Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

After watching a few burps (The Sandpiper, The VIPs, Dr. Faustus), Richard Burton’s acting was never finer than in Albert Albee‘s vicious play set to the screen. It was Mike Nichol‘s directorial debut. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) received 13 Academy nominations. Although Richard Burton lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons, Elizabeth Taylor won her second Best Actress award (BUtterfield 8 was her first)  and Sandy Dennis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Other winners included Haskell Wexler‘s cinematography, Irene Sharaff’s costumes, and Richard Sylbert and George James Hopkins‘ art direction. Richard Burton did receive the British Academy Award for his performance of George, the emasculated history professor who rises to the surface to sting his brass and bawdy wife, Martha.

From the sing-song chant of the title, one understands this is a play about games. An all-night party turns carnal as the young academic couple, Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) fall prey to the daughter of the college president, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband George (Richard Burton). The hosts have a lustful appetite for ripping and shredding the mental and emotional selves of their guests and themselves.

The young couple could very well be the future George and Martha. They watch with morbid curiosity. Illusions mask reality. Invention and the dubbing force of alcohol is the playground where George and Martha escape from their trapped lives. George’s dreams of creative authorship are denied by “Daddy”, the president of the college. Martha’s dream of livin’ la vida loca outside the boundaries of the conservative college and her boring husband is denied. Unable to conceive, she punishes herself and her countenance is as sour as her soul. So used to playing corrosive games to spice up their lives, they become dependent upon them and disintegrate.

When George speaks Latin like a priest presiding over the death of their invented son, Martha wails. Under the harsh light of dawn and stripped of their games, will Martha and George survive? The audience is left to speculate without much hope that they will.  “Martha and George,” she chants earlier in the play. “Sad, sad, sad.” Burton and Taylor are a tour de force. It’s exhausting. 4.5/5. 

This is one of my favorite scenes. Burton shows the complexity of frustration and rage.

Winter Project: Richard Burton, Spy

richard burton

My choice for this winter’s project to educate myself on the films and story behind an actor whose filmography I know little about is Richard Burton. I am reading Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s novel Furious Love and watching a lot of Richard Burton films based on recommendations from my great blogging buddies.

I chose to group them by genre than by chronological order. Here’s the first pair to talk about.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack

Won the BAFTA for Best British Film

Synopsis:

At the height of the Cold War, British spy Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is nearly ready to retire, but first, he has to take on one last dangerous assignment. Going deep undercover, he poses as a drunken, disgraced former MI5 agent in East Germany to gain information about colleagues who have been captured. When he is thrown in jail and interrogated, Leamas finds himself caught in a sinister labyrinth of plots and counter-plots unlike anything in his long career.

Image result for the spy who came in from the cold images of burton

The picture starts slowly but gains rapid momentum after the love interest and job assignment is established. When Leamas decides to infiltrate behind enemy lines to retrieve information, the movie became interesting. What did I like best about the film? The plot twists, the trial, the overall setting, and cinematography. I predicted Claire Bloom‘s character Nan Perry would show up at the fortress. When Nan entered the trial room, I felt her bewilderment.  The subtle emotion from Leamas as he realizes her life is in his hands was moving. It’s the ending that got to me. I was surprised at how sad and right his final decision was.  It was the perfect way to end the movie. 4/5

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Directed by Brian G. Hutton

Screenplay by Alistair MacLean

Starring Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure 

Synopsis:

A crack team of Allied soldiers stages a daring rescue during World War II. A U.S. general is being held captive in an imposing castle fort, high in the Bavarian Alps. The plan calls for Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), Maj. Smith (Richard Burton) and other operatives to parachute down wearing Nazi disguises. They’ll penetrate the mountain outpost while undercover operatives aid them from within. But their mission changes when they discover that there’s a traitor in their midst.

There’s a lot to like and laugh about with this film. The best part is the commendable cinematography set in the winter landscape in Bavaria. I enjoyed Eastwood and Burton marching around the snow and the filming location in Werfen, Austria was breathtaking. I thought it unlikely that their secret plan was to invade Hohenwerfen Castle, and their special ops team march right into the hornet’s nest as the only soldiers in the entire town wearing white parkas. Can’t say I approved of the decision for all actors to speak English, as well as the other German officers, but then the low ranking soldiers speak German when they were on their smoke breaks and talking among themselves seemed like a mistake to me.

Burton and Eastwood steal a ride on top of a cable car as it ascends the castle. That was clever. No one notices them. This happens throughout the film. I thought Burton was miscast in the film. He looked dazed and puffy standing next to Clint Eastwood. Clint looked out of place with his angry stare. Burton lacked chemistry with his sex kitten partner in crime, Mary (Mary Ure) who lay down every time he barked at her to spread her legs. She had an interesting spot in the film as a female special forces soldier. She parachutes down from the plane. She shoots the gun and saves the dynamic duo with a rope strategically place for them to climb up a vertical wall. But her character lacked any personality. Too bad.

The escape scene was impractical and staged. There’s enough dynamite to blow up the Alps, so for those who like action and machine gun fights, there’s a lot here to like. I enjoyed the plot twist in the great chamber when Burton’s character changes it up and confuses the Gestapo and the German officers before Clint blows them away.  The film has a long running time of almost two and a half hours. I think director Hutton should have cut out a few scenes to keep it the narrative tighter. Despite the holes, I enjoyed the action overall. 3.5/5.

