Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Fair Lady (1964) Review

"Next week, on the 20th of May, I proclaim 'Liza Doolittle Day..."
~The King of England, imagined by Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady

(note from Miss Dashwood: The real king of England has not actually sanctioned a 'Liza Doolittle Day on May 20th.)
(note from John Watson: You do know we don't have a king, right?)

Today, in case you haven't noticed, is the 20th of May, and as a self-professed musical geek, I'm celebrating 'Liza Doolittle Day with a vengeance.  My mode of celebrating-with-a-vengeance involves listening to the movie soundtrack, loudly singing the movie soundtrack with my sister in the car, and writing a review of My Fair Lady for all my lovely blog followers.  (That's you.)  So please read and pay attention, because this blog post may prove very interesting.  If you refuse to do so, you will be the most ungrateful, wicked blog readers, and the AAAAAAAANGELS will WEEEEEEEEP for you.  (shush, Whovians, that was not a reference.)


I first saw My Fair Lady when I was nine years old, and at the time the only other musicals I'd seen consisted of the ubiquitous Sound of Music plus various Disney films.  Having always had a liking for dry humor and gorgeous, over-the-top costumes, I fell in love immediately.  In fact, I wrote the movie letters expressing my feelings two or three times every day.  Sheets and sheets.  (What are you sniggering at?)

I've seen MFL probably about a dozen times... I'm not sure of the exact number, but suffice it to say that it ranks high among my favorite musicals and even among my favorite movies of all time.  One of the proudest moments in my fan-ship includes the day I talked my best friend into watching it-- not that she really required that much coaxing-- and she became a steadfast admirer as well.  We even watched it together and talked through... um... most of it.  Okay, moving on... some of you may remember the glorious day two years ago when the BBC Proms broadcast a live performance of My Fair Lady at the Royal Albert Hall, starring our own beloved Anthony Andrews as Henry Higgins.  You can read my extremely jumbled and fangirl-y review of that delightful event here.

On to the movie review-- I believe I've blathered on about nothing long enough.  You must be sick of words by now.  Or maybe you're just sickened by a few days of MY sunshine.  Well, I'm dashed.


I should mention that this review is going to be even more higgledy-piggledy than my usual offerings here-- I'm working on the assumption that everyone reading this has either seen or is relatively familiar with MFL.  Therefore I will feel free to jump around and talk about whatever I want in whatever order I want to talk about it, just like a motorbus-- all bounce and go and no consideration for anybody.  Or for anybody's poor nerves,  either.

So, onward.

I've listened to a live concert version of MFL, seen it performed onstage, listened to the original Broadway cast recording and seen the movie many times-- and for me, Audrey Hepburn is and always shall be the one and only Eliza.   I know her singing was dubbed.  (and for the record, I don't think that's a bad thing-- it wouldn't hurt to dub a few other movie-musical performers' voices now and then, cough cough, lookingatyouRussellCrowe, cough cough.)  I know Julie Andrews' voice blows everyone else's out of the park and that a lot of people felt that she and not Audrey should have played the role.  But you know what?  To me, Audrey Hepburn embodies Eliza in a way that no other performer that I've seen has ever been able to do, and if you don't like my opinion you don't have to read this post.  Please don't think I'm being rude-- although the real question here is really not whether I've treated you rudely, but if you've ever seen me treat anyone else better.

Seriously, though, Audrey Hepburn is one of the best actresses the 20th century ever produced and she's amazing as Eliza.  Also hilarious.  And she delivers snarky lines like nobody's business.  "My name is no concern of yours whatsoever."  (Fun fact: years ago, my sister and I used to watch this movie on the computer in thirty-minute segments after our younger siblings went to bed, and it took us an entire evening just to get through that scene where Eliza comes to Henry Higgins' house, because we kept backing it up and replaying that one line and nearly killing ourselves laughing.)

 Since this review is going to hop, skip and jump all over the place, let's talk for a moment about Eliza's clothes.  If I can stop drooling over the dress pictured above for long enough to write about it, that is.  Because that is, hands down, my favorite of her dresses.  You can't see the skirt in that spot, but it's got three tiers and they've all got this superb scalloped edge. I want to make a replica of this dress someday.  (In, um, a size that is not 0.  Heh.)  Known colloquially (read: between Melody and myself) as the Just You Wait dress, it's probably the cutest outfit in the whole movie.  I'm not such a fan of the hair bow, but now that I think about it, this hairstyle is probably one of Eliza's tamer ones, so whatever.

