At one time the longest-running Broadway musical, My Fair Lady was adapted by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe from the George Bernard Shaw comedy Pygmalion. Outside Covent Garden on a rainy evening in 1912, dishevelled cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) meets linguistic expert Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison). After delivering a musical tirade against "verbal class distinction," Higgins tells his companion Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) that, within six months, he could transform Eliza into a proper lady, simply by teaching her proper English. The next morning, face and hands freshly scrubbed, Eliza presents herself on Higgins' doorstep, offering to pay him to teach her to be a lady. "It's almost irresistable," clucks Higgins. "She's so deliciously low. So horribly dirty." He turns his mission into a sporting proposition, making a bet with Pickering that he can accomplish his six-month miracle to turn Eliza into a lady. This is one of the all-time great movie musicals, featuring classic songs and the legendary performances of Harrison, repeating his stage role after Cary Grant wisely turned down the movie job, and Stanley Holloway as Eliza's dustman father. Julie Andrews originated the role of Eliza on Broadway but producer Jack Warner felt that Andrews, at the time unknown beyond Broadway, wasn't bankable; Hepburn's singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also dubbed Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961). Andrews instead made Mary Poppins, for which she was given the Best Actress Oscar, beating out Hepburn. The movie, however, won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Harrison, and five other Oscars, and it remains one of the all-time best movie musicals.
Hollywood's legendary "woman's director," George Cukor (The Women, The Philadelphia Story), transformed Audrey Hepburn into street-urchin-turned-proper-lady Eliza Doolittle in this film version of the Lerner and Loewe musical. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady stars Rex Harrison as linguist Henry Higgins (Harrison also played the role, opposite Julie Andrews, on stage), who draws Eliza into a social experiment that works almost too well. The letterbox edition of this film on video certainly pays tribute to the pageantry of Cukor's set, but it also underscores a certain visual stiffness that can slow viewer enthusiasm just a tad. But it's really star wattage that keeps this film exciting, that and such great songs as "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Actor Jeremy Brett, who gained a huge following later in life portraying Sherlock Holmes, is quite electric as Eliza's determined suitor. --Tom Keogh