It's two in the morning in New England. Burton is a defeated history professor married to Taylor, a harridan whose father is the president of the college where Burton lectures. After two decades their union is alternately loving and vicious. Taylor likes to compare her weakling husband with her
strong father (who is never seen) because she knows it rankles Burton. They have invented a son and talk about him as though he actually exists. Earlier that night, they attended a faculty party where they met Segal and Dennis, a self-proclaimed ladies' man and a sniveling mouse of a woman. The
older couple have invited the younger to their comfortable home for a nightcap. Enter Segal and Dennis. She is already tipsy but has more to drink, which makes her worse. Taylor, behaving boorishly, makes advances at Segal which Burton does nothing to stop. Dennis begins to feel sick and Segal
gets increasingly drunk. Segal confides to Burton that Dennis trapped him into marriage by pretending to be pregnant. As the late evening drags into early morning, Taylor takes Segal up to her bedroom. Burton stands in the yard below and watches their shadows in the window. Later, Segal mentions
Burton's and Taylor's "son," and Burton explodes, vowing to destroy Taylor, who matches his threat.
Producer Lehman's screenplay left most of Albee's play intact, which shocked movie audiences not accustomed to hearing four-letter words cannonading off the screen. At first, the Production Code seal was denied to the movie, but Jack Warner used his personal clout and secured the seal. The play
was bought by Warners for half a million dollars; an additional million each went to the Burtons--out of a total budget of $5 million. The movie grossed large numbers at the box office, nearly $15 million the first time around, due, in part, to the draw of the stars.
Dennis in her second role after a small part in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS was absolutely right in a part that became the definitive Dennis role. The same cannot be said for Segal, who lacks the bulk and WASP look for Nick--where was Robert Redford when Nichols needed him?. Burton and Taylor both took
British Oscars for their work. Hiring Nichols (comedy partner of Elaine May) in his directorial debut was a risk because the former nightclub comic had done only lighter work. But the script is fueled by acid, sarcastic dialogue which his direction paces flawlessly, his sense of comic timing
serving him well. The film was rehearsed like a play for three weeks before a camera ever turned. This also marked Lehman's debut as a producer. Strong stuff, intensely watchable, but definitely not for children. leave a comment
The Liz and Dick Show. A vitriol Valentine to that most public of famous marriages, The Battling Burtons, in their finest work (together).