The great longrun stage musical made by Lerner & Loewe and Herman Levin) out of the wit of Bernard Shaw’s old play, “Pygmalion,” has now been transformed into a stunningly effective screen entertainment. “My Fair Lady” in Technicolor and Super Panavision 70 must clean up for Warners. It has riches of story, humor, acting and production values far beyond the average big picture. It is Hollywood at its best, Jack L. Warner’s career capstone and a film that will go on without now-forseeable limits of playoff in reserved seat policy and world rentals.
That Warner paid $5,500,000 for the rights alone is a staggering first fact. Add that after $20,000,000 the original stage production interest collects 47 1/2% of thenet. So a lot of people are going to again make it to the bank from this Midas musical.
Care and planning shine in every detail and thus cast a glow around the name of director George Cukor. Of course the original staging genius of Moss Hart cannot be overlooked as a blueprint for success. But like all great films “My Fair Lady” represents a team of talents. The delicate task of proper apportionment of credits will draw different answers but this reviewer would rate Rex Harrison’s performance and Cecil Beaton’s design of costumes, scenery and production as the two powerhouse contributions. Which, of course, in no way neglects appreciation of the master eye behind the camera, to wit, Harry Stradling.
Alan Jay Lerner’s screenplay derived from his own stage libretto has not attempted to improve on a hit, although there is some rearrangement, com-pression and telescoping for cinematic effects. Some of the action is “opened up.” The color of London before World War I benefits through the carnera creation of both working and upper class customs.
Gene Allen’s art direction probaably constitutes a major credit, even within the master-plan of Beaton. Francis J. Scheid and Murray Spivack handled the sound, a mighty undertaking. A plus value for the widescreen version is that anybody may sit anywhere and hear every lyric and see every facial nuance. An important aid to the over-all impression is the editing of the footage by William Zeigler, which is exceptionally smooth, although there are a number of sharp jumps of locale.
This is a man-bullies-girl plot with story novelty. An unorthodox musical without a kiss, the audience travels to total involvement with characters and situation on the rails of sharp dialog and business. The deft segues of dialog into lyric are superb; especially in the case of Harrison. One can only guess the preparation and takes necessary to get the effect. Technical maps and paraphernalia incident to Higgins scientific work in phonetics have been given much attention. It enchances the verbal obsessions of the Harrison role upon which all is based.
Main credit, following a prolonged garden of flowers, stars the title rather than Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, who are billed below the show, and hence not strictly within the defined conditions of stardom. Some may wonder why Harrison is subordinate to the girl in the billing since he dominates: “My Fair Lady”as he dominated “Cleopatra.”
Only incurably disputions persons will consider it a defect of “Lady” on screen that Julie Andrews has been replaced by the better known Miss H. She is thoroughly beguiling as Eliza though her singing is dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Stanley Holloway repeats front the Broadway stage version. Again and again his theatrical authority clicks. How this great English trouper takes the basically “thin” and repetitious, “With A Little Bit O’Luck” and makes it stand up as gaiety incarnate.
Every one in the small cast is excellent. Mona Washbourne is especially fine as the prim but compassionate housekeeper. Wildred Hyde-White has the necessary proper gentleman quality as Pickering and makes a good foil for Harrison. Gladys Cooper brings aristocratic common sense to the mother of the phonetics wizard. The lovesick young man who sings outside the house, and is otherwise just a tenor from sub-plot has been assigned to Jeremy Brett. He photographs handsomely and sings with nice melody. The Hungarian charlatan speech expert who nearly upsets the masquerade at the high style ball is plausibly handled by Theodore Bikel.
The staging of the fashionable paddock scene at Ascot closely approximates the tableau used on the stage, though enlarged. Elsewhere in the picture there are a number of. Freeze-action bits but in general the story is told with strict realism, albeit dressed to the burst of Beator’s imagination. Women must dote on the gowns. All will be struck by the comfort and service for the well-to-do of the England that was. The house in which Higgins lives and where most of the action takes place is sheer recapture of a bygone era.
Hermes Pan cleverly handled the choreographie movemen t essential to some of . The songs which travel all over the sets. The ballrnom detail is of high style detailing,
A certain amount of new music by Frederick Loewe and added lyrics by Lerner are part of the adjustment to the cinematic medium. But it is the origi-nal stage score which stands out. Actually the numbers never went out of fashion so all that may reasonably be said is that a fresh peak of popularity may follow in the wake of the picture. Andre Previn handled the orchestra using arrangements of Alexander Courage, Robert Frankly and A! Woodbury.
Running some 10 minutes short of three hours “My Fair Lady” is a long film but only rheumatics will object to sitting that long. There is hardly a dull moment and, more to the point, there are many laughs, many humanly touching scenes, and song numbers that come smashing through. Audience applause must break out during the unspooling.
This is an occasion for general congratulations. Hollywood has seldom looked lovelier.
1964: Actor — Rex Harrison (“Professor Henry Higgins”), Art Direction (Color) — Art Direction: Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins, Cinematography (Color) — Harry Stradling, Costume Design (Color) — Cecil Beaton, Directing — George Cukor, Music (Scoring of Music–adaptation or treatment) — Andre Previn, Best Picture — Jack L. Warner, Producer, Sound — Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, George R. Groves, Sound Director
Nominations: Writing (Screenplay–based on material from another medium) — Alan Jay Lerner, Film Editing — William Ziegler, Actor in a Supporting Role — Stanley Holloway (“Alfred P. Doolittle”), Actress in a Supporting Role — Gladys Cooper (“Mrs. Higgins”)