July 16, 2010
Review - " My Fair Lady (1964) " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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The film's origins go back to George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" (1912), which was subsequently adapted into a Broadway
musical by the incomparable team of Lerner and Lowe (Gigi, Camelot). The play debuted in 1956. It took seven years before
the Warner Brothers produced motion picture
adaptation, with George Cukor at the helm, began
filming. There was controversy even before the first
frame was committed to celluloid. While both Rex
Harrison and Stanley Holloway were brought on board
to re-create the roles they had essayed on the stage,
the part of Eliza Doolittle, played in the Broadway
production by a then little-known Julie Andrews, was
given to Audrey Hepburn. In a richly ironic twist,
Andrews won the Best Actress Award that year for
Mary Poppins, while Hepburn was snubbed by the
It could easily be argued that My Fair Lady is one of
the richest and most intelligent romantic comedies ever
produced. The dialogue, adapted by Lerner from
Shaw's material, is brilliant: a perfect amalgamation of
well-honed wit and barbed satire. The verbal jousting
between Eliza and Professor Henry Higgins (Harrison)
is a delight, as is that between the various other
characters. Perhaps the best exchange occurs when
Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Holloway) visits Higgins' house to determine his daughter's whereabouts. His real interest
isn't confirming her well-being; it's obtaining some money. At one point, Higgins' colleague, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde
his house, asking him to teach her how to speak properly and be a lady. Although at first reluctant, Higgins, intrigued by the
challenge of re-making a woman, agrees. "Eliza," he informs her, "You are to stay here for the next six months learning
to speak beautifully, like a lady in a florist's shop. At
the end of six months you will be taken to an embassy
ball in a carriage, beautifully dressed. If the king finds
out you are not a lady, you will be taken to the Tower
of London, where your head will be cut off as a warning
to other presumptuous flower girls! If you are not found
out, you shall be given a present of six and seven to
start life with in a lady's shop. If you refuse this offer,
you will be the most ungrateful, wicked girl, and the
angels will weep for you."
Higgins is ruthless in pushing Eliza. In addition to
cleaning her up, teaching her how to behave in society,
and instructing her about what to wear, he completely
re-shapes her language skills. By depriving her of
sleep and forcing her to repeat phrases like "The rain
in Spain falls mainly in the plain," he hopes to rid her of
her ghastly accent. "Think what you're trying to
accomplish," he tells her. "Think what you're dealing
with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it's the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever
flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds. And that's
performed by Bill Shirley.
Rarely has a movie been as well-cast as this one.
Rex Harrison was born to play Higgins, and he delivers
every line with the snap and zing of one who relishes
the chance to speak (and sing) such delicious dialogue.
Audrey Hepburn is luminous as Eliza, and makes a
convincing transition from guttersnipe to genteel lady.
It's unfortunate that Nixon's dubbing of Eliza's songs
nixed Hepburn's chances for a Best Actress nomination.
The supporting cast is equally wonderful, and features
such names as Holloway, Brett (during the '80s and
'90s, he would become known to television viewers as
the "definitive" Sherlock Holmes), British veteran
Wilfrid Hyde-White (whose career spanned six decades)
and a delightful Dame Gladys Cooper (Hitchcock's
Rebecca) as Higgins' mother - a woman with an even
more acerbic tongue than her offspring. (Her greeting
to him at Ascot: "Why Henry, what a disagreeable
Fair Lady is infectious and fun, a gorgeous affair. Harrison's pitch-perfect timing as Higgins (singing live only enhances his
performance) keeps things moving briskly: we both love and hate his bluster. Audrey Hepburn is, as always, the
and effort was invested. The behind-the-scenes crew included Academy Award winner Cecil Beaton as production designer
and costume designer, and 14 time Best Cinematographer Oscar nominee Harry Stradling Sr. as director of photography.
Both were recognized with gold statuettes for their work on this picture.
The climax of the film is the Embassy Ball where we find
out if Eliza passes the test, so to speak. Although if the
audience knew better they would have guessed from
the off-set that Eliza would pass and in fact become the
fairest lady of the ball.
