Essential versus Nonessential Essences

         Audrey Hepburn best embodies the essence of the Eliza Doolittle character onscreen in the original 1956 literary work My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion. Hepburn does a wonderful job capturing just who Eliza is. However, in Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien Leigh does a very poor job of depicting Blanche DuBois.

         In the beginning of the film, Eliza's accent is extremely strong and barely understandable. Hepburn does a wonderful job with this accent. If I had not know better, I would have thought Hepburn really had a true Lisson Grove accent. Throughout the film version of My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor in 1964, as Higgins teaches Eliza phonetics, one would believe that it is actually happening and being filmed, not acted. This is so because Hepburn understands her role as Eliza and works hard to fulfill the roll. I can imagine it would have been a great challenge since Julie Andrews was originally cast as Eliza in 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theater. Andrews must have been phenomenal as Eliza. I know I would not have wanted to try to fill her shoes. However, Hepburn does such a great job as Eliza that it is hard to imagine Andrews in the part.

         Hepburn also does a wonderful job singing and miming Marni Nixon's voice. Even though I did not always care for the singing, it helped me grasp Eliza's character even more and gain insight into her emotions. By the end of the movie, Hepburn really had me fooled into thinking she was raised as a lady and not as a flower girl. I also truly believed she was in love with Higgins (Rex Harrison). Many times I would forget that Hepburn was acting. This just goes to show that Audrey Hepburn is wonderful as Eliza Doolittle and portrays the character from the book My Fair Lady to the best of her ability.

         Vivien Leigh in Elia Kazan's film A Streetcar Named Desire does the worst job at capturing the essence of a character from an original literary work. In Tennessee Williams' play, Blanche undergoes a gradual decline in mental health. However, Leigh portrays Blanche's decline as much too sudden. From the very beginning of the film, Blanche seems on edge and a little crazy, and Leigh portrays the character as though she is scared or worried. I was not able to believe the decline in Blanche's health because it is too dramatic and looks very fake. If Leigh had been more relaxed from the beginning of the film, I think that a quick decline would make Blanche more believable. Because Leigh is so intense as Blanche from the beginning, her character is very annoying, and one can almost say she deserves what she gets, though I would never wish that upon anyone.

         I would like to have seen Jessica Tandy play Blanche as she did in the original New York production. I think that I may have enjoyed her portrayal of Blanche more and would have then enjoyed the film as much as My Fair Lady.

Susan Stinson

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