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Singing, acting still have charm in My Fair Lady

MY FAIR LADY

Directed by George Cukor.

Written by Alan Lerner and Frederick Lowe.

Starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.

LSC Classics Friday.

10-250, 6:30 p.m.

By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

You might have noticed that this Fall's LSC Classics schedule is a little top-heavy with musicals. The first of four will be screened this evening. My Fair Lady is a pretty typical example of that genre, and of the frequent Hollywood practice of mishandling a property developed in another field of art. Nevertheless, it won 8 Academy Awards in 1964, and it still has some pretty excellent songs.

My Fair Lady's first incarnation was in the form of a play written by George Bernard Shaw, based on the old Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. This myth relates the story of a sculptor who created such a beautiful statue that he fell in love with it, and prayed to the gods to bring it to life. Shaw updated the story to late 19th-century London, and turned it into the saga of a linguist who attempts to turn a cockney flower seller into a lady by teaching her to use better diction.

Shaw's play was turned into a very successful London and Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (Gigi, Camelot, Brigadoon) that brought it to the attention of Harry Warner. He paid $5 million for the property and decided to spend as much as $20 million to film it. That's not much now, but in 1964 that budget seemed as big as Waterworld's. He hired veteran director George Cukor (Dinner at Eight, The Philadelphia Story, Pat and Mike, Born Yesterday) and got Cecil Beaton to agree to be art director and costume designer. But, to protect his investment, he tried to substitute Hollywood faces for the stars who had brought it to life on the stage - Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

Warner's friends finally convinced him that he would be mad to use anyone other than Rex Harrison for the role of Henry Higgins, but he would not relent in his opinion that Julie Andrews did not have enough name recognition with the American public. Instead he chose to use perky Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle. But since she couldn't really sing, she had to lip-sync to the voice of Marni Nixon, whose faceless singing popped up in a lot of movie musicals around this time. Andrews won the best actress Oscar that same year, for Mary Poppins; Hepburn wasn't even nominated.

Despite all the usual Hollywood bungling, My Fair Lady still manages to provide many entertaining moments, mostly involving the wonderful songs. Stanley Holloway, an old music hall star, delights us with his renditions of "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "I'm Getting Married in the Morning." Audrey Hepburn, while not terribly convincing as a cockney guttersnipe, manages to lip sync her way through "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "The Rain in Spain," and "I Could Have Danced All Night" with considerable charm. Watch for the recently deceased Jeremy Brett (the BBC Sherlock Holmes) as the vapid young man who thinks he's in love with Eliza, singing "On the Street Where You Live." And every minute that Rex Harrison is on the screen is worth watching.

Since My Fair Lady is almost three hours long, it will be shown an hour early, at 6:30 in 10-250. This will give you time to catch the 10 p.m. screening of Before the Rain, an excellent Macedonian film with an even more convoluted time scheme than Pulp Fiction.