Some films, no matter how many times you have watched them, get you excited when you press play. I grabbed my Blu-ray of My Fair Lady, put it into my PS4, and then proceeded to smile and bounce up and down in my chair because I knew I was in for almost 3 hours of laughing and singing and sore cheeks due to a smile that would just not go away. George Cukor’s My Fair Lady is not just a film, it is a production — a production of the highest quality and it is an absolute joy to behold.
My Fair Lady, as most people know, is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The story starts when a poor, cockney flower girl named Eliza Dolittle (Audrey Hepburn) asks a stuck-up, misogynistic phonetics professor named Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) to teach her to “talk more genteel like” so she can get a job in a respectable flower shop. A bet is made between the phonetics professor and his friend Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-Wright) that he will not only teach her to talk properly, but that he’ll be able to pass her off as a woman of high society.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to talk about My Fair Lady without talking about two controversies. First, there is the Audrey vs. Julie debate, and second is the discussion on dubbing. Julie Andrews famously played the character of Eliza Dolittle in the stage play alongside Rex Harrison. She made that role her own and played it marvelously, giving her a massive fan base. However, when it came time to make the film, the producers wanted a more “marketable and recognizable” face. So producer Jack L. Warner asked Audrey Hepburn, creating an outraged cry from Andrews’ fans. Hepburn was hesitant at first, but when she found out that if she said no the role would go to Elizabeth Taylor and not Julie Andrews, she agreed. Audrey went through a long prepping period for her singing numbers only to find out that the producers intended to have her dubbed by Marni Nixon. This was not an uncommon practice back then: in fact, Marni Nixon famously dubbed for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. Regrettably, the dubbing didn’t end up looking flawless. Rex Harrison refused to lip sync and a special microphone was made to stick in his tie to catch him talk-singing while they filmed. Since it looks so good with Rex, the dubbing and lip syncing looks out of step for the rest of the musical numbers in the movie.
Due to the whole debacle above, Audrey Hepburn wasn’t even nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. That is, in my opinion, an unforgivable snub. There were some lines she did sing from Just You Wait, including the entire reprise, as well as a few lines in I Could Have Danced All Night. Singing aside, she did a fantastic job of mastering the cockney accent and actually being a poor flower girl, a feat her co-star Rex Harrison didn’t think she could master. The pair play off each other, delivering sharp and hilarious jabs back and forth through the entire film. To me, Professor Higgins is one of the most devilishly hysterical characters I have ever witnessed on film. Some of his best insults I actually use from time to time. You creature! You squashed cabbage leaf! He’s just so cocky, so confident, you just can’t help but love him.
On top of the amazing, hilarious performances are the breathtaking visuals. The sets are incredibly detailed and colorful. The street on which Eliza sells her flowers is large and has immense pillars and detailed cobblestones. Professor Higgins’ library is towering, and full of books and phonographs and charts on linguistics. It is an impressive amount of detail to make sure the entire production is a feast for the eyes. The costumes of this film are also incredibly lavish. Women’s dresses are colorful and there are giant feathers sticking out of their hair. It’s a stark contrast to the rags worn by the flower ladies on the streets. The elaborate white dresses and comically gigantic hats that the woman of high society wear at the Ascot races are breathtaking. My Fair Lady is renowned for its production and style, and from these last few points, it is easy to see why.
Famous musical numbers, luxurious set design and two funny, yet brilliant performances make My Fair Lady a film that is not to be missed. It is a movie that offers the full package. Often cited as the best musical of all time (I am undecided on that one; see The Sound of Music), it is pure enjoyment from beginning to end. So press play, and put the gossip and the controversies aside. Pop your popcorn and snuggle in tight with a big smile on your face and be prepared to observe one of the most delightful movies ever put to film. I guarantee you will love it.
My Fair Lady landed at 73 out of a possible 1343 movies on my Flickchart. That converts to a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars or 95%. It is ranked #5 out of 62 movies I have seen from the 1960s. It is ranked number #2 out of 5 movies so far in this competition.