MY FAIR LADY (1964) 

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Audrey Hepburn
Rex Harrison
Stanley Holloway
Wilfrid Hyde-White
Gladys Cooper
Jeremy Brett
Theodore Bikel
Mona Washbourne

George Cukor




About Hepurn

Time: 170 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Musical/Romance/Drama

Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Harrison), Art Direction, Costume Design, Cinematography, Director, Original Score, Sound and Best Picture. Was nominated in 4 other categories.

Being a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, I was sure that I would love this movie. Even though musicals can be enormously silly, I still love the genre, especially when Gerschwin is involved. That being said, I am stunned by my feelings about this movie. It has catchy tunes, wonderful actors and fabulous costumes, and yet, I can't say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I knew the basic plot – arrogant phonetics professor turns low-class flower girl into a lady – but I just wasn't prepared for the total misogyny of the lead character, which is not the Lady by the way. I was also under the impression that this was a love story, but after watching it I can't say how happy I am that it is not. At least in the traditional sense. I have never seen two people less suited to end up together at the end of a picture than Eliza Dolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. How she could stand to be in the same room with him after the way he's treated her is beyond me. I know it's supposed to be lighthearted and humorous, but I was more offended than I thought I'd be.

The film opens with Eliza Dolittle (Hepburn), a common flower seller, peddling her wares outside a theater to the exiting rich patrons. She becomes highly upset when she learns that a gentlemen is taking down every word she says. It turns out the he's Henry Higgins, a phonetics professor, who was just studying her speech, not turning her over to the law. He's disgusted by the way she talks and jests that with the proper training he could change her into a proper speaking lady. Everyone laughs, especially Colonel Pickering (Hyde-White), another language man who was looking to meet Higgins. Their abrupt departure leaves Eliza alone with her dreams of upper class life. The next afternoon they find her on their doorstep, willing student with money to pay for lessons. Eliza's innocent pretensions of bettering her lot in life, quickly turn into an experiment in social intrigue. Higgins bets Pickering that he's so good at his profession that in six months he could pass this common girl off as a blue-blooded lady at the Embassy Ball. To make sure the transformation is a success, they ensconce her in an upstairs bedroom, buy her new clothes and schedule lessons into every waking hour of the day.

Eliza doesn't know what to think of the matter. She just wanted simple lessons and quickly finds herself a prisoner to learning. Higgins treats her like a pet, withholding sleep and nourishment to inspire her and giving her treats when she does well. Her thoughts and feelings mean nothing to him. With his eye on the prize, he works everyone to death. Eliza will be his greatest accomplishment yet...even if it kills him. After months of work, they finally have a breakthrough. To celebrate and test her out, the threesome attends the races at Ascot, a high point of the London season. Her first outing is not quite the success they hoped. Eliza looks and sounds like a lady, but her conversation and manners leave much to be desired. Though her beauty and innate charm are enough to gain her a young male admirer. The night of the ball is soon upon them. Pickering is extremely nervous. He's grown extremely fond of Eliza, but this stunt could get them thrown out of high society. Her descent down the staircase quells all fears. She looks stunning and is aware of the import the night brings. Her charm and beauty are the talk of the ball. The exercise is an unqualified success. She not only got to dance with royalty, they thought she was royalty.

"The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated."

However, once the night is over, Eliza is gripped by uncertainty upon returning home. The men congratulate themselves on a job well done, not once thanking Eliza for all her hard work. In fact, they barely acknowledge her presence. It's all well and good that they made her a "lady", but where is she to live, what job is she fit for? Before all this started, she had a place in the world, now she has nothing and no one cares what happens to her, especially the professor. Higgins finds this talk ungrateful and unbecoming. How could she treat him so cruelly after all he's done for her? This final hour (yes, a whole hour) deals with this subject. Eliza runs away, feeling unwanted, but soon discovers that you can never go home again. Her admirer wants to take care of her, but she doesn't love him and won't marry just to be safe. It takes her disappearance for Higgins to realize how much she's come to mean to him. They try to pass it off as if he's finally come to see her as an individual with ideas and feelings, but to me it read more like a man who misses his favorite pet. If he had really taught her well, she would have told him to stick his offer of a permanent place on his staff where the sun doesn't shine. Of course, she doesn't really have anywhere to go. Personally, I would have married the monied young man. Anything to be away from that miserable, woman-hating face.

I have to say that I was seriously disappointed to be staring at Harrison more than Hepburn. This is a 3-hour film, which could have lost a full hour in my opinion. Two many musical numbers by people who didn't really matter. I especially didn't care for the two songs by Higgins about the misfortunes of allowing women in your life. These are supposed to be funny, but I was not amused. Besides, any man who can resist the charms of Hepburn really isn't looking for a female life partner. I'm not sure what these tunes where supposed to imply, but it just made me believe the professor was a little light in the loafers. Maybe that's why they didn't get together in the end. It could be they meant him to be homosexual and these songs were the only way to get the idea across due to moral restrictions at the time. If he wasn't supposed to be gay, he's the meanest, most insensitive male character I have ever come across in a musical. That played the lead anyway. Clearly Harrison's performance didn't set my world on fire. For the lead in a musical, he can't really sing either. What's up with that? They let him talk/sing all his numbers, but overdub Hepburn's voice. Where's the fairness in that?

What's worse is how much screen time there is without Hepburn. She's the only one who brings life to this picture, for good or ill. The first hour is a bit trying with her screeching and howling most of the time. I understand she needed to be obnoxious for the transformation to be believable, but come on. This is not her first film. We know how beautiful and lovely she is, so you never quite buy the guttersnipe routine. It's also pretty clear, in certain scenes, that the wonderful voice coming out of her mouth isn't hers. It's quite distracting and takes away from the magic of the moment. She just never seems comfortable in this role. At least to me. Surprisingly, Harrison and Hepburn do have a certain chemistry, usually when they're screaming at each other. I can't fault their acting, just the story. Hyde-White and Gladys Cooper bring some lovely comic moments to the affair. Without them, this would have been even more tiresome. The sets and costumes keep your eyes busy with delight, even if the events unfolding aren't what you hoped they'd be. The Ascot sequence is a breathtaking display of exquisite art direction and costume design. Audrey is practically swallowed whole by the hat she wears, but it's certainly an unforgettable screen moment.

I know, I know. How can I be so harsh on a revered cinema classic? Disappointment is disappointment regardless of who's on the screen. Though it's not on my favorite musical list, it's still a picture everyone should see at least once. Films aren't made like this anymore. Every penny is visible on the screen from the choreography to the sets to the music. This is a first-rate effort that was clearly an impressive undertaking. It's not my favorite story, but I guarantee you'll never forget the experience. It's not as exciting, fun or heartwarming as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but it has enough energy, production value and humor to at least warrant a look. However, don't do yourself a disservice. Watch only the letter-boxed version. Otherwise you'll be literally missing half the picture.

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