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.  

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Eliza gives Higgins a piece of her mind. Screenshot by me.

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.

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Eliza and Higgins in speech class. Screenshot by me.

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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The Duo Double Feature Blogathon: William Holden and Audrey Hepburn

Movie Duo blogathonThe Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting this blogathon all about screen duos who only ever made two films together. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about one of my favourite screen couples. Who are they? That couple are William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. They were two of the most popular American film stars of the 1950’s and 60’s, and they sure did have some amazing chemistry with one another. You would have thought that they would have been paired together more regularly, sadly that was just not to be. 

They only ended up working together twice in their entire careers. I like them so much because they have such incredible chemistry, they really make you feel and believe their respective characters growing feelings for one another.

There are some romantic screen teams out there that fit together like hands in gloves; Myrna Loy and William Powell, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson etc. I consider William and Audrey to be one of those types of screen couples.

The couple were first paired together in Sabrina (1954). This charming romantic comedy tells the story of a chauffer’s daughter (Audrey Hepburn) who is in love with two wealthy brothers (William Holden and Humphrey Bogart). They both love her in return, but which of the two will end up capturing her heart forever? If you haven’t seen the film I won’t spoil the final outcome for you.

Audrey and William shine in their shared scenes together here. There is a real warmth and tenderness between them that really helps in their romantic scenes. During the making of this film the pair fell in love and had a brief affair, so their chemistry is the real thing and it really does show on screen.

Sadly their real life relationship didn’t have a happy ending. Audrey was desperate for children and William having had a vasectomy couldn’t give her that which she desired above all else. Plus William was also married at the time which put an obstacle in their path of happiness, but he certainly fell hard for Audrey no doubt about it.

 

In this film I love them the most in the dance scene out on the terrace, they fit together perfectly and look so at ease in each others arms. I think that it is more than simply acting between them in that scene, there is a real connection between them that you can see.

The way William looks at her I think it’s like he’s looking into her soul, and she looks at him with such adoration and joy in her face. I could watch these two dance and flirt forever and still feel that magical connection and still be enchanted by them.

I also really love them in the scene outside the train station where Holden’s car screeches to a halt when he sees Audrey waiting for a taxi. Their comic back and forth banter in the sequence is a real joy, and once again their reactions to one another are so genuine.

The couple were reunited on screen ten years later. This time to star in the extremely underrated Paris When It Sizzles, a romantic comedy that is also one big in joke about filmmaking. The film pokes fun at many different film related things, from method acting, to how scriptwriters come up with their stories. 

A secretary (Audrey Hepburn)is sent to Paris to type up the latest script from a famous film screenwriter (William Holden). She gets drawn into his imagination and the two also find themselves falling in love. We also see all the possible plots he comes up with acted out by William and Audrey playing the different characters from the screenplay.

It was difficult for William to make this film as he still had feelings for Audrey, and at this time he was also drinking rather heavily. There are moments in this film when he looks at her and you can tell that it is not his character looking at her with longing, it is William himself looking at the woman he loves.

 

It’s quite painful to watch them at times actually in this one because you feel his longing, and when you know what was going on behind the scenes your heart goes out to him. It must have been agony for him to have been so close to her and knowing he couldn’t have her. That agony and longing in a weird way actually works for the film. William’s character finds himself more and more attracted to Audrey’s secretary, but he finds it difficult to pursue his feelings when they have work to do and he’s also not sure if she returns his feelings.

There is still that genuine warmth and magic between Audrey and William on screen here, and they both look like they are enjoying the opportunity to have lots of fun in the scenes such as the vampire at the grotto, and the scene when they order room service (I love the way Audrey makes that order and the look on William’s face when he hears her place the order.)  🙂

I love them the most in all the scenes in this where they kiss, those kisses are so tender and passionate. I also love them in the scene where they are playing the rich couple who both mention having had giraffes as children, the way they act in that and deliver the lines cracks me up every time I watch that film.

Perfect timing, natural chemistry and genuine affection for each other help these two become a perfect screen team. I was so disappointed when I first found out that they only made two films, I was so looking forward to seeing them in more films. Oh well, at least their screen magic can be enjoyed over and over again in these two films.

Well those are just a few of the reasons why I love these two so much. If you have never seen William and Audrey act together, I suggest that you take a look at the films I mentioned and watch them together for yourselves. I hope you like this screen duo as much as I do. Happy viewing.  🙂 

Any other fans of William and Audrey? Please leave your comments below.