I also really like her outfits in the lessons sequence-- in fact, I just love the whole lessons sequence, period.  The lamp flame, the strawberry tarts, the pline kike (er... plain cake), the xylophone (which was so kind to let me come) and of course the infamous marbles.
"I say, Higgins, are those pebbles really necessary?"
"If they were necessary for Demosthenes, they are necessary for Eliza Doolittle!"

(Bonus: Demosthenes and his pebble-curing stutter are mentioned in another drama set in the early Edwardian era... anyone care to venture a guess as to which one?)

Then of course there's the classic Rain in Spain moment-- the climax of all the stress and study and wails of frustration that we've experienced for the last half hour.  Say what you will about Henry Higgins (we'll get to him in a moment) but his English Language Pep Talk remains one of my favorite quotes from this movie.  

 "I know your head aches; I know you're tired; I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher's window. But think what you're trying to accomplish. Think what you're dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language... it's the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds. And that's what you've set yourself out to conquer, Eliza.  And conquer it... you will."

When I was in eighth grade (why does that suddenly sound like a very long time ago) I competed in various levels of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and some of the studying that went into that rather grueling process reminded me at times of Eliza's struggle to master proper English.  One day I was particularly Down and Out about the whole thing (because really, why does vichyssoise have two s's preceding one and not one preceding two as logic would dictate?) and in a random moment of inspiration, went to IMDb, found the exact wording of the Pep Talk quote, wrote it out in my best handwriting (in INK) on the inside cover of one of my spelling notebooks, and read it over to myself every time I sat down to study.  I still get chills and goosebumps at that part in the movie.  And then even more when Eliza finally says it right.  (Been known to tear up once or twice too, not gonna lie.)

"The rain... in Spain... stays mainly... in the plain."
"By George, she's got it.  By George!  She's got it!"

While we're on a sappy note, let's talk a little about Freddy Eynsford-Hill.  (Yes, I know we haven't gotten to Henry Higgins yet, and yes, I know he's a more important character.  But he'll get his turn in time.  You don't think I'm a heartless guttersnipe for making him wait so long, do you?)  This guy is the most annoying dweeb ever to derp his way through a movie, and I have on occasion been guilty of fast-forwarding "On The Street Where You Live."  *cough*  However, he provides excellent comic fodder, and he's definitely quotable on occasion.  "It's the new small talk.  You do it so awfully well."

Small talk is a bore sometimes, but Eliza is totally not.  "My aunt died of influenza, so they say.  But it's my belief they done the old woman in."  This comedy-gold scene has become more or less iconic in my family-- we all know it by heart and whenever something goes unexpectedly missing, it becomes a contest to see who can be the first to shout "Somebody PINCHED it!" I can't decide who's funnier at the Ascot races-- Eliza ("why should she die of influenza when she come through diphtheria right enough the year before?"), Henry Teacup-on-the-Hat Higgins, or Henry's mother.  "Henry, what a disagreeable surprise."  I love her.  :D  Eliza's dress... not so much.  "Oh, she's being pinned.  Some of the clothes we got her didn't quite fit.  I TOLD Pickering we should have brought her with us."  The dress, in my humble opinion, resembles a Picasso painting of salt and pepper shakers.  Or maybe a zebra. (Though I wouldn't mind wearing her hat just for fun.)

The Embassy Ball is another highly entertaining spectacle... Eliza's dress, hair and jewelry, for starters, and then Zoltan Karpathy's entire existence, and Henry Higgins' complete disregard for good manners, and of course Queen Dracula herself.  Er, the queen of Transylvania.  (But seriously.  The fact that she looks like a vampire cannot possibly be mere coincidence.)  Oh, and all the guests talking smack about Eliza behind her back in what looks exactly like a super-sophisticated game of Whisper Down the Lane-- until it gets to Higgins, of course, at which point it turns into Obnoxious Guffawing in the Ballroom.

Now let's talk about Eliza's hair.  Behold.

I mean, what is it supposed to be?  A rhinoceros horn?  If so, it's on backwards.  Is it supposed to mimic some bizarre Edwardian style that somehow got erased from all fashion records?  If so, George Cukor could have done better.  Also, Eliza just does not have that much hair on her head.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that all the principal members of the cast don't have that much hair between them (excluding Mrs. Higgins, who's probably wearing false hair too).  The dress is kind of weird too but you don't notice it so much because you're so busy wondering how in the world she balances that thing and if it's hollow inside and how long it took to make it and how many cans of hairspray were used and whether the blue M&Ms are really and truly better than the red ones.  (note: they are.)

