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52 Movies: Week 45 - My Fair Lady

It occurred to me that we're approaching the end of the year and we haven't had a musical in this series, so I decided to include one.

I'm not a big fan of musicals. There was a time when I would just have said flatly that I don't like them, or at very most that there were a few that I didn't mind. As a teenager dragged to see The Sound of Music with the family, I recall somewhat grudgingly admitting that I had enjoyed it. I remember a conversation from my 20s, in which I disparaged musicals to a female acquaintance, saying that I found it ridiculous to think of people walking down the street and suddenly starting to sing and dance. She replied that she thought it would be wonderful if people walking down the street suddenly started to sing and dance. Well, I could see the appeal of that, though it didn't give me much liking for the actual thing.

I didn't really change my mind until I saw My Fair Lady for the first time about fifteen years or so ago. I think I rented it as a family movie, expecting to be a little bored, but finding to my surprise that it was delightful. I was actually somewhat familiar with the songs, as my parents had an LP of songs from the Broadway show (I think this was before 1964 when the movie came out), and I liked them, but had not (as far as I can remember) heard them since my early teens. Hearing them in the context of the movie made me realize just how very good they are. That may have been the beginning of my learning to appreciate and love popular songs apart from the rock and folk traditions. 

But I think what really won me over in My Fair Lady was the script (called the "book" in theater, right?). It's brilliant and witty, and I remember thinking as I watched it that this was awfully good writing for Hollywood. Well, of course, it wasn't Hollywood's work at all. The musical is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and most of the dialog in the movie is Shaw's. 

You probably know the basic story. Come to that, there's a good chance you know the movie better than I do. But in case you don't: Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) is a student of dialects, claiming that he can place a Londoner's birthplace within a few blocks (or something like that) by listening to him or her talk. He meets a cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), and makes a bet with a Colonel Pickering that he can enable her to pass for a duchess by training her to speak like one. And so the project begins. Eliza moves in, and Higgins goes to work on her. Much frustration ensues, until finally one day...By George, I think she's got it.

Hepburn's singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon.

Of course you really need to hear the way the way she was saying it before to get the full effect. (There are other clips on YouTube, but you get the idea.)

And then it's one thing to have the right voice, and another to know what to say with it, and the gap between the two produces what is to me not only the funniest bit in this film, but a truly classic moment of comedy, on a par with, say, Groucho Marx's mirror scene.

I don't think it will be a big shock to anyone, or a big spoiler, if I tell you that (Crusty Old Bachelor) Higgins and (Lovely Young Woman) Eliza begin to fall for each other in a very reluctant way. Hearing the songs years ago without knowing how they fit into the story, I made some assumptions based on a rough idea of the story, and  was surprised to discover that several of them are not what I thought. Specifically, I assumed "On the Street Where You Live" and "Get Me to the Church" on time were by Higgins and about Eliza. But they aren't. There are a couple of amusing subplots which involve those songs and some ancillary characters such as Eliza's disreputable father, Alfred P. Doolittle, who describes himself as one of the undeserving poor ("and I means to go on being undeserving") and a young man (played by future Sherlock, Jeremy Brett) who falls in love with Eliza. And then there's Higgins's aristocratic mother, both shrewd and kind.

A charming story, brilliant dialog, great music, and Audrey Hepburn: how could anyone fail to like it? 


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The only musical I find remotely tolerable - the costumes are lovely.

I cannot bear people getting up and singing and dancing in the choreographed way of the 1960s musicals. Or any other musical.

Well, in fact, I like 'Once', which could be called a musical, but it brings the music in in a way that makes it 'realistic'.

My natural reaction to the singing and dancing is similar, but I seem to be able to turn it off somehow if there's something else appealing in the movie. I like the Astaire-Rogers movies, for instance.

I don't know Once.

I'm fairly sure I hate everything Andrew Lloyd Weber has been involved in. I say that on the basis of 10% exposure and 90% prejudice.

I was singing in the parking lot of Kroger just yesterday, and this is what I was singing. It may be my favorite song.

And My Fair Lady is far and away my favorite musical. Even if there were nothing else good in the movie, Audrey Hepburn is so absolutely delightful. And the this movie has such great dialogue, and everything you said. ;-)

I was once on the stage crew for MFL when I was in high school, so I spent lots of time stage right inside a contraption that was the front door of Higgins house on one side and the front door of a tavern on the other. I used to be able to recite the whole play.


