Blogathons, Films I Love, Musicals, Romance

The Broadway Bound Blogathon: My Fair Lady (1964)

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Rebecca over at Taking Up Room is hosting her first ever blogathon! She has decided to host a blogathon all about Broadway shows. Be sure to visit Rebecca’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I have decided to write about a musical that I love a great deal. It is a story which started out as a stage play, then it became a Broadway musical, and then it was made into an Oscar winning film in 1964. The musical is My Fair Lady.   

My Fair Lady wasn’t always known by this particular title. The musical began its life as a stage play called Pygmalion,which was written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw. 

The title of Shaw’s play came from the Greek legend of a sculptor called Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue that he had made.

The play was first performed on the stage in 1913.  Shaw always remained adamant that Eliza and Higgins should not become romantically involved, and he fought against any attempts to perform the play with an added romantic happy ending with Higgins and Eliza getting together.

A none musical film version of the story was co-directed by Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith in 1938. This earlier British screen version is well worth a look for fans of the 1964 film. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza.   

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted Shaw’s play and turned it into a very successful stage musical under the new title of My Fair Lady. This musical version made its Broadway debut in New York, on the 15th of March, 1956. The two original stars of this stage version were Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle.    

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Rex as Higgins. Screenshot by me.

Rex Harrison reprised his role in director George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation. Try as I might, it is very hard for me to imagine anyone else having played the role of Higgins the way that Rex Harrison did.

I really like Leslie Howard’s portrayal in the 1938 film, but it is Rex’s portrayal of the arrogant, pompous, self-centered, selfish and energetic Higgins that lingers most in my mind. Rex really does a terrific job in the role. I especially love his subtle facial acting where he conveys to us that he is coming to genuinely care about Eliza.

Audrey Hepburn was chosen to play Eliza in Cukor’s film. The still somewhat unknown Julie Andrews was controversially not chosen to reprise her stage role in the film version, despite the fact that she was a brilliant singer and had proved to be a talented actress in the stage play. Ironically, Julie would star in her first film this same year, another musical called Mary Poppins. Not only did she find a place in film audiences hearts with that film, but she also took home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the magical nanny.

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Audrey as Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Audrey Hepburn does a good job in this film and she really tries her best, but she is stuck playing a character who I think is always a difficult one for actresses to play.

In every version of this story I’ve seen the actress playing Eliza always struggles with the cockney flower girl scenes and excels at playing the transformed and elegant lady. So it is with Audrey.

Audrey certainly manages to convey Eliza’s sweet nature and her desperate desire to please Higgins by transforming into a refined lady, and she also convinces as the classy society lady. I think that her performance in the first half of the film is very over the top though and I think she also struggles with the cockney accent.

I think that Audrey is at her best in the second half of the film, especially in the slippers scene after the ball, she really makes you feel Eliza’s distress, frustration, and also her overwhelming despair in that particular scene. Audrey also did her own singing but she was then later dubbed over by Marni Nixon.  

I also like how Audrey manages to convey Eliza’s fiercely independent nature and her staunch refusal to change who she is inside. I love Audrey in scenes where Eliza and Higgins are arguing, she really puts so much energy into these shouting scenes and shows us that Eliza won’t back down and give in to Higgins bullying and rudeness. I love her the most when she ferociously gives him a piece of her mind singing the song Without You.  

Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is a flower girl working in Edwardian era London. She becomes the subject of a bet between two phonetics experts, Professor Henry Higgins(Rex Harrison)and Colonel Pickering(Wilfred Hyde-White), when Higgins claims that he can teach her to speak properly and can pass her off as a genuine society lady at a society ball. 

Higgins works very hard teaching and supporting Eliza in her transformation, and despite the pair not having the easiest of relationships both start to care for one another and enjoy being around one another. Higgins teaches Eliza how to speak in a different way and he also gifts her with new clothes.

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Eliza and Pickering arrive at Ascot. Screenshot by me.

Eliza’s first test in public is a trip to the Ascot racecourse. Eliza charms and dazzles the assorted society folk attending the race, but the things she says are quite odd and many there are bemused by her. The dashing Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett)falls for her and he is very amused at the things she says. Sadly it all goes wrong when Eliza loudly swears and yells at a very slow horse running in the race. The uproar caused by her outburst mortifies her but it greatly amuses Higgins who isn’t a fan of the snobbish upper classes. 