Few genres of films are as magical as musicals, and
few musicals are as intelligent and lively as My Fair
Lady. It's a classic not because a group of stuffy film
experts have labeled it as such, but because it has
been, and always will be, a pure joy to experience. It's
also one of a very few 3-hour films that justifies the
seemingly long running time. Rarely have so many
minutes in a theater been passed this enjoyably.
Harrison’s reprisal of his role as Higgins and Hepburn’s
astounding performance as Eliza makes My Fair Lady
a truly entertaining and irresistible musical. It’s a story
about a young girls dream for change in direction not
wanting to end up like her father, still scraping to bring in the money. You may feel sorry for her and you may laugh at her, but
one thing is for sure, you will be singing along to all the classics whilst eating your bowl of pop-corn. So be prepared for an
undeniably funny and cockney film the whole family can enjoy.
In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire it sure is loverly to be the fairest lady of them all! The Bottom Line: My Fair Lady is a
genuine classic that needs to be rediscovered by a new generation. See this!
My Fair Lady
Directed by: George Cukor
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid
Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel, Mona
Consider this possibility: a romantic comedy with no nudity, no sex,
and no kissing. In fact, there aren't even any declarations of love –
well not many anyway. The closest the female character comes to
admitting her feelings is saying that she could have danced all night
with the man; the closest he gets is remarking that he's grown
accustomed to her face. Could such a project lift off the pad in
today's climate? Almost certainly not - no studio would greenlight
the film without assurances that elements would be added to spice
things up. So it's fortunate that circumstances and expectations
were different in 1964, when My Fair Lady reached the screen.
More than three decades later, the movie, which won the Best
Picture Oscar, remains a musical favorite.
Top hats, heavy downpour, rich gentlemen’s and the cockney
accents, there is no doubt about where the film is set; welcome to
London! At an instance we are introduced to a class divided city.
On one side we have the rich know-it-alls such as Henry Higgins
and on the other the poor cockneys such as Eliza Doolittle. This is a
story about a common cockney girl who decides to transform
herself into a beautiful and glamorous lady; however that is easier
said than it’s done!
what you've set yourself out to conquer Eliza. And
conquer it you will."
Not only does My Fair Lady feature an involving
story with compelling characters, but there's not a
dud to be found on the roster of more than a dozen
songs, the best-known of which, "I Could Have
Danced All Night," is familiar to almost everyone
(even those who haven't seen the movie). Holloway
and Harrison do their own singing. (Harrison, who
insisted on performing his numbers live, wore a
portable microphone in his tie.) Despite her best
efforts, Hepburn lacked the necessary vocal range,
so Marni Nixon was brought in to dub her songs.
Hepburn's singing voice can still be heard during
the parts of "Just You Wait" that are as much
spoken as sung. Also dubbed was Jeremy Brett, who
plays Eliza's suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Freddy's
one song, "On the Street Where You Live," was
personification of glamour. But the real delight is the
supporting cast, particularly Stanley Holloway as
Eliza's scene-stealing father, Alfie Doolittle. The
class contrast between his opportunism and Higgins'
paternalism helps us get a sense of exactly what
sort of situation Eliza has gotten herself caught in.
All the class and identity politics of the film are
wrapped up in the detailed set designs and the lush
costuming. Director George Cukor always had a
reputation for his hand with actors, but he was also
always conscious of the look of his films. My Fair
Lady may be bound by soundstages, but the sets
themselves gain a depth by virtue of their opulent
It's impossible to discuss My Fair Lady without
mentioning the film's unique and unmistakable look.
From the sumptuous costumes to the gorgeous set
designs, this is a movie into which a world of care
White), shocked by Doolittle's callous attitude,
inquires, "Have you no morals, man?" To which
Doolittle calmly replies, "Nah. Can't afford none.
Neither could you, if you were as poor as me."
“She's so Deliciously Low. So Horribly Dirty”
The basic storyline concerns Eliza, a poor Cockney
from Covent Garden who is transformed into a lady
under the tutelage of Higgins. When he first
encounters her, an unwashed girl with a grating
voice selling flowers, he forms an opinion: "A woman
who utters such disgusting and depressing noises
has... no right to live. Remember that you're a human
being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate
speech. Don't sit there crooning like a bilious
pigeon." He also calls her, among other things, a
"squashed cabbage leaf" and an "incarnate insult to
the English language." His conviction has not
changed when, the next morning, she shows up at