 So let's talk a little bit about Henry Higgins, the misogynistic jerk who can tell what street you live on simply by listening to you talk for a sentence or two.  He's self-absorbed, annoying, way too proud of his own achievements, and he pouts when his mother doesn't pay attention to him.  He's also hysterically funny, but that is no excuse and I'm not using it as one.  In short, I do not like Henry Higgins, nor do I condone any of his actions, but the movie would not be the same without him and he really is a lonely person deep down inside.  And he makes really great one-liners.  "Pay the bills and say no to the invitations."   "I don't want one of those dresses with weeds here and weeds there."   "But if you are naughty and idle, you shall sleep in the cellar amongst the black beetles and be walloped by Mrs. Pierce with a broomstick."

Also, his singing is abominable.  Rex Harrison's, that is.  Anthony Andrews did a swell job of actually, y'know, using the music for the songs when he performed the part.  And Henry Higgins really does have some good songs.  "I'm An Ordinary Man" is moderately hilarious if done tongue-in-cheek, and though "A Hymn to Him" gets old rather fast, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" is very touching and almost romantic.  (One must be quick with the remote control and hit the mute button at the psychological moment when the song begins, though, to avoid a four-part repetition of a four-letter word.  Ahem.)

*random pretty picture of Eliza in Mrs. Higgins' house*

Mrs. Higgins, by the way, is amazing, as aforementioned.  "Henry and the Bishop, together?  I shall be excommunicated."  I wish she had further appearances.  I like to think she and Eliza got together for tea regularly after the story ended and made snarky remarks about Professor Higgins and made friendship bracelets and wouldn't give him one.

I should also mention Colonel Pickering and Mrs. Pierce-- they're both dryly hilarious and they put up with a lot of nonsense from Henry Higgins, which says a great deal for their characters.   But this review is already beginning to run long and I want to get to bed so I won't say much more about them.  Feel free to elaborate in the comments if you think I left important stuff out.

So let's talk about the ending, shall we?  MFL is left famously open-ended when the credits begin to roll, and people have various theories about how things should have turned out.  George Bernard Shaw (a man with a beard, who wrote a play called St. Joan, all about Joan of Arc-- SUPER MAJOR kudos to you if you caught that reference) claims that Eliza and Freddy got married, but he also believed that the story made its way along well enough without any songs in it, so what does he know.  I think that Henry Higgins was in love with Eliza, and it took her absence to make him realize that, but that they really weren't suited to each other in a romantic fashion.  Sure, he was special to her, and she couldn't just walk out of his life forever, but they weren't meant to get married.  I like to imagine that she met someone else, someone younger and less pompous, who fell in love with her and she with him (and this someone was NOT Dweeby Eynsford-Wimp) and they got married and moved into 27B Wimpole Street, where she and Henry Higgins remained friends and next-door neighbors until the end of their days-- and Colonel Pickering stuck around at 27A and occasionally he and Professor Higgins would take jaunts to India together and come back with fantastically egotistical stories about the escapades they had, to which Eliza would listen politely and say interested things, and then tell Mrs. Higgins about them afterward and they'd have a good howl together.  Oh, and Zoltan Karpathy married the Queen of Transylvania but when she died he retired from public life and went and got a job wearing a cape and teaching math on some kids' TV show with muppets in it.  Everybody else lived happily ever after, especially Eliza, who wore lovely clothes all the rest of her days.

As for the slippers... she told him to get them himself.


Ginny@RandomActsofMomness said...

So nice to see an homage to MFL! Such a great musical.

Years and years ago, I saw Richard Chamberlain onstage as Henry Higgins. He was utterly fabulous.

Naomi Bennet said...

What a lovely review, Miss Dashwood!

I find myself quite agreeing with almost everything you said.
Indeed, Audrey Hepburn is magnificent in her role. Always was (well, ever since the movie was made anyway) and always will be. Yep.

Ohh *squee* that brown dress is pulchritudinous, as I like to say. That's my second favourite dress- I prefer the pink gazebo dress she wears in the picture *random pretty picture of Eliza in Mrs. Higgins' house*- you know, that pink one.

Argh- I can.not.tell.you how much Mr-what's-his-name (and no, I am most CERTAINLY NOT hinting that I'm putting him in the same category as Mr Darcy)-- ummm, Mr 'enry 'iggings- as Liza says- ANNOYS ME MOST TERRIBLY.

We did fast forward the 'street where you live bit'- if I can remember it well. It bored me to death. Couldn't he just pleeeesh stop whining about.

This movie has many, many wonderful things, but also some annoying parts, like that ending. THAT ENDING. Argh. Words fail to describe me! (you don't know how that feels, Miss Dashwood, because you always find the words to describe everything- you're a genius.)

