My Fair Lady (1964)


(director: George Cukor; screenwriter: Alan Jay Lerner/based on the musical play by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: William Ziegler; music: Frederick Loewe/Andre Previn; cast: Audrey Hepburn (Eliza Doolittle), Rex Harrison (Prof. Henry Higgins), Stanley Holloway (Alfred P. Doolittle), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Col. Hugh Pickering), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Higgins), Jeremy Brett (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Theodore Bikel (Zoltan Karparthy), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Eynsford-Hill), Mona Washbourne (Mrs. Pearce), Barbara Pepper (Doolittle’s Dance Partner), Moyna MacGill (Lady Boxington), Betty Blythe (Ad Lib at Ball), Alan Napier (Ambassador), Henry Daniell (Prince Gregor of Transylvania); Runtime: 170; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Jack L. Warner; Warner Bros. Pictures; 1964)

“One of Hollywood’s best musicals.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran women’s director George Cukor (“The Philadelphia Story”/Holiday”/”Let’s Make Love”) directs this elegant, big-budget musical (at $17 million), one of Hollywood’s best musicals, which did a record box office (earned $72 million on its initial release) and won eight Oscars (including best picture). Cukor’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion, using the wonderful music by Lerner and Loewe, had played successfully on Broadway for six seasons from 1956 to 1962 (at the time the longest-running Broadway musical). Choosing not to hide its stage origins, the film was shot entirely in the Hollywood studio on elaborate sets. Its only miscalculation was to replace Julie Andrews who starred with Rex Harrison on Broadway with non-singer Audrey Hepburn (because of her box-office clout), who seemed awkward at times when asked to sing though her acting never suffered as it always remained enchanting (most of her singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon, but she did sing the less operatic song “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”). As a result of not getting the part, Ms. Andrews played the lead in Mary Poppins and ironically won the Best Actress Oscar that year.

It’s set in Victorian times. Rex Harrison plays the misogynistic, pompous and snobbish linguist professor Henry Higgins, who says that the way one speaks reveals their true nature. He boasts he can teach any ignorant street person to speak like royalty. A fellow linguist and new found friend, Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), calls his bluff and wagers that he can’t do what he says in six months and make her presentable in high society. To prove his point Higgins chooses as his subject the cockney-accented flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), he finds outside of London’s Covent Garden. When Higgins takes Eliza into his home, to live with him and the visiting Pickering, during the training period, her estranged and drunken father (Stanley Holloway) gets the wrong idea and “sells” his daughter to Higgins to get some dough for his daughter’s services. Gladys Cooper plays Higgins’ disapproving mother. Ignoring that Eliza is a real person, the confirmed bachelor Professor by the end realizes that he has fallen in love with his creation and the two unite.

The film turns on the bullying Professor Higgins getting Eliza to become a lady, and the two leads keep us captivated in the story by their involving relationship that comes without even a kiss. Armed with a great script, performances, dialogue, music and wit, the film did justice to the Broadway play it was in awe of. It has some great memorable Broadway show tunes that include “Why Can’t the English?” (Higgins), “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” (Eliza and chorus), “I’m an Ordinary Man” (Higgins), “With a Little Bit of Luck” (Alfred Doolittle, Harry, Jamie), “Just You Wait” (Eliza), “The Servant’s Chorus” (servants), “The Rain in Spain” (Eliza, Higgins, Pickering), “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Eliza and maids), “Ascot Gavotte” (chorus), “On the Street Where You Live” (Freddie), “The Embassy Waltz” (instrumental), “You Did It” (Pickering, Higgins, servants), “Show Me” (Eliza), “The Flower Market” (instrumental), “Get Me to the Church on Time” (Doolittle, chorus), “A Hymn to Him” (Higgins), “Without You” (Eliza), “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (Higgins). The sets and costumes were magnificently created by Cecil Beaton, a holdover from the stage version. Art director Gene Allen painted and re-painted the sets to create the right look that some of the buildings were ancient. Hermes Pan’s choreography is sumptuous. If you ever wanted to take in a Broadway musical, you can’t go wrong with this stylish and well-crafted lively film.