My Fair Lady

(George Cukor, USA, 1964)


My Fair Lady is a lumbering, airy musical, a strange compromise between Broadway and Hollywood spectacle – and a true artefact of the mid '60s, when the studio system and its veteran professionals were floundering in the face of a new world and new ways of making films.

Yet, for all its dead time and cavernous space – André Techiné, then a young Cahiers modernist, admired its "astonishing vacuum" – the basic story (from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion) is so undeniably affecting as to constitute a veritable modern myth.

At its centre is a hate-turned-to-love match which is hard to beat: Rex Harrison as the grumpy linguist Henry Higgins, and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the street urchin whom he picks for his 'social experiment'. We empathise with Eliza at every step of her trial – when she is a scrubber resisting Higgins' brutal training, when she is a collaborator slowly falling in love, and finally when she has become a resplendent 'lady' fighting off superficial suitors.

George Cukor's gay sensibility was attune to the unlikely alchemy of this star duo, as well as the reserves of glamour at his disposal (Cecil Beaton worked on costumes and art direction). And the songs are irresistible.

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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