Blogathons, Page To Screen, True Story

Medicine in the Movies Blogathon: The Nun’s Story (1959)

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Charlene over at Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews is hosting this blogathon  about all things medical. Be sure to check out all the other entries over on her site. I can’t wait to read them myself.

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Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. Screenshot by me.

I’ve chosen to write about The Nun’s Story for this blogathon. The film is directed by Fred Zinnemann. The film is based upon the life of a real nun, called Sister Marie Louise Habets. In 1956, Kathryn Hulme wrote the novel The Nun’s Story based on the life of Habets, whom she was friends with. The book was adapted for the screen by Robert Anderson in 1959.

I love this film very much. It is a powerful and touching story focusing on a woman facing the biggest decision of her life. It has some very interesting characters. It also shows the great difficulties facing medical staff in remote areas and less developed countries. The film also features what I consider to be Audrey Hepburn’s best ever screen performance.

I have always had an interest in how medical services are provided out in less developed countries or in remote areas. This film gives you a good idea of what the reality of that provision is. As this film shows us, there are a limited number of doctors and nurses available in such places; they will often encounter a language barrier, and this will obviously cause problems when trying to give and get information from patients. In many cases there is also no access to clean water or medicines. The medical staff working in such conditions do the best they can and they have to endure a great deal of hardship and danger themselves in order to help those in need.

Belgium, in the 1930’s; Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn)is the daughter of the famous Doctor Van Der Mal (Dean Jagger). Gabrielle shares her fathers love for all things medical. Since she was young she has also felt drawn to the medical profession just like her father. She is conflicted though because she is deeply religious and also feels drawn to life as a nun. 

Gabrielle enters a Catholic convent and is given the name Sister Luke. She can’t wait to be able to start doing medical work as a nursing sister, but it is with a heavy heart that she accepts she will only be able to go out nursing when instructed to do so by her Mother Superior (Edith Evans). The majority of Sister Luke’s days are filled by prayer, practicing self denial and learning to cut all emotional ties to the life she led before entering the convent. It is soon clear to us that she is greatly struggling with this new way of life. Sister Luke is eventually able to work in a local hospital and a mental asylum as a nurse helping patients. Although happy to be able to be doing this, she longs to be getting even more medically involved.

Sister Luke is later transferred out to a convent in the Congo. Under the supervision of Mother Mathilde(Peggy Ashcroft), Sister Luke begins work in a small hospital serving the local remote villages. Sister Luke becomes the surgical assistant to the cynical, headstrong, atheist surgeon, Dr. Fortunati(Peter Finch).

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Sister Luke assists Dr. Fortunati in an operation. Screenshot by me.

Fortunati and Sister Luke soon develop a strong bond and grow very fond of each other. It soon becomes clear to the doctor how unsuited Sister Luke is to being a nun; he recognises that her heart truly lies in her medical work and that she has the necessary skills for this career.

Fortunati grows increasingly worried about her as she gets more and more worn out by the long hours spent in the hospital, and on top of that having to do work in the convent, attend regular prayers (day and night)and take communion. When she develops Tuberculosis, Sister Luke has no choice but to finally rest, as she does so she begins thinking about just where her future lies. 

I love when Fortunati tells Sister Luke, ” I’m going to tell you something about yourself, Sister. I’ve never worked with any other kind of nurse except nuns since I began. You’re not in the mould, Sister, you never will be. You’re what’s called a worldly nun, ideal for the public and ideal for the patients. You see things your own way, you’ll never be the kind of nun that your convent expects you to be.” He sees right away what her internal conflict is and tries to help her with it. Sister Luke is stubborn and refuses to admit she might not be cut out for this way of life.

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Fortunati tries to comfort the distressed Sister Luke.

The scenes between Sister Luke and Doctor Fortunati are my favourites in the entire film. I especially love the scene where she breaks down after accidentally breaking a beaker in the medical supply room; Fortunati finds her crying and tries to comfort her, but has to keep his distance from her (despite her distress)because it wouldn’t be considered proper for him to hold her.

Hepburn and Finch give excellent performances throughout, but they are exceptional in their shared scenes together. I also love how Finch conveys to us with just a look how much he is beginning to care for Sister Luke and wants to keep her in his life.

