A My Fair Lady film adaptation: Wouldn't It Be Loverly?
My Fair Lady is a 1964 musical film directed by George Cukor and stars Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, and Wilfrid Hyde-White. It is based on the stage musical of the same name by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, which was based on the 1913 stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.
There aren't many other musicals that you'll find outside of My Fair Lady when it comes to delivering all of the necessary facets for an effective and memorable musical: top-notch acting, catchy songs that you'll want to sing along to, a story that's decent at worst, and notable energy. There's also a colorful production design, so we might as well throw that into the pot as well. My Fair Lady had a budget of around $17 million, and it was the most expensive movie to be made in the United States up to that point in time. The film's success goes to show that sometimes, big bucks does equal big success. On top of all that, it was released during the most gargantuan decade for American movie musicals, with Mary Poppins being released that same year and of course, the next year's Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music. Then there was Oliver!, West Side Story, and so on and so on.
Taking place in early 20th Century London, My Fair Lady focuses on the efforts of phonetics scholar Henry Higgins (Harrison) and his efforts in converting the young flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) into a presentable duchess at an embassy ball. Doolittle has a thick Cockney accent and cannot speak in a normal, English-cultured manner, which leads to Higgins selecting her. Higgins makes a bet with an acquaintance, Colonel Hugh Pickering (Hyde-White), that he can successfully convert Eliza, despite his misogynistic personality.
My Fair Lady had enjoyed success on Broadway during the 50's, with Julie Andrews playing Eliza Doolittle and working alongside Rex Harrison, so a film adaptation seemed like the natural thing to do. But when Audrey Hepburn was casted as Eliza and not Andrews, you can easily guess that Harrison and Julie Andrews were rather upset. Harrison objected to Hepburn's casting because he didn't think that she fit the character, and even Audrey Hepburn herself believed that Andrews should have played Eliza. But producer Jack L. Warner felt that Andrews wasn't known enough as an actress, and that even had Hepburn turned down the role, he would not have casted Andrews. This decision to cast Hepburn and not even consider Andrews was a bizarre one, because it boils down to giving Hepburn the role solely because of the star power that Hepburn enjoyed over Andrews at the time. Add on the fact that Hepburn's singing was deemed inadequate, leading to her singing being dubbed by Marni Nixon; what in the world was going through Jack L. Warner's head? At the end of the day however, Hepburn and Andrews held no grudges against one another, and Rex Harrison later said that Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady was his favorite leading lady.
- Colors! Such lovely colors! My Fair Lady's production design features elaborate costumes and sets that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are evocative. Strangely enough, black and white are the most dominant colors, most evident in a scene where Higgins takes Eliza to a Racecourse:
The gentleman on the left next to Eliza is not Higgins, FYI.
Clothing, walls, and other scenery are decked out in vivid black and white. My take on the use of black and white it the colors' symbolic representation of the black and white relationship between Higgins and Eliza. Higgins is a rich, upper-class Englishmen, while Eliza is a poor, lower-class working girl hampered by her Cockney accent. Two total opposites, black and white, mesh together.
- The songs are delightful. Er, "loverly" as the movie might describe them. The musical numbers range from being romantic, to comical, all the way to complete nonsense. There are some minor changes from the show, but they're only small changes in regarding to ordering and lyrics and not worth going into excessive detail about. I do want to mention that I have come across Youtube clips of Audrey Hepburn's original singing voice, and I must say I am stunned to think that her voice was considered inadequate. Here is a clip of Hepburn's original singing voice during 'Wouldn't it be Loverly?'
Hepburn sounds much more in character than Nixon's dub. Did Jack L. Warner really think the film would have been a flop had they just kept Hepburn's original singing voice?
- The film loses some steam in its second act, not following up properly on its romantic subplots and leaving a little too much up for interpretation, particularly in how it ends. I should credit this as the film avoiding becoming totally predictable, but, without spoiling anything specific, there's a lot left to be desired.
Who'd a thunk it that My Fair Lady would be released the same year as Mary Poppins, another all-time musical classic? In the years since, I think Mary Poppins has overshadowed My Fair Lady, mainly in how Mary Poppins has enjoyed the luxury of a Disney connection, an all-time great performance by Julie Andrews (not to downplay Audrey Hepburn's performance in any way), and an upcoming sequel. And as much as the world loves Mary Poppins (and the world very much should love Mary Poppins), we should never forget about the glorious wonders of My Fair Lady, one of many defining examples of how the 1960's was the ultimate decade for American musicals. The acting is superb, it is nearly impossible to not want to sing along with the songs, and, last but certainly not least, those colors! It all adds up to a musical that is among the finest of its kind, not only during its time, but of all time.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: