25 October 2004 | vox-sane
My Fair Movie
Very few movies are letter-perfect. Not perfect in the sense that goofs and gaffes don't exist here and there, but perfect as in pure entertainment. Especially in long movies, the squirm element is always a threat. "My Fair Lady", bringing the most tuneful of Broadway scores to the big screen (really big, at the time) was as perfect as movie entertainment could be. The old furors over Audrey Hepburn seem silly in hindsight. Hepburn replaced Julie Andrews, a wonderful singer-actress who had created the role, not only on Broadway but in London. But Andrews was not a familiar face to movie-goers and no one knew if she'd hold an audience in the movies as in the live theaters. Too, Hepburn was an inspired choice, since her background probably would make Eliza Doolittle's transformation from flower-selling gutter-snipe into a lady of quality more believable (Hepburn's mother was a baroness). As far as her singing voice, the new DVDs of "MFL" have her acting to her own recordings of a few of the songs, and while it's not bad, at this level of film-making expense and prestige, "not bad" is no good.
Surrounding her are a magnificent cast. Stage and screen pros Rex Harrison (Henry Higgins) and Stanley Holloway (Doolittle) were carried over from Broadway (after some initial and rather foolish questions about both). Joining them were veteran droll actor Wilfred Hyde-White as Col. Pickering and an amazingly youthful Jeremy Brett ("Sherlock Holmes") as Freddy.
The book and lyrics were by Alan Jay Lerner and the music by Frederick Loewe ("Brigadoon", "Camelot", "Gigi", etc.) based on George B. Shaw's best play. A fully "integrated" musical where the songs advance the story or reveal character, the nonpareil line-up of songs include "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face", "The Rain in Spain", "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "On the Street Where You Live".
Because of its theatrical origins there is an unavoidable stage-bound look to some scenes. But the designers have done their best to keep this from being a detriment. The interiors look like real houses, the Covent Garden set is a masterpiece of openness. Only the Ascot scene retains its staginess, but its black and white palate and stylized look adds variety to the movie.
The restored DVD version looks great. I saw a print of this movie in a revival theater in the early 1980s; it was blurry and broken and the colors were faded and inaccurate. Yet the designers used a rich tapestry of colors and wood tones, giving every corner of the movie's wide screen something worth seeing. "MFL" was a spectacle well worth the struggle and expense of restoration.
Everything about "MFL" was first-class, the cast, script, costuming, sets, music. For someone who enjoys musical there's not a dull moment.