"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 Higgin's 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 their 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 and then leaves to find her own way in the world. Meanwhile, Higgins is angry and coufused 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.
Ambiguous Disorder: Higgins, who comes from noble stock, is such an offensive and crass boor that his mother has banned him from her social circle. This is illustrated at the horse races where sumptuous hats and tuxedos are on display; enter Higgins, crashing the party in his usual, dusty-looking tweed. Higgins' out of control ego could suggest some kind of narcissistic personality disorder or, considering his obvious genius, a high-functioning form of Asperger's.
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.
Bowdlerization: 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. Higgin's favorite sport with her son, and delights in Eliza putting him in his place in front of her.
British Accents: Received Pronunciation ("Queen's English") as enforced by Henry Higgins. A wide variety of other, more common ones, especially during the opening scenes.
Higgins: "How many vowel sounds did you hear altogether?"
Pickering: "l believe l counted 24."
Higgins: "Wrong by 100. To be exact you heard 130."
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.
Got Me Doing It: The voice exercises start getting to poor Pickering after awhile. "'Ave you troid the ploin cayke?"
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 a whole song dedicated to whining about how much he dislikes women ("An Ordinary Man"). The end of the play may have helped him get over it, but again, it's up to viewer interpretation.
Two whole songs — there's also "A Hymn to Him" (a.k.a. "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?").
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).
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.
Missing Mom: Seeing as Eliza's father remarries, 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.
He didn't "re" marry, actually...
Pickering:"...marriage isn't so frightening; you married Eliza's Mother."
Doolittle: "Who told ya that, guv'ner?" [Gives Pickering a headshake and a slightly leering wink.]
Honorable mention goes to Henry's teacup and saucer.
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.
Also, 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 days: possibly weeks — this song can get creepy for some viewers.
One really should consider that he has no other polite way of contacting her, due to Higgins. It's not as if he could just text her.
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.
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 Higgin's 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."
Pink Product Ploy: Every DVD cover since 2004 has a pink background. (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.
Princess for a Day: Well, for several months. Eliza's training is to help her pass as a "lady."
A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: It seems Higgin's contempt for his pupil lies in the fact that he abandoned academia; Zoltan uses his linguistics abilities "more to blackmail and swindle than teach."
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.
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.
Training from Hell: Linguistics training from hell, although not as over-the-top as some examples.