My Fair Lady (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn & Rex Harrison

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Flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dreams of a better life.

[1] From first frame to last, the film is slick, graceful, gorgeous to behold, with costumes and sets richly evoking the Edwardian era…

[2] The acting from Rex Harrison deserves high praise, it is effortless and believable. The same can be said for Audrey Hepburn… 

…despite his success, the experience of tutoring Eliza has humbled him. The end of the film where they show respect and care for each other was a masterstroke as no romance was needed.

[3] What Higgins is, in reality, is a misanthrope. A misanthrope basically dislikes and distrusts everyone! Watch the film and you’ll notice that Higgins treats everyone with the same disregard…

[4] The songs are extraordinary in their ability to enrich our knowledge of the characters… Eliza’s father, who calls himself one of “the undeserving poor” is one of Shaw’s best comedy creations… 

[5] It’s a momentous film but it has its subtle points: watch the way in which Eliza’s eyes are centered on Higgins when she enters at the ball, and the way in which the two of them stare at each other for a few seconds at the top of the stairs a few moments later.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews 

This is a musical that I’ve seen MANY times (usually w/ my family as a kid); I esp. like the songs and costumes. This is one of my mom’s fave films; she’s a big Audrey Hepburn fan. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was inspired by a Greek myth by Ovid. Pygmalion was a sculptor from Cyprus who carved a woman out of ivory. This statue was so beautiful and realistic, he fell in love with it. When Aphrodite’s festival day came, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of the goddess of love, and wished for a bride who would look like his statue. When he returned home, Pygmalion kissed the statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that it was transformed into a real woman. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish. He married the woman (named Galatea) w/ Aphrodite’s blessing. 

You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English. -Professor Henry Higgins declares to Colonel Pickering 

Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is no marble Galatea lacking agency; she is a single working-class woman in early 1900s London who has a job (selling flowers), rents her own room, and lives a morally upright life (she insists: “I’m a good girl, I am!”) She dreams of having comfort and love, as we hear in the song Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?  Some lyrics below:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza’s will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn’t insisted on action… It is her ambition, not Henry’s, that sets the plot in motion…

Eliza’s escape from the “lower classes,” engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act… It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of “My Fair Lady” is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It was actually about something. 

-Roger Ebert

After meeting Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza wants lessons to get rid of her (Cockney) accent. She wants a better job working in a florist’s shop. Eliza even offers to pay, BUT the elderly/kind Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) insists on providing the funds (even getting her new clothes). Higgins only thinks of Eliza as a challenging project, NOT an individual w/ feelings and dreams.

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Eliza enters high society by attending a horse race with Higgins.

Over 6 months, Eliza works w/ Higgins (and Pickering, serving as a cheerleader) to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary, and manners. At the races, she looks gorgeous in her fitted white and black gown, and catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett). Eliza makes polite small talk w/ some society people, BUT then launches into a funny/inappropriate story from her old life. We see that though Eliza can pronounce the words, she hasn’t yet learned which words to choose to speak in high society. However, the young/handsome Freddy gets a huge crush on Eliza, as we hear in On the Street Where You Live:

Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

Higgins (who Eliza gets to know by living in his house) doesn’t praise the hard work Eliza has done or see how naturally pretty she was (underneath the soot and rags). On the other hand, Freddy (a mere acquaintance) is VERY happy to bring her flowers and get a glimpse of her face. It makes more sense that Eliza would end up w/ Freddy, NOT Higgins. 

At the ball, Eliza is stunning (hair, jewels, gown, her dancing, etc.)- even fooling Zoltan Karpathy, the blackmailing language expert (and former student of Higgins). However, she is dismayed/saddened when Higgins gets ALL the credit (You Did It). Eliza becomes sophisticated, transcending the parameters of the professor’s test of social engineering. She resents this, so she throws slippers at Higgins. Eliza sees that he has his own social and emotional limitations. 

Higgins seems unaware of the place of women; in his mind, Eliza’s worries are over. Eliza asks him what she is to do with herself, now that she has become a lady. He says that she could marry.  Eliza’s answer shows that lower-class women MAY have a stronger sense of morality than most “ladies.” She never before thought of selling herself into marriage.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else. -Eliza explains to Higgins 

Eliza goes off to Mrs. Higgins’ house for advice. Sure, we know Freddy wants to marry her, but she’s NOT sure that’s the right step. (Notice how she tosses, then later retrieves, the ring that Higgins gave her?) The relationship between Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) and her son is humorous b/c the mother’s attitude toward her son is eccentric; she expresses herself w/ as much honesty as her son. Mrs. Higgins is filled with tolerance, intelligence, and imagination. Like Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, she was VERY concerned over the fate of Eliza from early on in the story.

Eliza’s hard work resulted in her developing an intense devotion and loyalty towards Higgins (and also Pickering). Maybe she’s NOT feeling a romantic kind love, BUT a strong desire to please? When the film ends, the audience is left to ponder what will happen to the characters later.  Now, for my younger sister, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins and Eliza would marry. I was NOT 100% sure though; it’s an ambiguous ending. 

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on ‘consort battleship’ you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final ‘Buy them yourself.’ He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim ‘Galatea!’ (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too. -George Bernard Shaw in a 1920 letter to actress playing Eliza (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) 

Shaw asserted that such a wedding is absolutely impossible. He subtitled his play a “romance” b/c the technical meaning of “romance” refers to anything that was highly improbable (EX: the transformation of a flower girl into a duchess in six months). A romance can also suggest a “happy ending,” and Shaw is not interested in that. He wouldn’t allow his creation, Eliza, to marry such a misfit as Higgins simply to satisfy the whims of the sentimentalists of the world, even though these people outnumber the realists. But we know Broadway, then later Hollywood, had other ideas! 

