Film / My Fair Lady

"You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up,
the difference between a Lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves
but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins
because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will,
but, I know I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering because
he always treats me as a lady and always will.
Eliza Doolittle

My Fair Lady is a 1964 musical film from Warner Bros., adapted from the popular play by the same name. It was directed by George Cukor and stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins. The film was very well received, winning 8 Academy Awards and follows Eliza's transformation from a poor Cockney flower seller to a proper lady as she takes speech lessons from arrogant Professor Higgins.

Eliza shows up for speech lessons at Higgins' residence the day after overhearing him boast to fellow language enthusiast Colonel Pickering that, if he taught her how to speak correctly, he could pass her off as a duchess. Although initially reluctant to take her on as his student, Higgins agrees after Pickering wagers that he won't be able to make good on his boast. Unfortunately for Eliza, she is almost immediately subjected to all sorts of humiliating comments and insane training methods.

After having substantial difficulty grasping her lessons, Eliza finally breaks through after a rare kind word from Higgins. This prompts him to take her out on a practice run in an upper class setting. He brings her to his mother's box at Ascot where, in spite of her perfect accent, she exhibits many traces of her lower class roots including grammatical errors, bringing up her family's history of alcoholism, and shouting vulgarities as the horses race. Here, she meets Freddy Eynsford-Hill who instantly falls for her in spite of and, in part, because of these flaws.

The embarrassing incident at Ascot prompts Colonel Pickering to advise Higgins to quit and give up the bet. However, Higgins continues with the lessons and the three attend the Embassy Ball as originally planned. Another slip-up like at Ascot would mean embarrassment in front of some of Europe's most influential people including the Queen and Prince of Transylvania. To add to the tension, Zoltan Karpathy, a former student of Higgins' who uses his skills to detect and blackmail impostors, is also in attendance. This time, all goes according to plan and Eliza not only dances with the Prince of Transylvania, but also leaves Karpathy believing that she's a Hungarian princess.

Things start to go south after the ball when, instead of congratulating Eliza and including her in the celebration, Higgins ignores her in favor of patting himself on the back. This is a huge blow to Eliza, who had come to think of Higgins as a friend. Worried that she won't be able to make a living now that he has no use for her, she has an argument with Higgins before leaving to find her own way in the world. Meanwhile, Higgins is angry and confused by her outburst and by his own feelings for her. The rest of the film involves them figuring out what to do with their lives and whether or not to maintain their relationship now that the experiment is over. Whether or not it works out in the end is ambiguous.

