Now that I have your attention….This week, in celebration of it’s 50th anniversary, (although by my count, shouldn’t it be 51 years?) CBS pictures will release the new 4K digital restoration of the 1964 film My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. The film, based on the 1956 Broadway musical, was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning in 8 of those categories. As Roger Ebert so aptly wrote in a review of the 1994 restoration, this is why my blog post will not be a recap of the story:
“It is unnecessary to summarize the plot or list the songs; if you are not familiar with both, you are culturally illiterate, although in six months I could pass you off as a critic at Cannes, or even a clerk in a good video store, which requires better taste.”
Instead, let’s talk about why this film remains one of my all time favorites.
I know we modern women are supposed to be a bit offended by the fact that Professor Henry Higgins appears to take advantage of the poor street urchin, Eliza Doolittle, but really, Eliza simply saw a chance to better her life. Opportunity was knocking. She suspected Henry was cold and unfeeling, but she had nothing to lose. She “leaned in.” She showed young women everywhere that even a young “guttersnipe” with no one but herself to rely on, could climb to the top of the social ladder.
Professor Higgins, while cold and unfeeling, really isn’t a bad guy, just on the high end of the narcissism spectrum. He’s maybe a step below Donald Trump, with better manners and a higher IQ. He isn’t intentionally rude; he just has no self-awareness. Still, there is something I like about Henry. While I revel in Eliza’s dream sequence to “Just You Wait,” I continue to root for Haughty Henry to discover his emotional side and give Eliza the respect and affection she deserves.
But honestly, let’s skip over Eliza being the poster child for girl power, and talk about why most of us REALLY love this movie: IT’S FREAKIN’ BEAUTIFUL! It’s a visual feast of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour and sophistication that has been thrown to the wayside in our Kardashian-focused world. Designer Cecil Beaton, had the remarkable ability to balance extravagance and elegance as was evident in the famous Ascot racing scene. Only a genius could pair those jaw-dropping hats with chic gowns and make them seem almost appropriate. And let’s not forget the iconic image of Eliza walking down the stairs in that stunning beaded white dress. (In my mind, Cecil Beaton drops mic and walks away.)
There is well-known controversy surrounding the making of this film that sometimes overshadows its awesomeness. Should Julie Andrews have gotten the role instead of Audrey Hepburn? Probably. But Elizabeth Taylor was next in line to be offered the part, so Julie went on to play Mary Poppins and won an Oscar the following year. Take that, Jack Warner! Was Rex Harrison as arrogant off screen as on? Seems to be the case. Maybe he was a method actor? Should Audrey’s voice have been dubbed? We’ll never know. Although it was common practice at the time, Audrey didn’t know they were going to dub her until after she was hired. She was furious! Did they lip synch? Yes, everyone but Rex and that’s only because he couldn’t sing. He spoke “on pitch.” So why did everyone diss Audrey? Oh wait, it was 1954.
The reality, 50 years on, is that I don’t care about any of the off-stage F*$%ry and Shenanigans.* The cast, the costumes, the cinematography, and the music come together to give us cinema at its finest. I love this film because it makes me happy and sometimes that’s all a movie needs to do.
*See the 2015 documentary “Finders Keepers” by Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel