coldcat's wit

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My Fair Lady

We all knew I’d have to get into the crappy 60’s musicals sometime so here we go. I shall start with the Oscar winner from 1964, My Fair Lady, for two reasons. First of all Audrey Hepburn is one of the most drop dead gorgeous women to ever walk the face of the Earth, and secondly, clocking in at 170 minutes it’ll free up a lot of space on the DVR when I delete it once I’m done writing this.

The movie is a musical version of the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, which is part of the group that includes Hamlet and Christmas Carol as source material that gets trotted out every couple years with a fresh character or setting and everyone thinks it’s ever so clever. Pygmalion’s been used everywhere from crappy teen comedy She’s All That to an episode of Family Guy.

We start off with Hepburn’s character, Eliza Doolittle, selling flowers in a rain storm to posh rich people leaving a party. She speaks cockney, which is similar to English. I can understand about half of what she says. They really ought to have dubbed it in English like they did with Mad Max. And these people are hosting the Olympics in 2012. Yikes.

Her accent draws the attention of Henry Higgins, a creepy guy jotting down everything she says. It turns out he’s a linguist, with a bizarre parlor trick of determining exactly where someone lives by listening to them talk for about five seconds. He then sings a song about how much he hates the way some people talk, which is a rather odd sentiment for someone who studies how people talk for a living. Of course eventually he makes a bet that he is the greatest linguist in the world so he can teach her to speak proper English in six months. Oddly enough, experts have found north central Indiana to be the home of the closest thing to proper English there is in the world, and I somehow doubt this is the dialect he’s talking about.

Eliza meanwhile goes to Henry’s house and is coerced into playing along in Henry’s bet to turn her into a proper woman. While she is forcefully given a bath, Henry’s rival linguist asks Henry if his intentions toward Eliza are pure. He assures the rival that he is a confirmed bachelor, and feels so strongly on the topic he breaks into song. Gee, I wonder if Henry and Eliza hook up at the end of this movie. These writers have everyone guessing.

Eliza’s no good drunken father then shows up to sing a song about Republican stereotypes about welfare recipients, while all his friends get involved in construction accidents. Eventually he finds out where his daughter is and heads over to Henry’s place, where Henry treats him like shit for a few minutes, then gives him some money and sends him on his way. For some reason at this point Eliza gets pissed off at Henry and breaks into song, only it isn’t Audrey Hepburn singing, it’s Marni Nixon who was dubbed into basically every 60’s musical without ever getting credit, making her the Martha Wash of her day.

Henry sets her up with a number of bizarre lingual exercises including one with a flame and one with a bunch of marbles, that both end up being rather dangerous. They eventually have a breakthrough surrounding the concept that a bulk of precipitation in the Iberian Peninsula is in the flat grassland. So of course they are so overjoyed by this breakthrough they all sing. Henry is so impressed that he takes Eliza to the races (horse races, not Nextel Cup) where everyone is prim and proper and singing about the trifecta in the seventh. At the race Eliza makes small talk with a bunch of people sitting near Henry’s mother, including a young man named Freddy and we have leg number three in the impending love triangle, the man who professes love for the female lead which causes the male lead to realize he loves her too, and no, I haven’t seen this movie before. Eliza then ruins the moment by behaving exactly as a person is supposed to behave at a sporting event, which shocks everyone and even causes a woman to faint. You see that all the time during the NCAA tournament. Tragic really.

Despite the setback, they trot her out again at a ball the following night where Eliza delights everyone and dances with a bunch of people, including Freddy which makes everyone whisper. Then it’s back to Henry’s place where they all pat each other on the back for making people think Eliza is proper, and of course there is singing! After the song they all go off to bed and Eliza begins to cry, and when Henry returns for his slippers, Eliza throws them at him. That time of the month, eh. She’s afraid that now Henry has won the bet she’ll be thrown out on the street where she came from. They have the obligatory pre-hookup spat which is in every movie of this sort. Eliza then walks out and runs smack into Freddy and they sing.

Eliza heads back to her old hood where she runs into her father who has come into some money and hates it. He’s getting married in the morning, but Eliza refuses to go to the wedding, and her father heads back into the bar for more booze and of course singing. Back at Henry’s house they discover her gone in the morning and of course sing about it while calling the police to file a missing person report. Henry eventually tracks Eliza down at his mother’s house where she bitches about the way he treats her and he sulks in a corner. She tells Henry of her plan to marry Freddy and storms out. Henry leaves as well and starts singing about how he’s grown accustomed to her face. After the song he sulks in his living room, until she walks in and the music swells and thank god, this damn thing is over.

This movie is rather insulting really. Henry claims to be all for equality by saying that the lower class can be equals just by learning proper speech. This is 180 degrees wrong. True equality is equal treatment no matter how someone talks. The moral of the story seems to be that the lower class is only lovable once they are civilized.

Of the five nominees that year, My Fair Lady was the fifth best. Mary Poppins is slightly better but holds up far better through the years. Zorba the Greek is a pretty good movie with a great performance by Anthony Quinn. Becket is excellent and is the kind of historic epic that often pulls out the win. But head and shoulders above all the other nominees is Dr. Stranglelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. A dark comedy about nuclear proliferation is lucky just to get nominated, but in this case it is far better than any of the other nominees and is in fact one of the best movies ever made, and that is exactly the kind of movie the Academy ignores on a regular basis. Dr. Strangelove was a landmark in film making that is also without flaw and entertains on many different levels. My Fair Lady breaks no new ground, reiterates a story we’ve seen many times, and even gets boring quite often. This particular choice defies all logic.

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