81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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My Fair Lady

September 25th, 2009 · No Comments · 1964, Adaptation, Alan Jay Lerner, Audrey Hepburn, Color, Composer: André Previn, George Bernard Shaw, George Cukor, Marni Nixon, Musical, My Fair Lady, Panavision (Widescreen), Rex Harrison, Swearing, Warner Bros. Pictures

My Fair Lady Now this is a musical I can enjoy. The songs are memorable. The characters are rich. The story is delightful. The actors are magical. The costumes are vibrant.

My Fair Lady is one of two musicals I hold near and dear to my heart, the other being Singin’ In the Rain, my favorite musical of all time. I measure all musicals by these two – and find them all wanting.

The plot summary from IMDB:

Gloriously witty adaptation of the Broadway musical about Professor Henry Higgins, who takes a bet from Colonel Pickering that he can transform unrefined, dirty Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a lady, and fool everyone into thinking she really is one, too! He does, and thus young aristocrat Freddy Eynsford-Hill falls madly in love with her. But when Higgins takes all the credit and forgets to acknowledge her efforts, Eliza angrily leaves him for Freddy, and suddenly Higgins realizes he’s grown accustomed to her face and can’t really live without it. (Written by Tommy Peter.)

My Fair Lady was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won eight: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Rex Harrison), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Color, Best Director (George Cukor, 1899-1983), Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment (Andre Previn), Best Picture (Jack L. Warner), and Best Sound.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)…………………………..Eliza Doolittle
Rex Harrison (1908-1990)……………………………….Professor Henry Higgins
Stanley Holloway (1890-1982)………………………….Alfred P. Doolittle
Wilfrid Hyde-White (1903-1991)……………………….Colonel Hugh Pickering
Gladys Cooper (1888-1971)……………………………..Mrs. Higgins
Jeremy Brett (1933-1995)…………………………………Freddy Eynsford-Hill
Theodore Bikel (1924- )…………………………………..Zoltan Karpathy
Mona Washbourne (1903-1988)……………………….Mrs. Pearce
Isobel Elsom (1893-1981)……………………………….Mrs. Eynsford-Hill
John Holland (1908-1993)……………………………….Butler

I enjoy Rex Harrison’s “talk-singing” throughout the film. He’s such an entertaining chap that I don’t mind he’s not really singing in a musical. Speaking of not really singing, the great Marni Nixon dubbed Audrey Hepburn’s singing in the movie. One can always tell Ms. Nixon’s voice. Her tone and timbre are unmistakable. However, I’m not sure why Ms. Nixon was necessary for this movie. The behind-the-scenes features offer two musical numbers (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “Show Me”) sung by Audrey Hepburn. The first is quite good. Not much different from Ms. Nixon’s, to be honest. Perhaps not quite as polished. But real. The second isn’t as good. But I’ve heard worse. If I were an actor and my voice was dubbed even though I could sing the song myself I’d be pissed.

The year (1964) My Fair Lady was released was a big year for music. The Beatles appeared (on three consecutive Sundays in February) on The Ed Sullivan Show and released two albums: A Hard Day’s Night (July) and Beatles for Sale (December). Pop culture would never be the same. Nor would musicals.

Sixty Years of HollywoodAccording to Sixty Years of Hollywood by John Baxter,

Though the independent approach to stage musicals succumbed to a Hollywood fashion merely to expand the stiff tableaux of the original…My Fair Lady set the fashion and skillfully exploited the form’s limited potential with a flair few later productions were to achieve.

My Fair Lady is based on the play Pygmalion (1938) written by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) who, incidentally, appears on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album. This means, with My Fair Lady, Hollywood has chosen as Best Picture a film based on another medium 73% of the time (27 pictures out of 37).

The choice of Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle caused quite a stir, according to the book The Academy Awards: A Pictorial History by Paul Michael:

The Academy Awards: A Pictorial HistoryOne of the most emotional contests in the history of the Academy Awards began to take shape nearly two years before the 1964 Oscar presentation night. Julie Andrews, the highly acclaimed star of the Broadway and London stage productions of “My Fair Lady,” was passed over for the motion picture lead. The most coveted feminine role of the decade was assigned instead to a star of proven stature and super box-office appeal, Audrey Hepburn. Jack Warner, the producer of “My Fair Lady,” wanted insurance for his $17,000,000 production.

A few years ago, I saw a local community theatre produce My Fair Lady. I fell in love with this delightful musical over the course of its run there and saw it at least a dozen times. Maybe more. Frankly, it was one of the greatest live-theatre productions I’ve ever seen in my life. When I watch the movie, I see and hear the local actors in my mind. And that’s not to anyone’s detriment, either. They were extremely good and held their own against Harrison and Hepburn.

The musical movie version of Shaw’s play happys-up the ending. In Pygmalion Eliza walks out on Henry Higgins for treating her so badly and taking her for granted. In the movie, Higgins realizes the error of his ways just in the nick of time and the two fall in love.

That’s what they call a Hollywood ending.

As an aside (no pun intended), there’s one swear word about halfway through this movie, and it’s a great one: “Come on Dover!” Elisa screams at a race horse at Ascot. “Move your bloomin’ ass!” It’s a great scene and a genuinely funny moment. Then, toward the end, Eliza and Henry argue and Henry says, “Oh damn Mrs. Pierce! Damn the coffee! And damn you! And damn my own folly…”

Finally, when Henry Higgins realizes that he’s “grown accustomed to her face” he says, “Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

There’s a whole lot of damning going on. But I don’t find any of the swearing gratuitous. This is tame stuff compared to the likes of The Departed (the 2006 Best-Picture Oscar winner), I can assure you.

The musical numbers are so incredibly hummable and extraordinarily memorable. Feast your eyes on this list:

“Why Can’t the English?”
“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”
“With a Little Bit of Luck”
“I Could Have Danced All Night”
“Get Me to the Church On Time”
“A Hymn to Him”
“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”

My Fair Lady is a veritable cavalcade of hit songs. There’s not a bad one in the bunch. Many make me smile or laugh out loud. And the melodies are absolutely gorgeous.

I recommend, without reservation, the movie My Fair Lady. Even if you don’t like musicals, I’m quite sure you’ll love this one.

After all, I do.

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