Well, it’s May 20, so let’s celebrate “Eliza Doolittle Day” with My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Spanky (1932)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 (1932-1933) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 19 minutes, 52 seconds)
The kids are trying to put on their own production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but young Spanky (George McFarland) keeps causing trouble for them. Part of this short’s claim to fame is that it reuses some of Spanky’s screen test, with the bug hunt and the bath, as part of the overall story. Otherwise, it appears to be a talkie remake of an earlier Our Gang short from 1926 called Uncle Tom’s Uncle. Most of the fun here is indeed following Spanky and all the stuff he gets into (including finding his father’s hidden stash of money), along with all the things that the kids in the audience keep throwing at the performers. Given the play that the kids are putting on, some of them are wearing blackface (or something similar), but it’s a relatively minor part of the short (as in, only a few seconds). Overall, I enjoyed this one quite a bit!
And Now For The Main Feature…
This is, obviously, the tale of common flower girl Eliza Doolittle, as played by Audrey Hepburn. After listening to Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) bragging that he could help her improve her English enough to work in a flower shop, she comes to his home, offering to pay for some lessons. Professor Higgins’ guest, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White), makes a bet that Professor Higgins can’t teach her proper English and how to be a lady in time for the Embassy Ball, which Henry takes him up on. Eliza struggles for a while, but finally gets a handle on it. Sadly, things don’t go quite as well as they had hoped when Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering take Eliza to the races. However, Professor Higgins is determined, and they keep working to prepare Eliza for the Embassy Ball.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw first wrote the play Pygmalion in 1912 (which premiered the following year). The play was well-received, and was eventually turned into a movie in 1938 (with Shaw helping to adapt the story). The story begged for a musical adaptation, but it was a bumpy road to get there. For one thing, as I mentioned when I reviewed The Chocolate Soldier (1941), when Shaw’s 1894 play Arms And The Man was adapted into a musical, he despised the results (even if it was popular with audiences) and tried to prevent any more of his plays from being turned into musicals while he was alive (with him finally dying in November 1950). Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár considered setting Pygmalion to music in the early 1920s, but Shaw stopped him. Later on, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein made their attempt at turning it into a musical, but they also had to give up. Finally (in the 1950s, after Shaw had died), composers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe took on the project, helped by the changing times on the theatrical scene. The final results spoke for themselves, with the 1956 play (now called My Fair Lady) running 2,717 performances.
Of course, with that kind of success, the movie studios came a-calling. Problem was, CBS Chairman Bill Paley had control of the movie rights, since the network had invested $400,000 in the show, and he wouldn’t accept any old offer. Jack Warner (head of Warner Brothers) very much wanted the rights, and finally ended up offering the then-unheard of amount of $5.5 million, which was accepted (and came with some other conditions, one of which amounted to CBS getting the rights to the movie itself after a number of years). With that kind of cost right off the bat, Jack needed a big hit, and, since he himself was producing the movie (a rarity for him), he set out to get some big names for the cast. For the role of Alfred Doolittle, he wanted to get James Cagney (who liked to perform the character’s songs at parties), but the recently retired star refused to come back, especially if he was working under his old boss. So, it was back to Stanley Holloway (who had originated the role on Broadway). For Professor Higgins, Jack wanted Cary Grant, but he, too, refused the role (and after several other big stars were considered, the role went to the Broadway show’s star, Rex Harrison). But when it came to Eliza Doolittle, Jack didn’t want to use the then-unknown Julie Andrews, and very much wanted Audrey Hepburn (who had coveted the role herself after seeing the show). Audrey very much wanted to sing all her songs (even going so far as to work with a vocal coach and spend a lot of time in the recording studio to get things right), Jack felt that she wasn’t up to the task of singing the songs herself and hired Marni Nixon to dub (most of) her songs. He tried to keep that fact a secret, but audiences noticed, and the publicity (not helped by Warner Brother’s publicity department trying to claim, after word got out, that Marni only did half the singing, which her husband angrily denied) resulted in a backlash that saw Audrey fail to receive an Oscar nomination for her role. Still, the film more than made back its cost at the box office, besides winning a number of other Oscars that year.
