My Fair Lady is a 1964 American musical drama film adapted from the 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical based on George Bernard Shaw‘s 1913 stage play Pygmalion. With a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner and directed by George Cukor, the film depicts a poor Cockney flower-seller named Eliza Doolittle who overhears an arrogant phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, as he casually wagers that he could teach her to speak “proper” English, thereby making her presentable in the high society of Edwardian London.
The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, with Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Wilfrid Hyde-White in supporting roles. A critical and commercial success, it became the second highest-grossing film of 1964 and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. In 1998, the American Film Institute named it the 91st greatest American film of all time. In 2006 it was ranked eighth in the AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals list.
In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
In London, Professor Henry Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, believes that the accent and tone of one’s voice determines a person’s prospects in society (“Why Can’t the English?”). At the Covent Garden fruit-and-vegetable market one evening, he meets Colonel Hugh Pickering, himself a phonetics expert who had come from India to see him. Higgins boasts he could teach even Eliza Doolittle, the young flower seller woman with a strong Cockney accent, to speak so well he could pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball. Eliza’s ambition is to work in a flower shop, but her accent makes that impossible (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”). The following morning, Eliza shows up at Higgins’ home, seeking lessons. Pickering is intrigued and offers to cover all the attendant expenses if Higgins succeeds. Higgins agrees and describes how women ruin lives (“I’m an Ordinary Man”).
Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, a dustman, learns of his daughter’s new residence (“With a Little Bit of Luck”). He shows up at Higgins’ house three days later, ostensibly to protect his daughter’s virtue, but in reality to extract some money from Higgins, and is bought off with £5. Higgins is impressed by the man’s honesty, his natural gift for language, and especially his brazen lack of morals. Higgins recommends Alfred to a wealthy American who is interested in morality.
Eliza endures Higgins’ demanding teaching methods and treatment of her personally (“Just You Wait”), while the servants feel both annoyed with the noise as well as pitiful for Higgins (“Servants’ Chorus”). She makes no progress, but just as she, Higgins, and Pickering are about to give up, Eliza finally “gets it” (“The Rain in Spain”); she instantly begins to speak with an impeccable upper-class accent, and is overjoyed at her breakthrough (“I Could Have Danced All Night”).
As a trial run, Higgins takes her to Ascot Racecourse (“Ascot Gavotte”), where she makes a good impression initially, only to shock everyone by a sudden lapse into vulgar Cockney while cheering on a horse. Higgins partly conceals a grin behind his hand. At Ascot, she meets Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young, upper-class man who becomes infatuated with her (“On the Street Where You Live”).
Higgins then takes Eliza to an embassy ball for the final test, where she dances with a foreign prince. Also present is Zoltan Karpathy, a Hungarian phonetics expert trained by Higgins, who is an impostor detector. After he dances with Eliza, he declares that she is a Hungarian princess.
Afterward, Eliza’s hard work is barely acknowledged, with all the praise going to Higgins (“You Did It”). This and his callous treatment of her, especially his indifference to her future, causes her to walk out on him, but not before she throws Higgins’ slippers at him, leaving him mystified by her ingratitude (“Just You Wait (Reprise)”). Outside, Freddy is still waiting (“On the Street Where You Live (Reprise)”) and greets Eliza, who is irritated by him as all he does is talk (“Show Me”). Eliza tries to return to her old life but finds that she no longer fits in. She meets her father, who has been left a large fortune by the wealthy American to whom Higgins had recommended him, and is resigned to marrying Eliza’s stepmother. Alfred feels that Higgins has ruined him, lamenting that he is now bound by “middle-class morality”, in which he gets drunk before his wedding day (“Get Me to the Church On Time”). Eliza eventually ends up visiting Higgins’ mother, who is outraged at her son’s callous behavior.
The next day, Higgins finds Eliza gone and searches for her (“A Hymn to Him”), eventually finding her at his mother’s house. Higgins attempts to talk Eliza into coming back to him. He becomes angered when she announces that she is going to marry Freddy and become Karpathy’s assistant (“Without You”). He makes his way home, stubbornly predicting that she will come crawling back. However, he comes to the unsettling realization that she has become an important part of his life (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”). He enters his house feeling lonely, reflecting on his callous behaviour and missing Eliza so much that he turns on his gramophone and listens to her voice. Suddenly, Eliza reappears at the door and turns it off to catch his attention, with Higgins asking, “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?”.
- Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle
- Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins
- Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle
- Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering
- Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Higgins
- Jeremy Brett as Freddy Eynsford-Hill
- Theodore Bikel as Zoltan Karpathy
- Mona Washbourne as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper
- Isobel Elsom as Mrs. Eynsford-Hill
- John Holland as the Butler
- Henry Daniell as the British Ambassador (in his last film role)
- Charles Fredericks as the King in Eliza’s fantasy
- Lillian Kemble-Cooper as Female Ambassador (in yellow dress) at the ball
- Queenie Leonard as Cockney bystander
- Moyna Macgill as Lady Boxington
- Alan Napier as Gentleman who escorts Eliza to the Queen of Transylvania
- Betty Blythe as Lady at the ball
- Marjorie Bennett as Cockney with pipe
- Philo McCullough as Ball Guest
- Barbara Pepper as Doolittle’s dancing partner
- Baroness Rothschild as the Queen of Transylvania
- Walter Burke as Cockney bystander telling Eliza about Higgins taking notes about her
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