While My Fair Lady may not exactly be a tale as old as time, it is an ageless experience that pulls you in. Though you may not love it, you’ll be drawn by its intricate details, both visual and auditory. Director George Cukor’s film just give us a fun musical, he provides the genre with a unique blend of intelligence, warmth and elegance.
- Director: George Cukor
- Writer: George Bernard Shaw, Alan Jay Lerner
- Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jeremy Brett, Gladys Cooper
Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) is a distinguished phonetics professor and a bachelor. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is a street vending flower girl. They meet on the streets one day, and Eliza is struck by Henry’s refined speech, subsequently seeking out the Professor’s skills as a tutor. Higgins is reluctant at first, but is drawn into a bet involving his ability to turn her into presentable lady.
My Fair Lady perfectly reflects director George Cukor’s early career as a dialogue director on Broadway. It is a film decorated not only by elaborate costumes and charming set design, but also by the clever language that characterizes its dialogue and song lyrics. And to capture it all, Cukor employs the innovative use of wide angle lenses during some interiors and Super Panavision 70 during many of the exteriors, especially during musical numbers. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, My Fair Lady is gorgeous film to witness, especially if given to chance to view a print on the big screen. To match Harry Stradling’s photography we get Audrey Hepburn, and Cukor directs her acting and appearance to great effect, providing all the details for a convincing transformation.
It is not surprising to learn about the long list of awards earned by this film. It features great sets, impeccable staging, beautiful singing, and intelligent dialogue. Everything in the film is as intricately designed as the ideas it explores. As a musical, My Fair Lady isn’t big on dance numbers, but the songs are a superb collection of fun and romantic fare. There had been an effort to record Hepburn at one point, but Marni Nixon was brought in to dub her voice. Nixon had previously dubbed the voices of Deborah Kerr and Natalie Wood on The King and I and West Side Story, respectively. Among the best songs are I Could Have Danced All Night, The Rain in Spain and On the Street Where You Live, all of which contribute to some of the most touching moments in the film. Unlike what you might expect, most of the songs are not even so much about pining for love. Instead, they either shares a viewpoint or convey a state of happiness.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
I am in agreement that My Fair Lady is one of the most joyous musicals ever written, which is especially interesting considering what Ebert points out, “no one ever gets kissed”, “the most the leading man can concede about the heroine is that he has grown accustomed to her face”, and “Eliza’s father and the man she loves consider marriage to be an abomination which they have been fortunate to escape.” Having seen a film print on a big screen recently, Ebert’s review confirms the value of such an experience. As Ebert reminds us, “if you can get anywhere near a theatrical presentation, try to see it. Not only don’t they make movies like this anymore – they can’t. The movie industry is no longer interested in musicals about adults, let alone adults with ideas.” In praising this technical achievement, I could have written all night. But as a particular ode to this film, the last paragraph of Ebert’s review says it all.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like My Fair Lady? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Last Year at Marienbad
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on George Cukor’s My Fair Lady this week, he now has 315 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.