Eventually the time comes for Eliza to go to the Embassy Ball to dance and speak with royalty and upper class society. Eliza charms all there and she is even mistaken for a princess! Higgins has a great laugh about this and pats himself on the back for winning his bet. He fails to congratulate Eliza for her hard work and for getting through the evening successfully, Eliza loses her temper at this and becomes very distressed. Higgins calms her down and then says now she is a lady she should get married.

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The trio arrive at the Embassy Ball. Screenshot by me.

Eliza says that all he and his transformation of her has left her fit for now is to sell herself. As a flower girl she may have lived in poverty, but at least she could go out and earn some money and do what she wanted, but as a society lady it would now be unthinkable for her to work, and so all that is left for her to do is to get married and rely on a man for support. Eliza leaves Higgins and her departure makes him realise just how much she has come to mean to him. He tries to track her down and get her to come back to him. When he finds her will she come back and stay with him?

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Eliza is upset and angry after the ball. Screenshot by me.

Filled with some truly unforgettable songs and some gorgeous costumes (designed by Cecil Beaton), My Fair Lady is a real treat for fans of musicals. It has become one of the most beloved musical films of all time and it is one which always leaves me with a smile on my face. The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. Audrey wasn’t even nominated and I’m sure that it must have been a bit upsetting for her when the film won so many awards and she didn’t get anything.

Audrey presented Rex with his Academy Award for Best Actor, and in the footage from that presentation she looks genuinely thrilled for him to have won. They hug and he looks at her with such affection and kindly says about the Oscar ” I feel in a way that I should split it in half between us”. He puts his arm around Audrey and keeps her at his side throughout his entire acceptance speech. I think this was a lovely thing for him to do because in a way it was like Audrey was up there winning an award too. He also says at the end “deep love to two fair ladies”, which I think was his way of throwing some love out there to both Julie Andrews (who was in the audience and would win the Best Actress Oscar that same night) and Audrey.  

The songs in this film are irresistible and whenever I watch the film I always end up singing along with them. My favourite songs are Show Me,I Could Have Danced All Night, Servants Chorus, An Ordinary Man, Just You Wait, Without You and With A Little Bit Of Luck. 

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Freddy and Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Rex and Audrey are both terrific and they receive strong support from the rest of the cast. Stanley Holloway delivers an hysterical performance as Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. Mona Washbourne is excellent as Higgins long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce. Gladys Cooper steals every scene she is in as Higgins mother. Wilfred Hyde-White is sweet as Colonel Pickering. Jeremy Brett is charming and adorable as Freddy (even if this character does come across as a being a right stalker, not to mention a guy who won’t take no for an answer!).

My main reason for loving this film so much is because I find the relationship between Eliza and Higgins to be endlessly fascinating. I love how Higgins views her merely as an experiment, then as he spends more time with her, he really can’t help himself and he actually ends up beginning to like her very much.

Eliza dislikes him intensely and then she grows to like him but she still can’t stand his attitude and behaviour, and she is also well aware that he won’t ever change his behaviour. The pair keep being drawn back to one another no matter how many times they say or do something to hurt the other. They can’t live together, but they can’t live without one another either.  

Many see the final scene between them as being romantic but I don’t actually see it as being so. I think they have certainly connected emotionally and that they care for one another, but they don’t seem to do anything to take their relationship to the next level, and in the final scene of the film they never even kiss one another. Maybe in the future they will become romantically and sexually involved, but I seriously don’t see that as being on the cards in the final scene as it’s shown to us in the film. I think they will just take things one day at a time and see how it goes.

The ending reminds me of the “shut up and deal” ending to The Apartment and I have the same view of the relationship between those characters at the end as I do of Eliza and Higgins. It should be noted that Eliza actually marries Freddy at the end in Shaw’s original play.  I am often left wondering if the film and Eliza even need a romantic ending? Eliza will always be grateful to Higgins for his help in her transformation, but does she need to become his wife or Freddy’s? I think she has more than enough strength, courage, determination and focus to be able to go on and live a very happy independent life without needing a man in it. I would have been very happy had the film ended after the Without You sequence and Eliza had gone off to stand on her two feet and make her own way in society. I’d love to know what your views are on the ending and on their relationship.