The filming of the movie took place at the time of President Kennedy's assassination; actress Audrey Hepburn made a speech to the cast and crew on the day.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Decay: Not enough, really. One peculiarity about the film is how it uses the old stage directions, even the meta jokes that don't work in a movie setting. Instances of this include Higgins doing a short jig at the horse race — a Call-Back to "I Could Have Danced All Night" — but without the knowing laughter of a live audience, he merely looks a like a lunatic. He also sets a teacup on his hat, a gesture which would be funny on-stage, but looks really odd in this context.
  • Adorkable: Freddy gets positively randy over Eliza's bad social graces.
  • Alliterative Name: Henry Higgins. Eliza, a Cockney girl, struggles with dropping H's and calls him 'Enry 'Iggins.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Just You Wait" and "Without You".
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Higgins said this out loud, and Eliza certainly thought he meant it in the trope sense, too. He didn't.
  • Big Fancy House: Higgins' pad.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Enforced when Higgins asks Alfie point-blank how much he wants. Alfie insists on beating around the bush, seemingly on principle.
  • Blessed with Suck: Alfred's windfall is a double-edged sword, as he's now forced to enter into legal marriage with "Mrs." Dolittle. As if 'avin' to act like a bloomin' gentleman weren't enough already.
  • Bowdlerise: The name of the oily language expert was changed from Nepomuck to Zoltan Kaparthy, because St. John Nepomuck (as Shaw was well aware) was a Catholic saint and patron of the confessional.
  • Break the Haughty: Mrs. Higgins' favorite sport with her son, and delights in Eliza putting him in his place in front of her.
  • British Stuffiness / Dull Surprise: "The Ascot Gavotte." The English sure know how to party.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He may be lord of the manor, but Higgins' weirdness is very apparent in public.
  • Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them: Eliza and Henry, to each other.
  • Catchphrase: Pickering's "I'm dashed." Eventually lampshaded by Higgins:
    Higgins: Oh, Pickering, for God's sake stop being dashed and do something!
  • Con Man: Alfie.
  • Costume Porn: Eliza's gorgeous dresses after her transformation.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    • While singing "Without You", Eliza nearly tells Higgins he can go to Hell — but replaces it with "Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire" (echoing Higgins' speech exercise from earlier).
    • Freddy of all people does it during his first song when he is just about to quote Eliza's Precision F-Strike in song when Mrs Pearce opens the door.
  • Dances and Balls: The Embassy Ball.
  • Dark(er) Reprise: "Just You Wait" gets a reprise shortly after "You Did It". This time, It's Personal.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs. Higgins is all about deflating her son's ego with sarcastic one liners.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: Henry Higgins embodies this trope, having said 'So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so' and so much more. The only hang up is whether he can actually be considered deconfirmed by the end. However, most people agree he had at least befriended and came to care about Eliza by the end. Since he is such an extreme case that, by his own admission, he'd never even had a female friend before, this could still be enough of an about face to qualify him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: “Just You Wait”, in which Eliza wishes death on Professor Higgins in return for his rudeness.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Freddy, in what would be considered stalking by today's terms.
  • Dr. Jerk: Henry Higgins himself, though he's technically a professor of linguistics and not a doctor per se.
  • Dresses the Same: In the Ascot scene in the film.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Higgins mercilessly drills Eliza day and night. Meanwhile, his servant staff fawns over his ordeal.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Eliza is extremely angry over how Higgins gets all the praise for fooling everyone at the Embassy ball.
    "Yoooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuu did it! ♫"
  • The Edwardian Era: 1912, to be precise. (Makes one rather wonder about Freddy's fate.) The scene at the recetrack, where everyone (except Henry Higgins) wears black and white, is based on the real fashions of the time - they were in mourning after the death of the old king. A recent touring production went even further by dressing everyone in black only and using a paperboy announcing the King's death as a scene-changing device.
  • Entertainingly Wrong:
    And although she may have studied with an expert dialectitian and grammarian,
    I can tell that she was born — Hungarian!
    ...Not only Hungarian, but of royal blood.
  • Epic Movie: Huge cast, lavish sets and costumes, long (nearly 3 hours), highly promoted, award bait? Yep, it was an epic movie.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Higgins might experiment on the desperate and vulnerable for the sake of his own amusement, but Zoltan — a hatchet man who likes to mix with socialites — is low even for him.
  • Fanfare: "The Transylvanian March".
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Eliza's outburst at the races, to her (and Henry's) embarrassment.
  • Fictional Holiday: In Eliza's dream ("Just You Wait"), the King is so enraptured by her voice that he declares Eliza Dolittle Day.
  • Flat Joy: Those prim-and-proper racetrack patrons sure are excited to be there. Can't you tell?
  • Gem-Encrusted: The embassy dress is loaded with jewels.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Professor Higgins is impeccably polite in the rudest way possible.
  • Gilligan Cut: In the film, after Pickering pulls the plug on the Embassy Ball. ("This experiment is OVER.") He's wearing a tux in the next shot.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Pickering and Higgins.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: One of its Oscars was for Costume Design.
