8 July 2002 | DeeNine-2
Wonderful, but I missed Julie Andrews
I thought the music was wonderful. I thought Audrey Hepburn was just adorable and so full of energy and grace and just fascinating to watch. Rex Harrison was an absolutely perfect Professor Higgins and never wavered or changed character. My problem (a minor one) is with the ending and with the dubbing.
The story is brilliant of course, taken from George Bernard Shaw's acclaimed play Pygmalion, although materially altered to fit the requirements of a musical comedy. The contrast of the unschooled street urchin Liza Doolittle and the stuffy, self-possessed confirmed bachelor, a kind of nineteenth century British man of science, wonderfully accomplished in his profession, but blind to himself when it comes to relationships with other people, made for a most interesting match. And the delusive dream of a man forming his own perfect woman (which is the basis of the Pygmalion legend) works so very well with a conceited linguist tutoring a cockney girl. The entire concept is a work of genius with the drunken father and the objectifying Col. Pickering and the very right Mrs. Pierce.
But there are some problems. Freddy is needed of course as another "objectifying" character to make it clear just how desirable Eliza really is and how foolish and blind Professor Higgins is in not seeing this--in theory, of course, because in practice with Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews as Eliza, this would seem entirely unnecessary. And indeed without Freddy we do not have the beautiful "On the Street Where You Live." But even with him Prof. Higgins does not see, and indeed even at the resolution of the story, he still does not see, as he asks for his slippers. If this were presented to current London and Broadway audiences it would never play the way it was written. Professor Higgins would need to see the light and he would have to get his own slippers!
The dubbing and the need for it is curious. There is no doubt that Marni Nixon, who did the singing, has a beautiful and commanding voice, and we are the better for having heard her, but why is the dubbing so obvious? It's almost as if Miss Hepburn is saying to the audience: they said it would be better if Miss Nixon sings instead of me because her voice is stronger and so very well trained. And so Hepburn does not completely lip-sync some of the opening words of songs as though to remind us that she is not singing. And the contrast between her delicate voice and then the sudden power of Marni Nixon's is obvious. Beyond this is the question of why Julie Andrews, who has a voice to match that of Miss Nixon, and charisma and charm at least in the same ballpark as Miss Hepburn, wasn't asked to play the part that she knew so very well from her experience on the stage. Still, as another reviewer has so acutely noted, if she had been asked, we would have missed her in Mary Poppins, which was made the same year. I should also note that Hepburn was 33 or 34 years old when this was made (although she looked almost ten years younger). Nonetheless she was playing the part of "a good girl, I am," whom Pickering identifies in his call to Scotland Yard as being 21 years old.
Curious. But all is forgiven because Audrey Hepburn is just so beautiful, so elegant and so delightful in the part. I especially loved her in the opening scene in her soiled clothes and hat and her sour voice. By the way, I have heard Julie Andrews sing the part, although I never saw her on the stage, and the way she "meow's" Eliza's accent, like a cat's claw on a chalk board, is really amazing. (Get the CD.)
This is one of the best movie musicals ever made, a sheer delight highlighted not only by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, but by Stanley Holloway as the Liza's lovable rascal father and Wilfrid Hyde-White as the very understanding and very properly British Col. Pickering with opulent direction by the great George Cukor. The sets and production numbers are gorgeous. But see it for Audrey Hepburn, one of the great stars of the silver screen in one of her most memorable roles.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)