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?