  • Got Me Doing It: The voice exercises start getting to poor Pickering after a while. "'Ave you troid the ploin cayke?"
  • Grammar Nazi: Higgins is introduced to us with an entire musical number ("Why Can't The English Learn to Speak?") complaining about people's bad grammar and pronunciation. A bit more justified as the story goes on, as he's a phoneticist who teaches people to speak with proper diction for a living; however, he's still a Jerk Ass about it.
  • Grief Song: "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" arguably, since it's a combination of grief and anger. Doubles as Love Epiphany.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Higgins' defense to Eliza's charge that he still treats her like rubbish. In point of fact, he treats everyone like that — and he's proud of it, too.
    Higgins: The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you've ever heard me treat anyone else better.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Henry is very misogynistic, though he insists he's not. In fact, he's got two whole songs dedicated to whining about how much he dislikes women ("A Hymn to Him" and "An Ordinary Man"). The end of the play may have helped him get over it, but again, it's up to viewer interpretation.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Both Higgins and Pickering have that "confirmed bachelor" vibe thing going for them.
    • Higgins even uses that exact phrase, then shudders at the idea of marriage. He also has a hard time admitting Eliza "might" be attractive when he suggests she marry herself off (cue flamboyant flourish), laments that women aren't more like men, and while all this might have been intended as Belligerent Sexual Tension it's taken so far that the idea of a sexual/romantic relationship between him and Eliza becomes ... a stretch.
    • Higgins asks Pickering where one can find a Ladies' Dress Shop. Pickering replies so quickly, Higgins asks how he would know. Pickering clears his throat and says "Common knowledge" (despite having just arrived in London from years living in India). Then again, the store he quoted, Whiteleys department store, had been in operation for well over fifty years by the time of the play.
    • If you insist, you can interpret Higgins' "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man" number as evidence.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • As they prepare for the ball, Pickering downs a glass of port and curses Higgins for his constant serenity. Before they leave, however, Higgins peeks over his shoulder and quaffs some alcohol, too.
    • "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." He's a most forgiving man.
  • "I Am" Song: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "An Ordinary Man".
  • I Meant to Do That: In the midst of being thoroughly castigated by Eliza, Higgins springs up from his chair and claims credit for her self-confidence. What a chode.
  • "I Want" Song: Eliza's "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?": she wants a cozy warm room, a comfy chair, and lots of chocolate.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: Higgins finally confesses to Eliza that he's going to miss her... then quickly follows it up by saying Pickering misses her, too.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Eliza at the start of the story. The later battle to get her bathed kind of proves her innocence.
  • Innocent Innuendo: She sent the boy for her belongings, but she said she won't need her clothes *wink*
  • Insufferable Genius: Even Higgins' own mother can't stand him.
  • Intermission: The movie has an act break as Eliza, Higgins, and Pickering leave for the Embassy Ball, coming in earlier than it does in the play (which placed its intermission after the Embassy Ball).
  • Last-Second Word Swap:
    You, dear friend, who talk so well
    You can go to...Hertford, Heresford and Hampshire!
  • Lighter and Softer: Much more so than the original Shaw play.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Ascot Gavotte," wherein upper-class gents and ladies sing about "a ripping, absolutely gripping moment" with all the enthusiasm of a funeral host.
  • Maybe Ever After: Eliza and Henry are reconciled at the end, but are they a romantic couple now, or what? The answer is only hinted.
  • Meaningful Name: A name like Doolittle totally makes sense for someone like Eliza's father. Eliza herself, on the other hand...
  • Misogyny Song: "An Ordinary Man" and "A Hymn to Him".
  • Missing Mom: Seeing as Eliza's father marries, and his side comments about his old wife are along the lines of "You look just like her, Eliza" and "Just like her, you never give me money!" it can be safely assumed Eliza's mother is dead.
  • The Musical
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Alfred P. Dolittle.
  • Nice Hat:
    • The racetrack scene goes crazy with this. Every lady has a hat nicer than the previous one. Eliza's hat is just massive, including the loads of feathers on the side.
    • Honorable mention goes to Henry's teacup and saucer.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Eliza realizes the true reason that Higgins continues looking down on her even after becoming sophisticated is that he only sees her as a lowly flower girl.
    Eliza: The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.
  • No Sympathy:
    • The servants express more compassion for Higgins than his hapless student (Doesn't rest / Doesn't eat / Doesn't touch a crumb!) Cut to Higgins munching on cakes while Eliza is wasting away.
    • While trying to practice with marbles in her mouth, Eliza accidentally swallows one, but Higgins simply replies "Doesn't matter, I've got more", and puts more into her mouth.
  • Nursery Rhyme: The title, of course, comes from "London Bridge is falling down", a snatch of whose melody is heard at the beginning of "Get Me To The Church On Time".