You didn't talk much about the music, which is surprising for a musical-review. But nevertheless, I enjoyed this post excessively.


Oh yes, I loved the way you kept on saying 'anyways' and 'onwards'.

Evie S said...

I absolutely LOVE MFL!! It is such a lovely musical and it is so good. The music is amazing and the acting by all in the film is to die for. I often find myself quoting it, often annoying my family.

Hayden said...

Okay, I laughed through this entire thing. My Fair Lady is sort of one of "my" movies (we all have those, don't we?) and I read a biography of Audrey Hepburn a couple weeks ago and it REALLY got me in the mood to watch this movie. (unfortunately all my movies are packed up so I can't watch it right now :( )

Audrey Hepburn is amazing...and can I just say I really love Henry Higgins? He cracks me up like no one else. Unfortunately almost everyone else seems to hate him and find him annoying. I pretty much agree with your description of him, though. I always kind of had a headcannon where at the end Eliza stays with him as his sort-of Secretary and then they just kind of go along through life being good friends who bicker at each other and she and Mrs. Higgins are good friends and the Colonel stays around making sure they don't kill each other (Eliza and Henry, I mean, not Eliza and Mrs. Higgins).

I never cared much for Freddy (although I like him much better in the musical than in the actual play!!!) until I realized he was played by the guy who played Sherlock Holmes in the older PBS series- and that his voice was dubbed by the guy who played Prince Philip in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. So by now I'm quite fond of On the Street Where You Live- though I have never been (and never will be) an Eliza-Freddy shipper. Ick.

Speaking of annoying... ELIZA'S DAD BORES ME TO DEATH. I always skip his songs....

So sorry for the super-long comment but you obviously got me excited 'cause this musical is one of my things, ya know? :)

Lois said...

I grew up with this movie too and have always loved it. Funny, but I actually just always assumed they got married. I certainly didn't think as deeply into it as you just did though. I've never heard any other theory from my parents or siblings but now I'm curious.
Thanks for the great post. :)

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

"Well, I'm dashed!"

If I could pick a leading role in a musical to play, it would be Eliza. It has everything—wonderful songs, funny scenes and dramatic ones. And I'd have to agree with Hayden, I mostly find Henry Higgins funny. He's so entirely oblivious to his own faults that it's comical. And of course it's great fun to see Eliza and Mrs. Higgins put him in his place at the end. ("Henry, don't grind your teeth.")

And the "Somebody pinched it" scene is just hilarious. I love Colonel Pickering's reactions.

My favorite outfit in the movie is Eliza's pink dress at the end. Surprisingly some people seem to hate it, but I have a weakness for pale pink and filmy ruffles. :) And isn't Mrs. Higgins' house lovely too? It seems to be indoors and outdoors at the same time, if you know what I mean.

Poor Freddy. True, he's not a very well-drawn character, but at least he gets a nice song to sing. Did you know that Jeremy Brett played Audrey Hepburn's brother in War and Peace? (Which I haven't seen yet, though I've read the book.) There is one puzzling flaw in the script, though—they never really explain why Freddy has no money. All we see is him and his mother attending Ascot and the opera dressed to the nines. I mean, having read plenty of books set in England I know all about the impoverished aristocracy and keeping up appearances and all that...but here, a casual viewer might end up wondering if the Eynsford-Hills had managed to lose a fortune during intermission. (If I'm remembering correctly, in Shaw's original play there is a bit with Mrs. Eynsford-Hill actually mentioning their lack of money.)

Sara Lewis said...

"(Bonus: Demosthenes and his pebble-curing stutter are mentioned in another drama set in the early Edwardian era... anyone care to venture a guess as to which one?)"

Hmmm . . . I bet I'm way off, but is it "The King's Speech"?

Charming! said...

When I first saw this as a kid I was rooting for Freddy.

Joan said...

The marbles and Demosthenes are mentioned in "The King's Speech."
Loved the post.

Melody said...

