Director: George Cukor
“At its center is a hate-turned-to-love match that is hard to beat: Rex Harrison as the grumpy linguist Henry Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the street urchin whom he picks for his ‘social experiment'” (Adrian Martin, 427, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) It is definitely the relationship Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn that makes this film as interesting as it is. The settings and the costumes are absolutely stunning and the songs are delightful yet each time I watch it it’s because of the two central characters.
The songs are some of the most memorable, which is saying something with the rich history of musicals we have. I haven’t watched My Fair Lady for years and yet I still remember all the words … and they remain stuck in your head for a good long while afterwards. While Higgins’ house is a sumptuous set there is something false or rather obviously constructed about all the external sets. don’t get me wrong they are still incredible but they have a sort of contained feel to them.
Even as a street urchin Audrey Hepburn is luminous and becomes incandescent once her transformation is complete. The scene where Eliza finally gets it has similarities with “Good Morning” in Singin In the Rain (Stanley Donen, 1952). Both songs take place in the middle of the night, have a dance number and end with the characters, 2 guys and a girl, collapsing into chairs while laughing.
The scene at the races is beautifully choreographed and I love that the colour palette has been kept to black, white and grey. It creates and unifying and classy image. Both Henry and Eliza are made to stand out – Eliza in brilliant white and Henry in tweed rather than grey top and tails.
I’ve been rather remiss up until now by not mentioning Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering. He is the perfect counterpart to Harrison’s eccentric and sometimes obtuse Higgins. It is Pickering who actually sees Eliza as a human being with feelings rather than just an experiment … for most of the film at least. A fact that Eliza herself raises when she says “I will always be a lady to Colonel Pickering as he always treats me like a lady” (or something along those lines anyway). He is the genial uncle figure. Freddy (Jeremy Brett) seems like a rather useless character whose sole purpose is to make Eliza and Henry realize their true feelings for each other. After their success at the Ambassador’s Ball Eliza paints such a sad figure and seems terribly lonely, while at the same time Henry is entirely and blissfully ignorant of her feelings.
It wasn’t until I watched My Fair Lady with the purpose of writing the above blog that I realized how much I love this film and I’m so glad I’ve re-discovered the brilliance that is the transformation of the lovable street urchin Eliza Doolittle into a lady fit for high society.