The classiest of Hollywood’s lavish 1960s musicals, My Fair Lady was restored to its original 70mm glory in 1994. Literate, witty and boasting outstanding music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, the hit Broadway musical was based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion and received unusually respectful treatment from Warner Brothers, whose only crassly commercial decision was to replace Julie Andrews from the stage version with the more bankable Audrey Hepburn. Direction was entrusted to George Cukor, a sophisticated talent who had already drawn on the Pygmalion myth for Born Yesterday, and many of whose films hinge on an effort to alter personality.
Many of the original Broadway cast members reprise their roles in the film. Rex Harrison was born to play the chauvinistic linguist Professor Henry Higgins, who takes up the challenge to transform course cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) into a lady who can pass for a duchess. The supporting characters, who are given major screen time and spirited dialogue, include Eliza’s father (Stanley Holloway) and Henry’s mother (Gladys Cooper). ‘Have you no morals, man?’ Higgins asks of Mr. Doolittle. ‘Nah. Can’t afford none,’ comes the reply. Higgins’ mother is a woman with an even more acerbic tongue than her offspring. Her greeting to Henry at Ascot: ‘Why Henry, what a disagreeable surprise.’
Working with huge resources, Cukor made the film a visual as well as an aural delight. He was aided considerably by Cecil Beaton’s beautiful designs and Harry Stradling’s pin-sharp cinematographyoqualities that are best appreciated in the large-format 70mm process.
U.S.A., 1964. Restored version, 1994. Colour. Super Panavision 70. Six-track magnetic stereo sound. Dolby stereo SR. 170 mins.