And the Rewritten Oscar goes to…Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1967 might just be the year of the actor and actress. The 5 Best Actor nominees for this year happen to be the 5 leading men of the 5 Best Picture contenders. This year also saw the launch of several legendary careers. Alan Arkin scored his first major career role in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Michael Caine secured himself as a force to be reckoned with with his first Oscar nod, as did George Segal for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and John Hurt arrived on the scene with his first major role also. With Elizabeth Taylor winning her second Oscar for the role that her career has been defined by, if nothing else this year’s contenders deserve to be remembered for the performances which universally carried them shoulder high, with each role being emblematic of the film they enhanced.
Paul Scofield is perfect as the steadfast, straight faced but passionate hero in the equally straight faced A Man For All Seasons (for which he deservedly won Best Actor), Steve McQueen is in career form with his portrayal of the fearless but oftentimes challenging Holman, Arkin is deceptively heartwarming and completely benign as the out-of-his-depth Russian soldier, Michael Caine is far more charismatic then he has any right being in Alfie, but in the end it’s impossible to not be haunted by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the mercurial couple in their explosive drama.
In a field of strong contenders, it’s not as if the Academy has offended with their eventual choice for Best Picture, A Man For All Seasons, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is so unique, so unbelievably emotionally charged and so loaded with panache that it can’t possibly be overlooked for the honour. I’ve thought about this movie every day since I first saw it as part of this venture and it is one of those films which can’t help but persist in the mind, something that’s reflected in its endurance as an American classic 50 years on.
Russians is too humble in its ambitions, charmingly realised though they are, to have a significant staying power, The Sand Pebbles has a hell of a dramatic reach however its reach does ultimately exceed its grasp, Alfie tests the patience and even though the destination is beautifully tragic, test it does, and A Man For All Seasons is wonderful, but it’s just not Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and nothing is.
Perhaps its loud, relentless, totally unsubtle approach will make it abrasive to some, but one can never question the sheer power of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? so Academy, I present you with your second rewrite.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming- *** 1/2
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?- ****
A Man For All Seasons- *** 3/4
The Sand Pebbles- ***
(Ratings are out of 4)