My Fair Lady is one of those simple pleasures
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In 1964, George Cukor—director of such films as the 1954 version of A Star is Born with Judy Garland and the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn—took yet another wonderful actress of the day, the lovely Audrey Hepburn (no relation to Katharine), and placed her in a film version of the musical play "Pygmalion" by Alan Jay Lerner.
And movie history was made.
I won't go out there and say that this is a perfect film. But it has definitely held up well over the years.
The play takes its title—Pygmalion—from a story in Greek mythology about an artist of that name. Pygmalion was said to be a man who was not interested in women. He sculpts a woman so fair and realistic that he falls in love with her, and after a wish to Venus, she comes to life for him.
The play and movie follows a young flower girl from the streets of London. After a bet is made, she's picked up by a confident linguist who promises her that he could help her pass for someone of a much higher class merely by teaching her a more elevated manner of speaking. It takes months and causes many tears, but progress is made, and in the end, she emerges looking just like Audrey Hepburn.
The story is fairly basic but very well made. The acting is charming and delightful. The music is very catchy. And, no insult to the actors intended, but in many ways, it's the music here that is the real star. Several of the songs will keep coming up in your head long after the movie is over.
For instance, the song "With a Little Bit of Luck"—perfectly performed by Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle—is so deliciously irreverent as he sings about all the ways a man can avoid being of any real worth to the world.
And there are other songs that the uninitiated may be surprised to find. Movies of this era are like that quite often. Songs like "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "On the Street Where You Live" have taken on life of their own outside the movie.
But there's also the subtle—and sometimes less than subtle—commentaries on the upper/lower class division in England. It's charming to watch the scene at the horse race. As elitist and rude as Henry Higgins is to Elisa when she shows up at his door, it's interesting to see that there are those out there that make him look like a simple rube.
Of course, it's also a wonderful scene as she continues to speak in the proper accent but with the language of the streets. Very funny.
Now I know that this movie hardly needs my endorsement to receive the attention it deserves, but I'm giving it anyway.
One thing to point out, though is the use of story-telling techniques that may be considered a bit cliche today. That's not a mark against it, just something to take note of.
For instance, early in the movie, Henry Higgins lets out on a long musical number about the dangers of letting a woman into one's life. And at the embassy party, Higgins runs into an old student of his who prides himself on a discerning ear that can determine anybody's origins from their manner of speaking, no matter how well tutored.
When elements like these pop up, you know more or less how these things will play out, but it's still enjoyable to see events unfold.
Even the bet that starts the whole thing off is rather cliche today, though it has the benefit of being out in the open from the very beginning. In a modern remake, another film maker would probably try to keep the bet a secret from Eliza from the beginning, only to cause headache and drama when she finally discovered the real reason for Professor Higgins' attention.
That's not to say the movie doesn't have its own share of emotional outbursts. After the bet is won, all congratulations go to Professor Higgins, even by the otherwise thoughtful Colonel Pickering. Eliza longs for recognition for her work but she ends up in the shadows of Higgins' success. That's a much more real piece of drama than what would have happened if they'd played off of the bet in the way I mentioned previously.
All in all, it's an enjoyable and delightful movie. (Bear in mind, though, that the movie is nearly 3 hours long.)
8 / 10.
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