 

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June Bride (1948) starring Bette Davis

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A poster for the film

Despite the title, this movie isn’t really about a wedding, at least not in the way you might think. Instead, it’s a surprisingly biting look at a grown-up relationship set against the backdrop of a wedding. -Blonde at the Film

…the dialogue is terribly adult, taken directly from the play without much editing, often reminiscent of pre-Codes. June Bride is lots of fun and much snappier and wittier than reviewers give it credit for, though to be fair, it does occasionally buckle under the weight of post-war sensibilities. -She Blogged By Night

Independent, happily single women’s magazine editor, Linda Gilman (Bette Davis), takes an appointment w/ globe-trotting foreign correspondent, Carey Jackson (Robert Montgomery), who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Carey (after suddenly leaving the country a year ago) is eager to get into Linda’s good graces (admitting that she’s the ONLY woman who made him think of settling down), though she wants nothing to do w/ him. After all, Linda likes her life as it is, and she doesn’t lack male company. Carey negotiates w/ Linda to get a job at the magazine, saying that he won’t mind having a woman for a boss.

Linda, Carey, and a team (incl. noted character actresses Mary Wickes and Fay Bainter) go to Indiana to cover a small-town girl weds boy-next-door wedding. The Brinkers are a typical Midwestern family w/ strong values, a garish parlor (which needs to be redone), and two teen daughters (Jean and Boo), and a few secrets. 19 y.o. Jeanne (Barbara Bates) and fiance Bud Mitchell (Raymond Roe) seem to be VERY much in love and eager to wed. However, 17 y.o. Boo (who greatly admires Linda) reveals that Jeanne was once engaged to Bud’s older brother, Jim (Ray Montgomery). Carey (who was bored by all the wholesomeness) sees “an angle,” and leaps on it.  

It’s a light comedy, so Davis is NOT the first name that would come to one’s mind. But she wanted to make a comedy for a change. Montgomery’s character is a BIT egotistical, yet also mischievous and energetic; Davis is more business-like and mature about their (conflicted) relationship. If you like this film, check out Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring another iconic actress, Barbara Stanwyck.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh & Angela Lansbury

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A poster for the film

…it feels as if it were made yesterday. Not a moment of “The Manchurian Candidate” lacks edge and tension and a cynical spin. And what’s even more surprising is how the film now plays as a political comedy, as well as a thriller.

-Roger Ebert

I love this movie & find it disturbing. It’s a thriller but at times it even seems a satire.

Sinatra is so great here, you hardly notice how good Laurence Harvey is.

#TCMParty (selected tweets)

I keep telling you not to think! You’re very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hon’, just simply isn’t one of them. -Mrs. Iselin explains to her husband

There is something timeless, yet also eerily timely about this classic film (in Trump’s America). Though it was released in 1962, it is set in 1952 in New York and DC; the use of black and white makes it look older. I think the novelist (Richard Condon) was influenced by Hamlet; note Sgt. Raymond Shaw’s (Laurence Harvey) deep hatred for his stepfather, Senator John Iselin (James Greogory), who married his domineering mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury). We are NOT told anything re: Raymond’s birth father; I imagine that he was a wealthy/intelligent/influential man. In the youthful romance of Raymond and Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), there is an echo of the feud between noble families as in Romeo & Juliet

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Maj. Bennett Marco and Rosie chat on the train in a mysterious manner.

Janet (Psycho) Leigh plays a shady, Robert Walker-like femme fatale whose cryptic language may or may not indicate she’s a member of the Communist Ring… The most celebrated (and widely discussed) meet-cute in film history occurs aboard a train, as Janet Leigh and Sinatra whisper sweet-somethings in the most roundabout, I’ve-never-heard-people-talk-like-this way imaginable. 

-Stanford Arts Review

Women are (in several scenes) depicted as capable, smart, and active agents in their romantic lives. Obviously, Mrs. Iselin is the power behind her loud-mouthed/dim-witted husband. A young Josie comes to Raymond’s rescue after he’s bitten by a snake. Rosie (Janet Leigh) approaches Maj. Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) during their train ride, shows him that she’s VERY interested, then tells him her address and phone number.

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Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and Raymond (Laurence Harvey)

It’s a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn’t always hate her. When I was a child, I only kind of disliked her. -Raymond explains to Bennett Marco 

This is the type of film that you MUST pay attention to, or you’ll miss something! It showcases Sinatra’s acting range; many critics/classic movie fans consider this performance to be the best of his career. The Manchurian Candidate proves us just how scary Lansbury can be, if the script calls for it; I wished there was more of her performance. The way that she controlled Raymond’s life has contributed to how his life is like at that start of the story: humorless, friendless, and loveless. He attempts to get away by taking a job w/ a newspaper editor he admires, BUT alas, his life is NOT his own. 

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Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) faces off against Senator Tom Jordan (James McGiver).

There are people who think of Johnny as a clown and a buffoon, but I do not. I despise John Iselin and everything that Iselinism has come to stand for. I think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he’s doing now. -Senator Jordan says to Mrs. Iselin

Little details add to the richness of the story. There is a scene where an African-American soldier is having a nightmare/flashback (VERY similar to that of Marco), BUT we see that the ladies in the tea party are African-American. That’s b/c it’s happening w/in the context of his life, NOT that of a white man. There are two supporting East Asian characters, including Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) and Korean translator-turned-cook, Chunjin (Henry Silva- of Puerto Rican heritage). In one exciting scene, Marco and Chunjin fight using karate.