  • Obsession Song: "On the Street Where You Live". Considering that Freddy continues to wait outside for several weeks. (The text of the musical says that he arrives at the house after Ascot. Six weeks later is the Transylvanian Embassy Ball, and the day after that is the first time we see Freddy again. He's been on that street for SIX WEEKS.) One really should consider that he has no other polite way of contacting her, due to Higgins and her position in his household.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Eliza takes one to the races.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eliza's father pushes this into borderline abuse levels as he not only leaves all of his children to fend for themselves, he takes their hard-earned money for himself to waste on alcohol. (And he brags about this, no less!) The line immediately following his proud description of his parenting style? "You've got a good heart, Alfie..."
  • Pass Fail: The plot is driven by Higgins' bet that he can train a rough, low-class flower girl into passing as a member of the aristocracy.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • After a full day of nonstop, grueling exercises, an exhausted Higgins finally offers Eliza a few soft words of encouragement. At this, her voice instantly transforms into an impeccable upper class accent.
    • Alfie gets one when he cajoles Eliza to be self-reliant, as "she's a lady now."
  • Pimped-Out Dress:
    • Eliza wears an exquisite black and white dress to the races. It is decorated with ribbons, laces etc.
    • The gown Eliza wears for the Embassy ball. It is really gorgeous and bejewelled, but the cut is simple and rather sleek.
  • Pink Product Ploy: The DVD covers from 2004 and 2009 have pink backgrounds. (The 2004 cover actually uses a 1964 poster which was pink to begin with.)
  • Plank Gag: Happens during the "With A Little Bit Of Luck" song, since Alfie Doolittle is singing in what seems to be a construction area and there is inevitably someone who swings a plank around and someone else gets hit by it.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Eliza and Henry. Maybe.
  • Princess for a Day: Eliza gets to be a lady for several months. She gets the pretty clothes and better food, but her training is rather hellish, and she is also implied to have same obligations in the household.
  • A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: It seems Higgins' contempt for his pupil lies in the fact that he abandoned academia; Zoltan uses his linguistics abilities "more to blackmail and swindle than teach." Zoltan says of the Greek Ambassador's birth origin "I keep his secret, but I make him pay. I make them all pay.", so the character himself seems to confirm the blackmail accusation.
  • Rags to Royalty: From rags (a poor common flower girl verging on homelessness) to the upper middle class. And she was able to be taken for nobility (people assumed she was a foreign princess).
  • Remaster: CBS' poor preservation of the original camera negative necessitated some extensive and highly-lauded restorations, one released to theaters and home video in 1994 (the year of the movie's 30th anniversary), and another presented in 2015 (as part of a belated celebration of the 50th anniversary).
  • Right Behind Me: At the end of "Just You Wait", Eliza realizes that Higgins was standing behind her, watching her singing about his death. Awkward...
  • The Scapegoat: Following Eliza's spat with Higgins, Freddy gets chewed out for the high crime of being the first man who crosses her path.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: See the image; when first introduced Eliza's very dirty and wearing torn-up, worn clothing. The exact words of the trope are used by her father on first seeing her as a 'lady'.
  • Shot at Dawn: Eliza gleefully fantasizes about this happening to Higgins, who is very casual about the whole business before keeling over.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Eliza and Henry's relationship...and if the play is to be believed, no doubt this would have carried on.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: What happens when you combine Eliza's blue language with a posh accent.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Eliza's uncouth behavior got Freddy's interest.
  • Spot of Tea: It is set in England, after all! Professor and Colonel are seen enjoying their tea with sweets, and the characters also enjoy their tea break at the races. "A cup of tea" is one of the phrases that Eliza practices to pronounce correctly.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Higgins sarcastically writing a letter of recommendation for Alfred Dolittle, calling him "one of the original moralists in England." An American philanthropist dies and bequeaths a fortune to Alfie to advocate for moral reform.
  • Stealth Insult: Eliza gets Higgins with a few. Higgins isn't so good at being stealthy with insults, but doesn't understand why he has to be. Which is about the best you can hope for from Higgins. "I've learned something from your idiotic notions."
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Fed up with her keeper, Eliza returns to the old neighborhood after her blossoming into a lady, but no one recognizes her.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion/Last-Second Word Swap: In "Without You"
    And you, dear friend, who talked so well,
    You can go to — Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire!
  • Talk About the Weather: While in public, Higgins advises Eliza to stick to mundane topics: the weather, and everyone's health. It backfires. Mrs. Higgins, disgusted with every word that comes out of her son's mouth, echoes this advice in the end.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Higgins and Pickering are too stuffed to finish the last cake tart. Not to worry, says Higgins; he knows somebody who loves these. He marches right past a famished Eliza to feed it to a parrot.
  • Those Two Guys: Harry and Jamie, Alfred Doolittle's friends and fellow dustmen.
  • Training from Hell: Linguistics training from hell, although not as over-the-top as some examples. She has to practice for hours, often without proper explanation of how to form the correct sounds.
  • Westminster Chimes: A modified version begins every iteration of "Poor Professor Higgins".