Um...well...to each his own (re favorite song).

Everybody loves Audrey Hepburn. And I meant to say to Grumpy, or anyone who just really can't handle musicals, that the 1938 film of Pygmalion is excellent. Just the play.

Funny how one memorizes things almost effortlessly when young.

I've not seen MFL. I'm not partial to musicals, although I do like Fiddler on the Roof a lot, and I'm a fan of A.L. Webber's Phantom of the Opera (the stage musical more than the film of same). Years ago a girl I was dating had me watch Damn Yankees with her. I was dreading the thought, but as it turned out it wasn't half bad.

The other musicals I've seen (admittedly not very many) I can take or leave.

Fiddler is another one I can enjoy, though it's the music more than the play. Some truly classic songs there.

I'll see if I can find you the Coltrane cover of the Ladybug Picnic.

About the movie Pygmalion. Wendy Hiller is also excellent--probably more faithful to the original character, and the movie is more faithful to the story. I really like Wendy Hiller.


I love the old musicals and generally hate any newer ones, except I do really love Once and think I even own the soundtrack on CD, but it is different than these oldie goldies.

I'm partial to anything with Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, et al, and although the idea of folks walking down the street and then breaking into song might seem nice, can they all sing as well and be as good looking as the stars? Otherwise it would just be a hopefully short Monty Python skit!

Fiddler on the Roof is also terrific; and I love 1776!! Many of these are due to my parents owning and playing the records albums when I was a kid.

Yeah, let me know if you find that. It's possible that it may be somewhere in Meditations or Ascension.

I don't remember the movie that well, just that I liked it. I like Wendy Hiller, too. Just saw her not long ago as the old countess or baroness or whatever it is in Murder On the Orient Express. Small but great role.

Stu, My parents used to have those albums too, and we listened to them all the time: The King and I, My Fair Lady, Gypsy, Sound of Music, Oklahoma. I can sing all those songs.


I'm having a hard time deciding on which movie to write about for my swan song.


I want to do Birdman - Mac, do you have an upcoming schedule?

How did we have the same parents, Janet? :)

Re: Once -- I didn't like the film all that much, but the music is great. Then again I was a Frames fan long before the movie came out. (In case you didn't know the male lead in the film, Glen Hansard, is the leader of the Irish band The Frames.)

"I'm having a hard time deciding on which movie to write about for my swan song."

Me too. I have it narrowed down to two or three, but I can't decide.

I think there may be some basic kind of wiring that simply cannot bear singing and dancing in movies. It never bothered me one bit when I was a kid, but my nine-year-old granddaughter immediately reaches for the mute button when characters in animated films start singing.

Well, actually I sing my whole life and I dance while I do housework. ;-)

My son posted a Facebook update once that said something like, "Why do all the women in my life sing all the time?"


Nobody sees this, btw, but my husband and children under the age of about 6.


I've seen Once two or three times. It might be a bit of a woman's film - a romantic comedy. I also liked a more recent movie by the same director - Begin Again.

I have not seen this one called Sing Street, but from the title it might not be my cup of tea!


I like some musicals, like Fiddler and Sound of Music. Others I don't care for too much, like Music Man (which gives me the creeps), Oklahoma! (because I'm from there and it seems not to put us in too good a light). My Fair Lady--meh.

Oh, the BEST is West Side Story. I could watch it over and over again.

Another one (West Side) with great music but the story and other paraphernalia don't appeal to me that much. Or at least didn't when I saw it in my teens.

I agree that the name Sing Street is definitely unpromising.

No, I don't have a schedule, Stu. Whatever, whenever at this point. I can pretty easily fill in on short notice now, so let's say that if I haven't received anything by say 5pm Monday (USA Central Time) I'll write something, and if anything shows up between then and Wednesday morning it will be for the following week.

Interesting point about the wiring, Marianne. I would have said I have it but apparently it can be overridden.

I am definitely writing something this weekend.


Good. Thank you.

