My current Top 5

My current Top 5

5/02/2011

Number 34: My Fair Lady (Best Picture Ranking)

My Fair Lady is probably one of the most famous movie musicals of all time but it was already one of the biggest hits of all time before that – My Fair Lady broke all records on the Broadway stage and became the longest-running show of its time. So, it was a wise decision by the movie makers to stay as faithful to the stage adaptation as possible (which itself was based as faithful as possible to the original play by George Bernhard Shaw – except, of course, for the ending which was based on the 1938 movie starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller but Shaw was one of the screenwriters for this version so basically, My Fair Lady stayed faithful to Shaw as much as possible).

The plot of My Fair Lady is probably as famous as its catchy tunes – the arrogant Professor Higgins tries to make a ‘lady’ out of the common flower girl Eliza Doolittle by teaching her ‘proper’ English. It’s a long and difficult journey until Eliza passes a test at a ball where people mistake her for an Hungarian Princess – Mission accomplished! But what will happen now? Will Eliza start her own shop or will she marry Freddy, a young man hopelessly in love with her? Or will she and the Professor discover their feelings for each other?

My Fair Lady not only stayed faithful to the stage production regarding the plot. George Cukor also staged the movie like a play very often – a risky move that could easily distract the viewer but it paid off wonderfully. A lot of the sets look like sets – but they know it. They don’t try to be completely real but they are still done with the most love for details and that way are among my favourite art direction ever. Just as splendid are the costumes that range from plain and simple to ‘Oh my God, how big is that hat?’. Especially the scenes at the horse race show the theatre roots of the production but again, the whole choreography could have looked awful on the screen but amazingly, it worked.

Also taken right from the Broadway stage was Rex Harrison in the part of his life as Professor Higgins. After having already won a Tony for his performance, he also collected a well-deserved Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal. Julie Andrews, the Eliza Doolittle of the stage, did not only lose the Tony (to Judy Holliday who was an expert in triumphing over famous performances) but also the part of Eliza in the movie – the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle is as controversial today as it was in 1964. It’s probably one of her most disliked performances but for me, Audrey Hepburn is simply splendid and did complete justice to her role. The transformation from the common flower girl to the refined lady is believable and presented in a very entertaining way and both Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison work together wonderfully. Stanley Holloway shines as Eliza’s father while Wilfrid Hyde-White and Jeremy Brett offer great support. Mona Washbourne also stands out as Mrs. Pearce. Only Gladys Cooper disappoints a bit which has more to with the limits of her role – why she received an Oscar nomination for talking to Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn for a few minutes will forever remain a mystery.

My Fair Lady is perfect entertainment on every level – from the visual aspects to the performances to the legendary score which includes so many wonderful melodies, from ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely?’ to ‘I could have danced all night’ to ‘The snakes in Spain travel mainly on a plane’, eh, I mean ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’. It’s also one of the few musicals with a truly developed plot that doesn’t feel like a bridgeover between the songs but instead drives the whole production. It may be too old-fashioned for some (staying faithful to the stage production also meant a very static presentation) but for me, it’s a wonderfully entertaining jewel.

5 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

I thought this might get even higher. I thought it was enjoyable, but I still felt it was a little long as well.

J.C. Marrero said...

I didn't care for the movie at all. The relationship between Higgins and Eliza is creepy. At first he is practically abusive and then almost dismissive. What kind of story is it where the leading man becomes acustomed to the leading lady's face? Audrey Hepburn is fine, but they should have paid Julie Andrews a king's ransom to sing the songs that Audrey would later lip-sinc. The sounds that appear to come out of Audrey's mouth were just generic soprano. To me this is a taxidermed musical. No heart, swell songs.

Anonymous said...

I loved this film more than I thought I would and it has also grown on me, it may be incredibly long, but it's still my favorite performance by Audrey Hepburn, she was incredibly funny and believable as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison was just brilliant. I thought it would be higher in your ranking, it certainly is in mine. The right choice that year (much better than the overrated Dr. Strangelove which is by all means Kubrick's worst) and finally George Cukor's well deserved Best Director Oscar.

Derek Bowman said...

My Fair Lady is such a charming movie, I can't help but love it. Even though all the criticisms are perfectly valid, to me the fact that it was so fun makes me love it despite all of that. Yeah, Dr. Strangelove should have won, but there are worse films that could have beat it by MILES (Zorba the Greek, for one).

dinasztie said...

For me this is too old-fashioned and I'm not that keen on George Cukor.