Sunday, October 6, 2013

Family Movie Night: My Fair Lady

Title: My Fair Lady
Director: George Cukor
Original Release: 1964
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia

This, my friends, is the power of Pandora.  Our daughter has two stations of her own on my Pandora account and one of her seeds is "Singin' in the Rain" as sung by Tony Martin.   The song has introduced her to the broader world of show tunes.  This movie choice was influenced almost entirely by the songs from her station.  I'm certain it won't be the last.

Another factor may have played in the decision.  My Fair Lady has been a favorite in my family for four generations now.  My Sister was first introduced by our maternal grandmother during a visit.  Once she got back home, she dug up the Broadway cast LP from my parents' record collection and we started listening all the time.  It was several more years before I saw the film, by which time I already knew most of the songs by heart.

One tune in particular has played a significant role in my life.  "On the Street Where You Live" is one of the greatest tenor showstoppers in the entire repertoire.  When I moved to New York City in my mid 20s, the song was one of my audition pieces for choirs and voice teachers.  I also once serenaded My Wife with it on the streets of NYC early in our courtship.  It's one of my father's favorites, too.  He is also tenor.



Over the past year or so, I've given voice lessons as part of a barter arrangement.  A woman in our community gives Our Girl piano lessons in exchange for vocal training for her husband.  Often the lessons are back-to-back so my daughter gets to listen.  "On the Street Where You Live" is one of the songs I taught him so she's also heard me sing it and knows how I feel about it.

The film version of My Fair Lady was enormously successful, though not without controversy.  The movie was a box office smash and took home eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  But the Broadway devotees were furious over the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.  On stage, Julie Andrews had sky rocketed to stardom in the role.  The film producers didn't think she was a big enough name to carry the film.  Hard to imagine now, right?  Well, she certainly got the last laugh - story here.

A similar mistake was nearly made with the Henry Higgins role, too.  Among several others, Cary Grant was offered the role.  His response was blunt: no, and if Rex Harrison weren't cast, he wouldn't even bother to go see the movie.

Rex Harrison was, indeed, cast in the role he'd made famous on stage - won an Oscar, too.  Stanley Holloway also performed his role on both stage and screen, that of Eliza's father Alfred.  They are both so ideally suited to the roles that one wonders in hindsight why Warner Brothers didn't just sign the entire Broadway cast en masse.

Judged on the music alone, My Fair Lady may be my favorite musical of all - well worthy of a 5.  But to me, the story itself is less engaging and also a bit too long.  I once saw a stage performance of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play upon which My Fair Lady is based.  The side characters are better developed in the original, especially Freddy, the love interest.  Also, Eliza leaves Henry for good in the play - a far more satisfying ending.  Our Girl loved the movie, even considered the ending a happy one.  We did tell her that if she should ever find herself in a similar situation, stick with Freddy.

Hepburn is a great Eliza, even if they did dub most of the singing (take another bow, Marni Nixon).  The Julie Andrews hubbub was hardly her fault.  Apart from being a charming actress, she's a costume designer's dream come true.  If you love hats, in particular, this may be the greatest movie ever made.

38 comments:

  1. What a delightfully informative post! One of my most interesting conversations was with Noel Harrison when he was walking across Sacramento's Music Circus parking lot late one night with his Camelot pants on. We stood there a while and I realized his was a profession of luck, skill and loneliness. And, yes, I'd seen his dad perform too, but didn't mention it.

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    1. Great story! I saw a fair number of celebrities on the streets of New York but never had the nerve to strike up a conversation. I like picturing a chatty actor in a parking lot with his Camelot pants on!

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  2. I so love your posts! And I know they should have had Julie Andrews do it, but I can't picture anyone other than Audrey in that role now!

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    1. It really was a happy ending for everyone involved, though.

      Listening to the songs in the movie can be a bit strange. Growing up with the Broadway record, any voice other than Julie Andrews's falls well short of the mark. But as an actress, Audrey nailed it.

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  3. Pandora is very useful. I'm so glad your daughter is making it work for her. I love My Fair Lady. Love Audrey Hepburn. A delightful story.

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    1. I expect we'll have a few more Pandora-inspired movie choices from her down the line. There's been talk of Fiddler.

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  4. We showed that to our kids recently, and they loved it. I like it a lot, too. And I've also read Pygmalion, which is great.

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    1. I never have read the play and now feel that I should. I seem to remember that Mrs. Higgins gives Henry a much more thorough scolding in the end.

