Directed by George Cukor
It’s a toss up. I’m not sure which musical I recall more clearly from childhood. Is it My Fair Lady? Or is it The Sound of Music? I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
In this case it’s enough to say I grew up knowing the music and the film My Fair Lady.
The movie came out in 1964, so I would have been eight. Over the years, I must have seen it a dozen times – in the theatre at first then eventually on TV.
But I haven’t seen it for a while so, with the 40th anniversary Special Edition DVD from Warner Bros., I’m seeing it with fresh eyes even though I know the music and story all but inside out. (Note: This review was written about May, 2004.)
As I mention over and over, I’m not a big fan of musicals. There are, however, some that win me over and My Fair Lady is one of them, despite seeming incredibly long.
The length is due primarily to the musical numbers which, as in most musicals, clog the storyline and generally bog things down.
Mind you, it wouldn’t be a musical without the music. And the music, my and large, is sublime with its unforgettable melodies and brilliant lyrics.
And the story … It goes back to the Greeks, was revisited by George Bernard Shaw (as Pygmalion) and then rework as My Fair Lady, the musical take on Shaw’s play. The difference between Shaw’s play and the musical is the difference between the head and the heart.
In My Fair Lady the gruff and rude Professor Higgins takes the Cockney, unsophisticated Eliza Doolittle and, for a bet, transforms her into a lady.
In the process, romance springs up but, given their relationship (the harsh vs. the gentle), it’s the kind where neither can state what they are feeling for fear of seeming to give in to the other.
There’s a kind of power struggle between the two, though this is a crude way of putting it.
It’s interesting to note how many recent reviews comment on the fact that this is a great and winning romance that hasn’t a single kiss in it, much less the usual sex contemporary movies feel compelled to include.
(An exception might be the recent Lost in Translation which is also a romance about people finding one another without feeling the need to get them into bed – at least not in the sexual sense.)
I think this relates to how contemporary films, and perhaps society generally, has lost an awareness of how stimulating, seductive and compelling intelligence can be and how a powerful romance can develop out of the interaction between two people beyond the bedroom.
In My Fair Lady we see two people who are pulled into one another’s orbit by wit, play and humour.
(The conflict between the two is not about a distaste for each other but is rather a form of play, though they may not see it this way.)
Part of why the movie works (beyond the music and the script) comes from the performances. Rex Harrison is the perfect Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn is an enchanting Eliza Doolittle. (The movie loves Hepburn. Her costumes are stunning and another one of the elements that augment the film.)
The supporting cast is also splendid, particularly Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, and Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Pickering, Higgin’s companion in the bet.
While I do find the movie terribly long, I can’t find any other fault with it. It sounds wonderful. It looks wonderful. And it plays wonderfully. It is easily one of the best musicals Hollywood ever made.