It seems to me that this film shows us that the medical and religious way of life are quite similar in a way. Both require those in that life/career to help those in need and those who are less fortunate than themselves. The role of a doctor, a nun or priest is a lifelong commitment and you pledge yourself to it for life. Both lives are often difficult and emotionally demanding due to what has to be dealt with and experienced, but those living that life or career continue on to try and make a difference, and they try to have a positive impact. This film shows us this and it certainly made me realise how tough life as a doctor or nurse is out in places like the Congo.  

Not all doctors operate from the safety of a well stocked hospital or doctors surgery. Many work in countries with limited resources. They risk contracting disease, being killed or injured while trying to help the injured or sick and face long hours due to limited staff.

In this film we see Fortunati and Sister Luke pushed to their limits due to the long and draining hours they spend operating; they barely get any sleep and they know they have to be up early the next day to operate all over again. This is not an easy life, but it certainly is a worthwhile one.

My favourite scenes are the following. Sister Luke and her fellow novices being given their new names and having their hair cut. Fortunati diagnosing Sister Luke’s Tuberculosis. Fortunati’s speech where we see he knows exactly what her internal struggle is. Sister Luke reading a distressing letter concerning her father. Sister Luke speaking to a native woman and saying that she doesn’t understand the language, but is confident that by speaking to them daily she’ll pick it up. Fortunati kicking a medical instrument away from a native assistant who was going to hand it to him after dropping it on the floor(obviously this was now unsterile, but the assistant didn’t understand about instrument hygiene so hands it over anyway). Sister Luke crying after dropping the beaker.

The film makes us admire Sister Luke’s strength and determination. We may know long before she does that she is not suited for life in a convent; but watching her come to that realisation herself makes for very powerful viewing. She is a woman who doesn’t want to fail, she is deeply conflicted between two callings that she has and wants to try hard to succeed at both ways of life.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won none of them. Quite how Simone Signoret won the best actress award over Audrey is incomprehensible to me. Signoret was good, but Audrey’s performance is so raw and genuine. She makes you believe she really is tired, conflicted and ill. Audrey says so much emotionally with just expressions in this. I think this is the best performance of her career and it’s a shame it wasn’t recognised. Audrey did win the BAFTA award for best actress for her performance as Sister Luke, so that’s something at least.

This film makes me thankful that we have people who are willing to sacrifice their own happiness and lives in order to save and help others.

Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts on the film below. Never seen it? Then I highly recommend it to you.

 

 

Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 1: Paris When It Sizzles (1963)

I’d like to start a series of posts about classic films that I think deserve some more attention. I’m starting with this romantic comedy starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

Quite simply, this is one of the best and funniest films out there about the filmmaking process. Focusing this time on the screenwriting process, this film takes a look at all the film clichés, at how quickly plot ideas can change, and how such ideas even come to be in the first place.

The film is also a very clever mix of genres. At one point it is a thriller, whilst another scene finds us firmly in horror territory. The film also features an hysterical cameo from Tony Curtis, as a young method actor featuring in several of the film scenarios. The film is basically one big in joke about the filmmaking process, and about the people who work in this industry.

Featuring some gorgeous photography in and around Paris, lots of humour and romance, and Holden and Hepburn having a great deal of fun, what’s not to like?

 

Richard Benson (William Holden)is a cynical Hollywood screenwriter, a ladies man, who loves a drink or two, and is living in a Paris apartment. Hired months ago to write a new screenplay, he has in fact been spending his time having fun and hasn’t written a word! With his deadline fast approaching he hires secretary Gabrielle(Audrey Hepburn)to help him begin and finish on time.

As he comes up with possible scenarios we actually see his ideas as film scenes on screen, featuring Holden and Hepburn as the various main characters. While all this is going on, Benson is finding himself falling in love with Gabrielle, but does she return his feeling?

Holden has a ball playing various fictional adventurous leading men, and even a charming vampire! Hepburn shows a real gift for comedy as the secretary caught up in imagination, and as various fictional leading ladies.

The vampire grotto sequence is one of my favourites, as a romantic afternoon lunch suddenly takes a turn into the realms of darkness, when Holden’s charming playboy is revealed to be a vampire. It’s funny and ridiculous at the same time and just where is that beautiful waterfall/park they go into? It looks gorgeous, I also like the fountains featured in the final scene.

I also love the scene in the film studio featuring Audrey as a sexy woman of the streets taking a bubble bath on an exotic set.

Great fun, and highly recommended to fans of Holden and Hepburn. This flick deserves to be better known. Spread the word, folks!

If you’re already a fan of this one, please share your thoughts on the film.