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  5. I'm embarrassed now to admit I've never seen it...

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    1. I think it became the forgotten musical for a lot of the public because it was so soon eclipsed by The Sound of Music, released just a year later. In my opinion, the story of My Fair Lady is not as good but the music is far better.

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  6. For my family, classic movies sort of began in the 60s or featured the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Judy Garland. I started expanding my own horizon years later, but still have quite a few gaps to fill. All of Audrey Hepburn, really, for instance.

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    1. It's never too late! If you're out to explore Hepburn's work, I recommend starting with Roman Holilday.

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  7. I remember watching My Fair Lady and loving it.
    The costumes were fabulous. Audrey Hepburn was lovely.
    But what stage /movie I adore Is Hello Dolly. My mothers name was Dolly.
    One year we saw the University production and I bought her the music from the stage production for her birthday. Of course the great Carol Channing was the voice of Dolly. Wonderful !
    I so enjoy reading your Family Movie Night, such fun.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Thanks, parsnip! I don't know Hello Dolly - another one for someday.

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  8. I've never seen the film, but I do know the song above. You put so much detail into the posts about your films that you pretty much leave me wanting to watch them, every time. :)

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    1. I hope you will, and share your thoughts once you do!

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  9. As a Broadway geek... I guess the original script actually ended with a romantic twist, but while in development they opted to change it in favor of a non-romantic friendship. (Idiots.) The script was probably way better before it got tampered with.

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    1. Way to embrace the inner geek, Crystal!

      I'm sure it was better. In Pygmalion, Henry definitely gets what's coming to him.

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  10. 'When I moved to New York City in my mid 20s, the song was one of my audition pieces for choirs and voice teachers. I also once serenaded My Wife with it on the streets of NYC early in our courtship.'

    That was awfully swoony, Squidman. Lovely detail. And I'm with Geo. This post was delightfully informative. A+

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    1. Thanks, Suze. The song was definitely a big part of my young adult life.

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  11. A delightfully informative post! Loved reading this.

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  12. Oh, I wish Cary Grant would have accepted that role!! I just love him. I was never too happy with their choice for Higgins--too old and unattractive for Hepburn (hey, I was really young when I watched this film. It's ok to be this shallow, ha!)

    Loved your serenade story!

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    1. Gasp!

      I have a hard time envisioning anyone other than Rex as Henry Higgins. Apparently, there's a remake in the works - really not something the world needs but oh well. Colin Firth is in line for the role.

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    2. I can definitely see Colin Firth in that role, but who could possibly fill Hepburn's shoes? I know what you mean, though, some films should be left alone. It would be like remaking Gone with the Wind or Casablanca!

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    3. Carey Mulligan is the name I've seen for Eliza.

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    4. Hooray! Oh, Cyg, I'm so happy someone grasped the Dr. Who connection. Yes, indeed, Carey Mulligan was the heroine of what may be the very best Doctor episode of all.

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    5. I can't think of a better choice for the role. I keep hearing about Dr. Who. Guess I should watch it!

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  13. My loverly wife knows every line of "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak," and decades of exposure has pretty much drummed it into me, too. Someday I must learn to take Shavian shorthand. :-)

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    1. That was the song that first drew me in, too!

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  14. I love a good old movie, especially a good musical. Unfortunately, other than the songs that are so incredibly catchy and those amazing hats, My Fair Lady is not one I care for. Like you said, it's too long and the story just seems to go on and on. I did recently watch Singin' in the Rain (which strangely is similar to The Artist) and I really liked that one. Later this week I'll be talking about an old film also: The Grapes of Wrath. So depressing but actually very good!

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    1. I'm a big Steinbeck fan, actually. I enjoyed the film but the book, to me, is more satisfying - especially the horribly depressing ending. My favorite Steinbeck novel, though, is East of Eden and I really don't care for the film version of that one.

      I think you'll enjoy my movie post this coming weekend...

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    2. Hmm...now I'm wondering what movie you'll be reviewing...

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    3. Moses supposes his toeses are roses...

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  15. I haven't thought about this movie in sooo long: thanks for bringing it back to light. I would like to see Pygmalion and compare the two versions. There are so many classic songs from My Fair Lady, and I still hear them referenced: The Rain in Spain, Just You Wait Mr 'iggins...ahhhh ...Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

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    1. The songs really are fabulous. Not many shows can claim three bring-down-the-house numbers on the level of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."

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