Pompous phonetics professor Henry Higgins is so sure of his abilities that he takes it upon himself to transform a Cockney working-class girl into someone who can pass for a cultured member of high society. His subject turns out to be the lovely Eliza Doolittle, who agrees to speech lessons to improve her job prospects. Higgins and Eliza clash, then form an unlikely bond -- one that is threatened by an aristocratic suitor. Written by
When Higgins lounges across a chair while singing "An Ordinary Man", his right arm is draped over the back of the chair. The scene cuts to a close-up, and his arm is suddenly across his chest. See more »
[sounds from crowd, occasionally a word or phrase, indistinct and mostly not associated with a character]
Don't just stand there, Freddy, go and find a cab.
All right, I'll get it, I'll get it.
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In the posters, playbills and the original cast album for the stage version of "My Fair Lady", the credits always read "based on Bernard Shaw's 'Pygmalion' ", letting the audience know what play "My Fair Lady" was actually adapted from. The movie credits simply read "from a play by Bernard Shaw". See more »
Maybe it wasn't the right mood I was in, or maybe not seeing it in its intended MASSIVE theatrical presentation on 70mm *Super* Panavision (the kind that The Hateful Eight was shot in, to give an idea of the rarity of its stock), or maybe I wasn't in the mood for a shrill musical where the songs weren't to my liking, but this is one of those classics I just didn't get. I don't want to take this away from you if you love it or think you'd be in for this experience that is Alan Jay Lerner adapting George Bernard Shaw with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in two of their most identified roles (this isn't to say best or not best, just that when you think of them this has to pop up). And there are a couple of good things I can say about it, which I'll get to later on here.
But I wasn't having the first hour of this at the least, where Hepburn is Eliza Doolittle (no relation to the doctor later played by Harrison, unless that was some intentional coincidence I didn't get), and she is a flower girl (basically a girl of the street, except not a prostitute), and Hepburn plays it with an obnoxious accent. It could all be in the writing from Lerner and the collaborators, but I think Hepburn can be taken to task too. I think I read she thought she was miscast, and she was probably correct - this needed a stronger, younger woman in the role who could play younger AND older with conviction, and Hepburn can do the latter but not the former so much. When she sings she's fine, but with the exception of the flagship song, "I Could've Danced All Night," the songs are prattling, talking too much in song, just... ugh.
Rex Harrison is fun as Higgins - maybe he could've played this in his sleep, but he still is trying, and that's appreciated - but Higgins is also a character who is a fairly outspoken misogynist, and this dates the movie. I get how it seemed probably at the time, and I had a couple of chuckles at his blustering, but by near the end of the story he hasn't really changed that much as a character. Even if he sees Eliza differently, as not the flower girl but as a real "woman" who's main attribute is fighting back and standing her ground, will he see other women the same now? Is this change only about his attraction and desire for her (whether it's chaste or not), or is it all shallow, like a lot of this movie may seem to be? I know the song about 'Why can't a woman be more like a man" is meant to show how out of it he is, but it's not enough, at least for me (even if, again, Harrison tries to sell it his 'upper-crust' British best, seriously, he's the best thing about the movie).
Sure, the movie is pretty - Cukor and Warner didn't spare much expense with this (okay, maybe a little, but it's not a story that requires the fx of Mary Poppins or Sound of Music's epic scope - and that is something else I can give it, up to a point. But I think that concretely I just couldn't get into it as a musical. I didn't enjoy the song as much as I should've or thought I would, and while a couple are fairly catchy (the song the men sing in the street, "With a Bit of Luck", is tolerable), for many of the songs I felt myself biding my time until they were over. Comparatively to Poppins again, as both were from 1964, this doesn't fare or age as well as a musical either.
Again, if you like the songs then more than likely you'll dig the movie. If this review is for anyone it's people on the fence unsure whether a movie musical that was based on an earlier play (which I remember reading in school but vaguely and then got remade as She's All That, which... okay, My Fair Lady at least makes more *sense* than that does when it comes to transforming its female creature for a bet). Despite how a few scenes do have their moments - when Eliza does sort of 'break' from character that she's just cracked with some elite people at a horse race, that's amusing - it's bloated at 3 hours, and in its way kind of portends the more rancid musicals to come in the late 60's.
And, lastly, as a story of class distinctions, it's... okay. You know how it's going to end up, mostly, especially as this is deeper down a romantic comedy as much as a musical. But, except for one emotional scene between Eliza and Higgings after that big regal reception (and after a musical number where, wisely cinematography-wise, she's in the background of the room) that does hit its mark well as far as how far apart these people are, I just... well, I just didn't care so much. If it does, then fine! If not, I feel for you!
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