definitely picture myself loving this as a child, too. It has all the elements that make children squeal with laughter. And taking a quick look at the user comments on the film's IMDb page, it's clear that there are plenty of people who have loved it since they were children, too.

Nevertheless, as much as I love my wife (and I do love her very much - I wrote her a song for our wedding!), The Private Eyes is not going to find a place in my top ten list and I'm glad to get back to the Best Picture nominees. But if you ever see her, icks-nay on the iticism-cray. Just tell her I loved it.

Now, wait 'til I show her Electric Dreams.

Back to the Best Picture race of 1966. The second film in the shortlist is...

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mike Nichols
Ernest Lehman
(based on Edward Albee's play)
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
Academy Awards:
13 nominations
5 wins, including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress

Well, if you ever needed a reason to stop drinking, just sit down and watch Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This intense drama follows one night at the household of George and Martha, a couple with some issues to sort out. He's a history professor. She's the daughter of the president of the university. And she's not subtle about her disdain for her husband, summed up beautifully in lines like, "If you existed, I'd divorce you." After coming home a little tipsy from a faculty party, they for some reason prepare for guests at 2 o'clock in the morning. The guests arrive in the form of Nick, a newly appointed biology professor, and his wife, Honey. All four go from tipsy to drunk to completely shit-faced in the space of a few hours. And unfortunately, the younger couple inadvertently become pawns in the game of tit-for-tat spitefulness that George and Martha have going on. Although, Nick and Honey aren't entirely free of their own issues.

The whole drama is absolutely captivating. It's real fly-on-the-wall stuff. These characters at first seemed completely devoid of any redeeming qualities, at each other's throats constantly, but by the end, there is a certain empathetic sadness that makes the whole story rather heartbreaking.

When the film started, it almost seemed as if Elizabeth Taylor was a bit over the top, but once it becomes evident that she's a bitter, snarky alcoholic... well, how else could she play it? Richard Burton is perfectly understated, until he doesn't need to be any more. And George Segal is so far from Jack Gallo, it's uncanny. Rounding out the cast is the impressive Sandy Dennis (pictured) as the drunkest woman ever to appear on celluloid. All four were nominated for acting Oscars, but only the two ladies won. Poor old Richard Burton - seven nominations without a win. Topped (or should that be bottomed) only by Peter O'Toole with eight. But Pete's still alive, so you never know.

It's the script and the performances that really shine in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There are no fancy special effects or spectacular visual elements. Just good old-fashioned drama. Not to take anything away from director Mike Nichols, who obviously steered everybody in the right direction. The result is another great inspirational film. (You're all going to get sick of me calling every film inspirational, aren't you?)

So, two down, three to go, before the first verdict. 463 to go before the end...

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