I saw a bit of video on Facebook of that pirate film with Johnny Depp. I loathed it. It reminded me of a conversation with my older brother where we both said that we hated cartoonlike film. Because if the characters can jump off a cliff and run in the air and not get hurt it's impossible to empathize with them. And I think I feel this same about characters who start singing and doing dance routines in synchrony with other characters. I just zoned out because I can't identify or empathize

If I remember correctly, you don't care for fantasy in literature, either. Seems like you have a definite preference for the naturalistic. I agree about the cartoonlike movies. Not so much because I can't empathize with the characters, exactly, as that all the tension is destroyed, though I guess that's closely related to empathy with the characters. And I sort of agree about singing and dancing, but sometimes the reservation is overcome if the music is good enough and so forth.

I used to roll my eyes at the musical scenes in old comedies (Marx Bros.,etc.) but as I've gotten older I've come to see that there's a certain old-fashioned charm about them. Well, most of them.

I've heard that 'Sing Street' is pretty good. I think it's set in the late 70s or 80s and is about a teenager who writes songs and forms a band to impress a girl.

I really like the bits in the Marx Bros movies where Chico and/or Harpo display their virtuosity. But the conventional musical numbers like the one in Night At the Opera where lovers sing love songs and such are tiresome at best.

"the conventional musical numbers like the one in Night At the Opera where lovers sing love songs and such are tiresome at best."

Those are the ones I don't mind so much anymore. I always liked the ones that featured the bros. themselves.

Well, having thought about the musicals I like for a while, I realized that it's not the plays or movies that I like, it's the music. I knew the songs for years before I ever saw a movie of any of them, and while I liked some, and didn't like others, it's the music that I like the best.

I've also been thinking about why MFL works better than some and it's partly because the singing and dancing is, for the most part, in appropriate places. For instance, some of the songs are just sung soliloquies--more like arias in a popular style. Then, the singing and dancing is in places where one might sing and dance--The Rain in Spain--because they are celebrating a hard and tiring accomplishment. I'm Gettin' Married... because they are living it up in a pub. And then the Ascot Races--what a great send up of British reserve. It's just funny. This is the exact opposite of Oklahoma where you have that weird dream ballet. (I hope my sister doesn't read this.)


I saw Oklahoma when I was a kid and it scared me. I don't remember why now. I've never seen it since.

I guess that's true about MFL. I know the moments when somebody started singing didn't seem jarring to me.

My favourite musical is probably the old animated Jungle Book, with "Bare Necessities" and a few other good songs. I regret to say I'm not very familiar with the old Rodgers/Hammerstein musicals. I like The Sound of Music.

I did see the Sing Street film. As Rob said, it's about a group of Irish teenagers who form a band. They want to be like Duran Duran, if you can believe it. It's a decent movie, not one to get too excited about, but, gosh, the music is dreadful. It sounds just like music did at the time.

Question: has anybody here heard that hit "hip-hop musical" Hamilton? I listened to it a few times, trying to stifle my reflexive dislike of the music. In the end I'd say that it does have some good things going for it, but I don't understand why it's been heaped with praise as it has. Unless there's a political angle, which there might be.

Speaking of musicals, everyone should see the movie Topsy-Turvy if they have not already. It is British (which already makes it better than a lot) directed by Mike Leigh (one of my favorites) and is about Gilbert & Sullivan creating The Mikado. It is super super wonderful, funny, with music, etc. I own a copy and just love it!

I agree, Stu, Topsy Turvy is wonderful.

My youngest daughter LOVES Hamilton. I have only heard snippets.


She's 28. Not a teenager.


I don't know anything much about Hamilton. I first heard of it via a favorable review in The New Criterion (conservative mag), which sort of surprised me considering the basic description.

I love G&S. Will check out Topsy Turvy.

I saw the movie version of Carousel as a teenager, and mostly what I remember is the gorgeous voice of Gordon MacRae, especially doing "If I Loved You". Here's a video clip of that scene. It's a duet with Shirley Jones, and there's some of that usual awkward interweaving of talking and singing, but the song really delivers, I think, and so makes up for it.

I had Topsy Turvy in mind for the 52 series (as well as Dien Bien Phu, not a musical but with a great score). Alas, it seems that all the slots are now taken.

Not necessarily. I think there are only three definite commitments, and seven more weeks. I was going to fill in any gaps myself, but if you would like to write something(s), by all means do.

