Thursday, October 28, 2010

1964: My Fair Lady

Eliza Doolittle is a poor but good-hearted girl who sells flowers on the streets of London and speaks with a Cockney accent.  Henry Higgins is an independent professor of phonetics with little regard for anyone's feelings but his own.  Merely for the fun of it, Higgins makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that in six months he can teach Eliza to speak and act like a proper lady.  So begins one of the most famous musicals ever created.

There are a lot of things I love about this film, and only a few that I dislike.  The songs are wonderful, and I often find myself unintentionally singing along.  But unlike many musicals, My Fair Lady is not good merely because of its songs.  Even if you ignore the music, it's a fascinating story with a witty script, unforgettable characters, and a fabulous cast.  Though I detest Henry Higgins (and urge Eliza not to go back to him, but she never listens to me), I think Rex Harrison is magnificent in the role.  Gladys Cooper is hilarious as Henry's mother, Stanley Holloway is perfect as Eliza's alcoholic father, and Wilfrid Hyde-White is very likeable as Colonel Pickering.  But I must say that as magnificent of an actress as Audrey Hepburn is, she isn't the perfect choice for Eliza.  She is good in the dramatic scenes, but most of her singing is done by Marni Nixon (who is once again uncredited).

I really think that Julie Andrews should have been cast as Eliza Doolittle, a role she originated on Broadway, because she could actually handle that type of singing.  Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway were in both the original Broadway cast and the film, but the filmmakers decided not to cast Julie Andrews because she had never been in a movie before, and they were afraid she wouldn't be able to handle the transition.  Instead, she was cast in Mary Poppins and won the 1964 Oscar for Best Actress.  So I guess it all worked out well for her, and I can't imagine anyone else as Mary Poppins, but I still would have liked to see her play Eliza Doolittle.  Oh, well, Audrey Hepburn did a fine job.

Despite the Julie Andrews thing, and the fact that Eliza goes back to Henry Higgins even though he always treats her like dirt, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoy watching this film.  As far as musicals go, it's one of the best.

Next: The Sound of Music (speaking of Julie Andrews...)

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