Of course, we can’t discuss my opinion of My Fair Lady without mentioning the music! The music is most of the fun with this movie, with songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On The Street Where You Live” and many others! I personally enjoy “I Could Have Danced All Night” the most, but I can easily put on the movie’s soundtrack, and be smiling (and dancing) in short order! It’s just that much fun!
No doubt you also want to know my opinion on the “Audrey Hepburn Vs. Julie Andrews” controversy associated with this movie. I like Audrey better as an actress and very much prefer her in this role. I know, she couldn’t handle all of Eliza’s songs, since they weren’t written/arranged specifically for her (unlike the score of the earlier Funny Face, where they were able to pick and choose the songs for her to do her own singing). Whatever we may think, the problem is that, due to the cost of making the film (in between Bill Paley’s asking price and conditions, as well as all the money Jack Warner spent on the film), Jack needed the movie to be a BIG hit, which was way too much of a financial risk to rely on the then-unknown Julie Andrews. For me, Audrey did a wonderful job, and I just can’t imagine anybody else in that role!
It took me some time, but this is a movie I have come to enjoy very, very much! I mainly saw it at first due to my late grandmother, who really liked it. I didn’t care for it as much at the time, but I still enjoyed watching it with her. I probably didn’t really start to care for the movie until we finally made the upgrade to Blu-ray and a high-definition television (which happened long after my grandmother passed away). I enjoyed watching it far more than I thought I would. Not much later, I heard about a new restoration of the movie on the way. I ended up seeing that new restoration when it premiered in theatres (the first of two times I have had the good fortune to see this wonderful movie on the big screen), and again (and again) with the Blu-ray for that restoration! I very much understand now why my grandmother enjoyed it, and it has been yearly viewing around May 20 ever since! So, obviously, I recommend this movie!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD either individually or as part of the Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection from CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Pictures.
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… My Fair Lady (1964)
On May 25, 2021, Paramount Pictures released My Fair Lady on the 4K UHD format. I fell in love with the movie when I got the 2015 Blu-ray (with the then-new restoration after it had briefly played in theatres), and I was very impressed with the transfer. Quite frankly, I considered that disc to be one of the crown jewels in my physical media collection (if not possibly my favorite, even though I had a number of other movies that I enjoyed even more than this one). It took nearly six-and-a-half years, but the status of that Blu-ray has finally been supplanted (well, five-and-a-half if we allow for when the UHD was actually released instead of when I first got the chance to see it). It still uses that same 2015 restoration, but with all the additional bells and whistles that the UHD format allows for! The detail is much better, as is all the color (especially for scenes like the Ascot races, the Embassy Ball, and a few others that now really pop visually). Quite simply, the picture here is breathtaking throughout the movie! Now, when I first started blogging (and doing the various “Top 10 Disc Releases” of the year posts), it was my intention to update those lists as I saw more and more of the movies released in any given year on physical media. I did so after that first year, but the time and effort proved to be too much, and thus I haven’t updated any of those posts beyond the initial posting. That’s still going to be the case, which is why I feel that I should mention that, for all intents and purposes, I now consider this UHD release of My Fair Lady to be the BEST physical media release of 2021, and therefore have no problem whatsoever in recommending it!
Note: for those who like to “future-proof” their titles by buying combo packs, this release is not recommended, as the two disc set contains the movie (and only the movie) on the UHD disc, and the accompanying Blu-ray is the second disc of extras that has been included with every release of the film since the 2015 Blu-ray. In short, if you are 4K ready, this set is highly recommended (and if you’re not, then I would suggest sticking with the Blu-ray or upgrading to 4K to enjoy the UHD)!
Film Length: 2 hours, 53 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #2 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
The Reluctant Debutante (1958) – Rex Harrison
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