My Fair Lady – Review

by Bret W.

This…is without a doubt…my all-time favorite film.  It has everything one needs in a full entertainment package: music, dance, a gripping story, unparalleled acting, songs that cannot be outdone.  The colors, the comedy, the drama and pageantry that make My Fair Lady in my opinion the greatest cinematic production in the history of film are lost and unequaled in the modern era of film making.  My Fair lady represents the pinnacle of the era of Hollywood musicals, and the turning point of American film.

It is the story of two people.  Professor Henry Higgins is a refined and abrasive bachelor who makes a study of speech and who pines for a return to proper English among the masses.  Eliza Doolittle is a cockney flower girl who desires to improve her station in life.  When Higgins’ friend, Colonel Pickering, wagers that Higgins could not teach Eliza to speak properly, Higgins and Eliza embark on the toilsome task of taking lead and turning it to gold, the alchemy of the throat, or if you will, teaching Eliza to speak like a proper lady.Its a task that drains them both to the point of exhaustion, when Eliza finally has a breakthrough.  In his excitement, Higgins decides to test her speech skills the next day at Ascot, a very upper-crust horse race venue.  Although she falters in her first trial, with more training and encouragement she is presented as a lady at the Embassy Ball, and is asked to dance with the Prince of Transylvania.  However, after this glorious victory, Higgins seems to forget about Eliza, and she becomes distraught at the thought of having to leave him.

This is a love story that does not appear to be a love story.  It’s a wonderful story of becoming, becoming proper, becoming loved, becoming in love.  The music and lyrics of Lerner and Lowe transcend merely being songs.  It is a musical dialog.  Whereas in most musicals, there is dialog, then everyone starts singing and dancing, then dialog again, in My Fair Lady the music is the spoken word and vice versa.  The language is so crafted that one cannot tell where the song begins and the dialog ends.

The acting, of course, is perfection.  Rex Harrison plays the perfect and definitive Henry Higgins, and although there was controversy over Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Eliza Doolittle, she took the part and made it her own.  Today, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks of Eliza Doolittle as Julie Andrews, who portrayed her in the Broadway production.  Audrey’s elegance and demeanor came across especially well in the Embassy Ball scene, where her stunning beauty became the star around which the others in the scene orbited.

Only once does a film of this magnitude, majesty and beauty come along.  That once has come and it is My Fair Lady, the fairest lady of all.