best film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a crucial film and role for Elizabeth Taylor. Young prodigy Mike Nichols came along to work with established stars and power couple Taylor and Richard Burton at just the right time. The film is brilliant, but his category is a weak spot for Taylor’s case on this list. Nichols’ film (and this is his second or third best film right there with Carnal Knowledge after The Graduate is the clear number one) does not quite compare with some of the heavyweight best films other female actors have on their resume. Still, this is a fantastic film. This four actor chamber piece (George Segal and Sandy Dennis joining Burton and Taylor) and could feel incredibly stagebound if it were not for Nichols’ adventurous direction. In front of the camera, Burton and Taylor absolutely shine- total powerhouse performances- both actors are transcendent.
best performance: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is Taylor’s best performance and film by a decent margin. She is a tour de force. Taylor plays older (she is only thirty-four years old here) and put on weight for the role. Her Martha owns the screen and film. She is loud, forceful and mercilessly cruel throughout much of the film.
stylistic innovations/traits: Taylor has one big swinging performance and solid depth with fifteen (15) archiveable films. She started as a talented child actor at the age eleven (11) at the time of Lassie Come Home in 1943 and was basically done (at least making quality films) with acting at the age of thirty-five (35) with Taming of the Shrew in 1967. In 1950 with Father of the Bride and A Place in the Sun Taylor grew up and was widely considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world (or at least in Hollywood) and she continued to challenge herself. Taylor won two Oscars (BUtterfield 8 and then later Virginia Woolf). She would play dominant women (Cleopatra, Martha from Virginia Woolf) and certainly one with a quick tongue and edge (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Taylor also squared off with some of the absolute best of all-time from Montgomery Clift (A Place in the Sun) to James Dean (Giant) to Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and even Katharine Hepburn (Suddenly, Last Summer) and probably goes two for four winning here- which is a compliment to Taylor in that company.
directors worked with: George Stevens (2) and this was an important partnership as two of Taylor’s best four films and performances (A Place in the Sun, Giant) are with Stevens. She also worked with Joseph Mankiewicz (2), Mike Nichols, Michael Curtiz, Vincent Minnelli and Mervyn LeRoy.
top five performances:
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- A Place in the Sun
- Suddenly, Last Summer
|1943- Jane Eyre|
|1943- Lassie Come Home|
|1944- National Velvet|
|1947- Life with Father|
|1949- Little Women|
|1950- Father of the Bride|
|1951- A Place in the Sun|
|1958- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof|
|1959- Suddenly, Last Summer|
|1960- BUtterfield 8|
|1966- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
|1967- Taming of the Shrew|
Since now we’re back on the Archives, after some hiatus, I wish us as wonderful a fall as possible in 2022. And I would like to pose a question – “two for four winning here.” I sort of agree. Taylor seemed to be quite up to the challenge, in cases most people would have difficulties believing she would make it. She always had this edge to her, something forlorn, esoteric even (that’s what worked so well with Tennessee Williams). So, when she wins two for four, which two would you say she wins?
@Georg- Always good to hear from you. There are no real losers in this one- but if forced to choose, I’d say Taylor comes out ahead vs. Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and ahead vs. Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer. I’d give the slight edge to both Dean and Clift over Taylor in Giant and A Place in the Sun. No shame to any actor in any of these four scenarios.
@Drake – I totally agree, though I don’t discuss this on a win or lose sort of basis either. In most of those cases (particularly Suddenly, Last Summer) it’s too much a matter of taste in order for anyone to tell. It’s funny in that film, because you will either gravitate towards Taylor and find Hepburn a bit too even keeled (as much as Hepburn could be), or you’ll gravitate towards Hepburn and find Taylor a bit over the top. I can see both of those readings tbh, but if both performances work then it’s a successful adaptation.
Drake, love the work, keep it up. I see you’re working thru best actresses right now, but any chance we get a review page for Andrew Dominik’s Blonde this week? The movie comes out tomorrow on Netflix.
Drake has said he doesn’t have any plans to do individual pages going forward (time constraint reasons I believe). It’s unfortunate but we all live lives beyond this site and we should definitely be satisfied with all the other works (like this actress ranking) he’s publishing on the blog
I believe he’ll put out a 2022 Page in February 2023 where he will probably talk about Blonde in some detail. I’m also super excited to watch it, it comes out in 4 and a half hours I believe
@Haider- Thank you for the kind words. Very excited to see Blonde still despite the reviews (I see David O. Russell’s Amsterdam is struggling with critics too- sad). I plan to see it tomorrow. As @Matthew says, I do not have any current plans to do individual film pages/reviews again any time soon. Maybe that’ll change at some point.