|My Fair Lady|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 08 December 1998|
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Higgins is delighted with the challenge -- "she's so deliciously low!" he purrs -- and bets Pickering that he can pass her off as a duchess at the Embassy Ball in six months' time. Pickering worries about the girl's feelings, but Higgins brushes it off: she has "no feelings we need worry about." And he persuades the initially reluctant Eliza -- "I'm a good girl, I am!" -- to move into a bedroom at the house.
He begins the arduous task of changing Liza's way of talking -- "In 'Ereford, 'Artshire and 'Ampshire, 'Urricanes 'Ardly Hever 'Appen" -- into something more genteel. When her stubborn "the ryne in Spyne styes mynely in the plyne" changes to "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" they're all delighted. And as she later sings, "I Could Have Danced All Night," Liza realizes she's starting to fall in love with the arrogant Henry.
And on it goes: of course, she's passed off properly at the Embassy Ball -- there are few women more fair than Audrey Hepburn in this handsome scene -- but, typically, Higgins takes Pickering's praise ("You Did It!") while forgetting about Eliza's part in the event. This leads to a scene of great dialog between Eliza and Higgins' at his mother's lovely all-white house, and to his finally coming to the realization that "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," one of the greatest love songs ever written, if only because the word "love" does not appear in the lyrics.
Rodgers and Hammerstein struggled to adapt "Pygmalion" to the musical stage, but finally gave up in frustration. In one of the many supplementary features, we learn that this was because they tried to write love songs for Henry Higgins -- and he's a man who not only doesn't know love when he feels it, he thinks he's a confirmed old bachelor. When Lerner and Lowe accepted this, and incorporated as much of Shaw's superb lines into the play and the songs, they solved the problem and created their masterpiece.
When Jack Warner bought the rights for his studio (and made the project his personal production), he initially wanted Cary Grant to play Higgins. But Grant refused, saying, according to Hollywood history, that not only would he not play Higgins, but he wouldn't even see the movie unless Rex Harrison was given the role. Similarly, Warner wanted James Cagney, originally a musical star, to play Liza's resolutely ne'er-do-well father Alfred P. Doolittle. Cagney probably would have cut a great rug with numbers like "Wif a Little Bit o' Luck" and "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" to work with. But no one can argue with the final choice: the great Stanley Holloway reprised his role from the theatrical version of "My Fair Lady."
The commentary track is exceptionally interesting; it's partly about the restoration and partly about the making of the film in the first place. Art director Gene Allen sets the record straight: whatever the credits might say, he designed the movie himself, not Cecil Beaton. The egotistical Beaton was a great photographer anddesigner of women's clothes, yet insisted that he be credited with designing the whole damned movie.
There are many supplemental shorts, the most significant being "More Loverly Than Ever," hosted by the late Jeremy Brett. It's hard to imagine this great interpreter of Sherlock Holmes as playing the love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill ("On the Street Where You Live"), but that really was him, mooning away on the big screen. He takes us through the production of the film and a visual demonstration of the restoration process. This excellent documentary was created for the CBS airing of the restored "My Fair Lady" in 1991.
Audrey Hepburn had hoped to both play and sing Eliza, and recorded "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and Liza's forthright "Show Me," and her visual/audio tracks are included here. Hepburn does a reasonable job with "Loverly," but, alas, not with "Show Me." She makes a beautiful fair lady, though not quite the "squashed cabbage leaf" that the part of Liza required. The one who did, Julie Andrews, is also interviewed here; she's as gracious, charming and funny as you would want. And she also won the Oscar (for "Mary Poppins") the same year "My Fair Lady" was released. Her comments on why she won are honest and surprising.
All in all, this is a great package. You get a very fine movie and all this extra material in a handsome boxed set. "My Fair Lady" may not be as great a movie as it promised to be, but it is loverly indeed.