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There have been very few actress that have charmed their way into audiences’ hearts, ruled the box-office, and have remained as an immortal memory of superb acting, classic looks, and breath-taking persona. Audrey Hepburn is one of them. And even though the movie we are reviewing here may not be as popular as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it is nonetheless one of her best performances on screen.
This quaint musical, My Fair Lady, keeps the viewers mesmerized till the end, making them wonder ‘wouldn’t it be loverly’ [by the way a song runs like this] if such lighthearted musicals appear now and then.
The film is about a common flower girl and her transformation into a breathtakingly beautiful and sophisticated society women by learning how to speak properly. It is somewhat like those rags to riches stories, only better and more believable!
Eliza Doolittle [Audrey Hepburn], daughter of a common dustman, Alfred P. Doolittle [Stanley Holloway] is a flower girl who is ambitious to work in a flower shop only if she could improve her accent. She comes knocking at the house of Professor Henry Higgins [Rex Harrison], an autocratic, self-assured Phonetics teacher, a man who not only despises women in general but also dislikes the pretensions of the Upper Class.
One night, as Higgins takes a shelter from rain and meets an acquaintance, Col. Hugh Pickering [Wilfrid Hyde-White] who has come from India to meet Higgins, he boasts to Col. Pickering that he could transform Eliza. And luckily enough for Eliza, she hears him accept a wager to turn her cockney accent into proper speech.
Eliza offers to pay one shilling per lesson, which Higgins in his wonted way interprets into a colossal sum in keeping Eliza’s monthly income in mind. But Col. Pickering, whom Higgins had brought home to stay, buts in on Eliza’s whimpering and offers to pay for her lessons, the idea of change in speech being irresistible to him as he himself is an expert at phonetics.
Soon after Alfred Doolittle visits Higgins ostensibly, thinking he is extracting his daughter from an unholy situation, but soon comes to brass tags as Higgins tells him to take Eliza away. Alfred guffaws and readily exchangers Eliza for a petty five pounds acknowledging he has no morals “cause he can’t afford ‘em!
Now begins a rigorous training schedule, and the most enjoyable part of the movie, full of mockery and comedy, when Higgins puts marbles in Eliza’s mouth, makes her stand near a lighted candle to pronounce aspirated sounds. Eliza makes little progress as she braves Higgins’ harsh approach and callous indifference.
When patience begins to finally ebb away, Eliza suddenly begins to pronounce words correctly prompting the suddenly rejuvenated and excited trio to bring into a song-dance number, as Higgins joyously announces “she has got it”.
Higgins then decides to try out Eliza at a social function, the Ascot Race Course. Here her genteel manners manners impress as much as her sudden lapse into cockney with an animated “C’mon Dover, move your bloomin’ arse!” making the high-class ladies swoon.
Higgins then takes Eliza to an Embassy Ball, assuaging an anxious Col. Pickering that there will be no horses there. At the Ball Eliza dances even with a Prince. Here Zoltan Karpathy [Theodore Bikel], an ex-student of Higgins, shadows Eliza and finally certifies that Eliza is not only Hungarian like him, but of royal blood!
Back at Higgins’ place all applaud Higgins for having won the wager, but Eliza misses any credit. Higgins and Eliza sadly fall out due to a misunderstanding, and the story takes a turn for the nasty with developments in Eliza and her father’s lives. But in the end, it all finishes happily.
Possessing all the charm of a charming butterfly-come-out-of-a-chrysalis the sophisticated Eliza finally comes to terms with her new identity and her realization that Higgins really cares for her.
My Fair Lady is not only charming, but is also grand and opulent. It breathes fresh life into George B. Shaw’s play, that originated the Broadway musical and led to this movie. To this date, My Fair Lady stands as an excellent example of a musical, that was not only hilarious, but also one where songs added to the charm of the movie, unlike most of the modern day musicals that seem to have literally shoved words as lyrics into the actors’ mouths, making them sing a dialogue that was least meant to be sung!
If you are not an ardent fan of musicals, watch this one; you will be.