Everyone in NYC was so wild about Hamilton I looked up the ticketprices to see if I could take my niece. But it was 250 dollars. Now to spend 500 dollars to do something I dislike for the sake ofpleasing my niece is beyond me

The only reason I'm not stunned by that price is that I had already heard similar stories about Broadway ticket prices. I am unable to imagine paying that much money to see any kind of performance.

For the record, I plan to do the Japanese film Tony Takitani as my closer. I doubt anyone else has this in mind for theirs, but I figured I'd better say something on the off-chance.

"the gorgeous voice of Gordon MacRae"

Yes, he did have a unique, quality voice. I've got one of those Firestone Christmas records from the 60's with him on it, and his songs are very good.

Believe it or not, I had thought about writing about that one earlier, but I would have had to watch it again and never got around to it.


I watched it last night. Hadn't seen it in probably seven or eight years and had forgotten just how good it was.

My other choice was Drive, the Ryan Gosling crime film from a few years back. I really like the directing style and the "mood," and it's very well acted, but the violence is quite off-putting and it's a little hard to recommend because of that.

Maybe we should all sign up for dates? With holidays here I could very easily do nothing. I need a deadline. It looks like there are six more with the next being tomorrow. I don't mind watching About a Boy this Thanksgiving weekend and writing about it for the November 30 date, Mac. There, I've given myself a deadline.

I'm shooting for the Dec. 7 date.

I got three (!) pieces yesterday--from Janet, Paul, and Craig, in that order, which is the order in which I'll post them. So we are set through the 7th. That leaves three more Wednesdays in Dec: 14, 21, 28. And I think I calculated that that ends up with only 51 posts, so I'll need to throw in another one at the end. I'll check that again. Hope that doesn't ruin your strategy, Stu.

Did we talk about Drive before, Rob? I can't remember. But I saw it sometime within the past year and pretty much shared your opinion.

There are 52 Wednesday this year. I think you must be off in your calculations.

Stu, if you are just dying to write something, I could really use some help.


I'm only going to write it if it will be posted, the Wednesday does not matter, but I am happy to do so!

Or are you asking me for a Saint contribution, Janet? The Saints are harder for me than movies because I spent most of my life as a Protestant! I can try though. I have interest in St. Bridget lately...

"Did we talk about Drive before, Rob? I can't remember. But I saw it sometime within the past year and pretty much shared your opinion."

We may have, but I can't remember either. I really like it, and I've watched it three or four times because I've found the quality and "feel" so compelling. But a couple of those scenes are just over the top.

It will definitely be used if you write it, Stu. But it might be easier for me to fill in here than for Janet in the saints series, if you don't feel like you can do both.

Counting Wednesdays forward from Week 45 on the 16th, you only get to 51 by the end of December. (Would somebody please check that? I did it three times but maybe my brain is misfiring.) I've been afraid that I might have misnumbered somewhere along the line. I caught myself about to do it a couple of times. If so it would be a big job to fix, not to mention breaking any links to the pieces, unless I left the links incorrect. Ugh.

I did check it before I said it above.

You must have gotten off-track somewhere.


You mean you agree that as things are we would end up at Week 51 on the 28th, right?

No, I mean that should be 52.


You have two 36s.


We do seem to miscommunicate a lot lately. What I meant was... never mind, it's too complicated. :-). Two 36s--yeah, something like that's what I was afraid of. Grrr. Well at least I can number correctly from here. Thanks.

Must be your fault. ;-)

I messed up my numbers like that, too. I think it was around the same week, but somebody noticed and told me.


Stu, Yes, that would be really nice if you think you could.


I am sorry I have not offered to do more. I am so tired I know that it will be utterly crappy if I do one. I can always force myself to write 500 words but it is sometimes utter crap.

I was wondering why it jumped from 45 to 47!

I've always been bad with numbers.

Did anyone happen to see that there is a new musical coming out soon called La La Land? I saw the trailer for it the other night when I went to see Arrival. Does not look like my cuppa at all, but the early reviews are apparently quite positive. It definitely has the look, at least superficially, of the old 40s/50s musicals.

No, hadn't heard of it. I can't even remember the trailers I saw with Arrival, but I think I'd remember that one.

Yes, you definitely would.

Of the trailers I saw the films that to me looked most promising are The Great Wall, Manchester by the Sea, and Fences.

None of those rings a bell with me. Pretty sure I'd remember the Great Wall one if I'd seen it.

Watched My Fair Lady tonight. It's still very good.

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