L13FC: 1960s British & U.S. Significant Films

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. I heartily give thanks to Pete from Norfolk, England who agreed to co-host this month. After a discussion about significant films, not necessarily Oscar winners or box-draw favorites, we hashed out the details and chose three favorites from each side of the pond. What do our choices show about society at the time? Please comment and feel free to turn this into a discussion board. What films would you add? 

PETE FROM BEETLEY asserts: 

The 1960s were an important time in the development of British Cinema. From the home-made epics to the emergence of the kitchen-sink’ dramas reflecting real life.  The ‘comfortable’ class-ridden films that had gone before began to fade away, as film-makers sought to portray life as it could be understood by the people who paid for tickets. With most of the poverty behind them, and the absence of the rigours of war and rationing, cinema-goers began to expect more, and they got it.

In the era of ‘Swinging London’ and the culture of pop music and fashion that defined it, I became a teenager and a film fan, at one of the best times in history to have been both.

I recall three films that, showcased what was going on. Changing attitudes to class, approaching the horror film in a very different way, and a fresh approach to the espionage genre.

Peeping Tom (1960)

In the same year that ‘Psycho’ was released, the esteemed British film-maker Michael Powell released this film about a disturbed serial killer. Set in London’s seedy glamour and soft-porn industry, it followed a troubled young man unable to control his impulse to not only kill, but to film those kills as they happened. The audience followed the camera into the terrors of the victims and then watched as he not only reviewed his crimes but also played old reels about his own abuse as a youngster. It proved too much for the time. Critics and censors were appalled, and the audiences were shocked beyond belief. Powell’s career was ruined by the uproar, and the film took many years to gain a cult following of those who appreciated just how radical and powerful it was.

 

The Servant (1963)

Joseph Losey made many films with the leading man, Dirk Bogarde. In this film, he is cast against type, as a nasty, manipulative manservant, keen to take advantage of his aristocratic and superior young employer, played to perfection by a young James Fox. To achieve his goal, he introduces an attractive young woman into the house, to act as a maid. He claims she is his sister, allowing his young master to believe he can take advantage of her. Once hooked on sex with the girl, (a suitably alluring Sarah Miles) the upper-class man has his life slowly dismantled by the scheming pair, as they destroy his relationships, and make him increasingly dependent on them both. With wonderful location filming in London, tight direction by Losey, and a powerful script, this film reflected changes in class attitudes driven by 1960s society. Foretelling the end of so much privilege by circumstance.

The Ipcress File (1965)

The first of the ‘Harry Palmer’ spy films saw Michael Caine emerge as a new kind of secret agent. Not an upper-class university educated gentlemen, or aristocratic fop, and not resident in the glamorous fake world of James Bond. This was the everyday slog of spies in the Cold War. They still have to overcome class prejudice from their superiors, but they are playing a new kind of game, one where winning is the only acceptable outcome. Ex-military, unimpressed, and wearily flirtatious, Harry was the perfect role for Caine, who ran with it to the sequels too. Although the film builds to a climax, it excels in the small details of Harry’s everyday life, and his interaction with his colleagues. When we went to watch this film, it was undeniable that things were changing in Britain, and we now had a new kind of hero.

CINDY’S CHOICES

Only three? Should I choose one from the start of the decade like Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick for an undeniable well-crafted epic? What about the film that gave the voice to the counterculture in 1969, Easy Rider? Which film reflected the terror and paranoia of the Cold War best? Dr. Strangeglove? Should I choose a film that typifies vibrant NYC and its spokesperson, the endearing Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I adore West Side Story. It is probably my favorite film of all time. I chose not to mention it here today. God that was hard!

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

The 1960s was about finding one’s inner strength. It was about non-conformity. Paul Newman as Luke Jackson does this best and becomes a martyr in the eyes of his Florida inmates. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, what a cast and outstanding performances by Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon, and Jo Van Fleet. Just look at that trailer to remind you. The film is art.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In answer to my question about the Cold War, The Manchurian Candidate hit a nerve. It raised fears that top-secret missions existed and fanned the flames of fear and paranoia. Angela Lansbury as Eleanor Shaw was frightening while Frank Sinatra gave one of the best performances of his career.

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock pushed the envelope with his most famous film. He filmed Janet Leigh in her bra and slip. The central character was female; she had a steamy affair and embezzled from the bank. The toilet flushed for the first time in film. A trifecta of taboos inferred: transvestitism, incest, and necrophilia. Who can forget Bernard Herrmann’s score with violins that pierce the air like a knife? Or Hitchcock’s filming of angles, the play with light and dark, and the awesome editing montage during the shower scene? The exterior and interior shots of the house? Those top shots of the stairs? Doesn’t everyone cringe at one of the best final shots in film history–the stare of Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins? Well done, Janet Leigh, for starring in two out of three of significant films from the 1960s.

Your turn!

Thank you, Pete! Don’t forget to visit Pete’s blog soon. You can find him in Beetley HERE.

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