My favourite scenes are the following. Eliza going back to Covent Garden Market and remembering her former life there. The entire Embassy Ball sequence, especially the scenes where Eliza and Higgins dance and where Eliza speaks to the Queen. The Without You scene. Higgins putting marbles in Eliza’s mouth. Higgins and Eliza both having headaches. Alfred coming to visit Higgins when he learns Eliza is there. The argument between Eliza and Higgins after the ball. Alfred telling Eliza what has happened to him. Eliza having her first bath. The Rain In Spain scene.

What do you think of this film?

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14 thoughts on “The Broadway Bound Blogathon: My Fair Lady (1964)”

  1. Excellent choice and a wonderful look at a classic film.

    I first saw My Fair Lady at the theatre when I was quite young (8 or 9) and remember how every beautiful scene filled my eye and the music filled my head, and how I fretted over what would become of these wild characters. It was an experience. I haven’t recaptured that early impression and I wouldn’t want to do so. My admiration for Lerner and Lowe is paramount.

    Look at us! Caftan Woman’s TCM choice (a regular feature on my blog) for June is Pygmalion! I’ll post something for the blogathon in a couple of days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I remember it, Pygmalion ends with Eliza planning to marry Freddy, and the last words are Higgins snorting “Marry Freddy!” as if the idea is absurd. But the ambiguous ending did leave open the possibility of an Eliza-Higgins marriage, so Shaw wrote a postscript later on about what happened to the characters, so disgusted was he with this possibility. In this he states that Eliza and Freddy open up a flower shop, but it has to be repeatedly bailed out by the genial Colonel Pickering.

    The irony of the story is that Eliza no longer fits in with her original family or background, but nor does she really fit in with the new world she’s been introduced to. She can pass for a wealthy lady at a fancy ball, but she isn’t a wealthy lady, she could only survive in that world if she married a rich man.

    I doubt that she would ever be happy with Higgins though and he is quite a bit older and stuck in his ways (the age gap between Hepburn and Harrison was about 20 years, but Eliza is meant to be younger than Hepburn I think). Higgins is more of a paternal figure at best and their relationship is probably too weird and lopsided to be a genuine romantic one. An ambiguous ending works best for this story, because the options for Eliza are actually not all that great, unless Higgins was to introduce her to a rich man who becomes besotted with her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you Jay. I really don’t see them as a romantic couple. I think they have developed an emotional connection and maybe he has started to realise he loves her, but I really don’t see them getting together and acting on their feelings(if any actually exist). In some ways poor old Eliza was better off when she was a flower girl.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice review. It’s interesting that you don’t see the relationship between Higgins and Eliza as romantic. I always thought it was and can’t say I have a problem with it.
    It’s certainly a strange, mismatched pairing in every aspect. Age, class, education, frankly everything. But I take this film as a fairytale. It’ll all work out. In real life, not so much.

    As for Freddy, a lovely guy, but so wishy-washy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much to admire in this film, such as the costumes and the music. It’s truly a spectacle, and it does raise interesting points, e.g. now that Eliza is a lady, her life’s options have become curtailed.

    I agree with you re: Audrey Hepburn’s performance. She really does seem to struggle with the Cockney accent, and she is a bit much in the beginning, but she does even out towards the end.

    For what it’s worth, I’m glad you don’t see the movie ending with Eliza marrying that boor Henry Higgins. I don’t either. Good grief, what a nightmare that would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree that Audrey Hepburn is best in the second half of the film, but should we be surprised? Audrey, with her near-royal lineage and ballet upbringing, she should be most comfortable in palaces. I also think that Julie Andrews would not have made a good Eliza in the second half of the film (a stage is another matter). I do picture her as a low-class flower girl (definitely, a nanny), but hers is not really an appearance of a high-class woman with impeccable manners, no matter the dress and her speech. You need to have certain innate qualities to portray these right, and Audrey totally has this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such a classic film! I remember the Wendy Hiller movie, too. It’s odd that they changed the ending between the two versions, because there was definitely more of a romantic dynamic with Freddy than there was with Mr. Higgins.The ending of the later movie left me going, “Wha-a?” although I love Audrey.

    Thanks again for joining the blogathon–this review was fantastic! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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