Haha... I don't even know what you're talking about with the Whovian thing. :P

Yeah, you didn't really talk me into watching it, per se. In fact, I think the most you did was casually suggest that I watch it. And I took it from there. Except not right away, because the first time you mentioned it was when I believed that most musicals were annoying.
But I still thank you for my introduction. :D And "steadfast admirer"... yeah, it's only, like, my favorite musical. (And my knowledge is much larger now. :P) Well, favorite feel-good musical, anyway. IDK what my favorite Dramatic one is. Haha. ;)

I adore your reviews. They are amusing. My reviews are just... reviews. If they're as boring to read as they are to write... well, I guess that's why I don't do them that often. Haha. ;P

I don't think Russel Crowe's voice should have been dubbed. In a musical that's almost entirely singing, that should just be a Requirement. If it's not good enough, they should go elsewhere. Er, choose someone else. :P


Hehehehehe. I wouldn't actually know your trivia question except that you remarked upon that bit when you watched that episode... it's been a long time since I saw it. Pre-MFL, I guess. Just like I hadn't seen Aunt Hetty's Ordeal since before I recognized P&P, apparently... has it really been THAT long since I went through the entire series? SURELY not! O_O

I LOVE THAT PEP TALK TOO-- and how is it that you never toooold me about writing that in your notebook???? Such an interesting tidbit, too! And did you not keep the notebook? I should have liked to see it.
Eight grade DOES seem like a long time ago.
That's dweadful...

I don't think I've ever teared up, haha, but I DO like that part.

Awww, I LIKE On the Street Where You Live. It's such a nice tune and the orchestra is purty. And the neighborhood is also cool.

Hmm. Personally I'm a bit afraid her hat would hurt. :P

SHE AND ST. JOHN ARE RELATED! "A parson from Transylvania!"

Who is George Cukor...

I think An Ordinary Man gets old even faster than A Hymn to Him, personally.

WHY do you always give kudos to people who recognize references when it's never a reference I'm going to recognize?

Mehhhh... I don't think he was ever in love with her, really. I think they both had a bit of a fancy at some point or other, but that hers turned pretty quickly to friendship and his would too... in fact, I think it was mostly that, but he was so unaccustomed to the mere idea of being FRIENDS with a WOMAN that he wasn't quite sure what was going on. Hahahaha.
She doesn't have to get married, though. I don't really like the idea that people only have happily-ever-afters if they get married.

And I loved the bit about the slippers.

I'm sorry this is so long. Heh. These things do 'appen. :P I probably shouldn't have composed this in email; it encourages me to be long-winded.

Sarah Scheele said...

Hey Amy, just wanted to let you know . . .

One of my friends commented on your interview on my blog, asking which are your favorite period miniseries. (She seems to think you quite a kindred spirit!)

Actually, I'd love to know this too. I've been curious about that ever since I met you. Do pop back over and tell us! :)

Marie said...

Heehee, the Picasso salt and pepper shakers made my day. As well as the rhinoceros horn. And, believe it or not, I did not think to think the angels weeping was a reference until you mentioned it. Anyways, I have to get my little sister interested in watching this sometime because the boys would Think Me Weird if I watched it by myself. :) I've only seen it once but I did like it very much. The Just You Wait dress is lovely but I think it would look better in blue. That dark purple is pretty but a little...meh.

Ashley said...

Hi Miss Dashwood,
I am writing a book review for Anne of Green Gables, and I found your Keep Calm and buy a garden rake, seed, and 20 pounds of brown sugar. I was wondering if I could use it in the post? I'll link it to you, but if you would rather I wouldn't thats ok. Thanks!!

Miss Dashwood said...

Go right ahead and use it, Ashley-- I'd be honored! :D

Ashley said...

Thanks!!! BTW, I loved this post!! I keep remembering Picasso and the rhinoceros hair and giggling :D

Arwen Undomiel said...

I love this musical! It's one of the most quotable ever!:) I agreed with most of what you said - I only disagree on Henry Higgins. Of course, what you said was absolutely true: He IS self-absorbed, annoying, and way too proud of his own achievements. But in my opinion he's also epic;) I mean, really. The teacup? And "the ANGELS will WEEP for you"? I love it:) I also do enjoy his singing in "I Shall Never Let a Woman in My Life." "Why Can't the English" is too annoying, in my opinion;) I'm not a huge fan of the ending, because it sort of does leave you hanging. I actually like to think that Eliza and 'Enry ended up together, though. (Yeah, yeah, I'm that weird person who doesn't mind the disparity in their ages. Colonel Brandon and Marianne, after all;D) In short I'm so happy you love this musical too and that you wrote this review:) God bless!

Miss Elliot said...

And WHAT become of the straw hat that was to come to ME? SOMEbody PINCHED it. And what *I* say is, them as pinched it done her in.
Bravo, Miss Dashwood- you have once again bit the bowl off the spoon- I mean, hit the nail on the head.
As for the other Edwardian-stuttering-Demosthenes-sorta-movie, I have a guess- Perhaps it is....The King's Speech? But that isn't really in the Edwardian time period.
Anyway, I laughed and laughed over this one (in fact, the first blog post of yours I read, except for the P&P95 review) and continue to do so even now. I do love a laugh, which is a family trait I think.