My Fair Lady: Success or a Work on Its Own?

        Making a movie out of a play or novel is something, which happens very often. Making a musical-movie is completely different and not possible with every work. George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion is one of the great plays that became a movie and also a musical-movie. This is a big challenge for every film maker because a work has to be made “suitable” for a movie like this. In case of My Fair Lady (1964), this was certainly not very easy but the result is a success.

        Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle is outstanding in this movie because not only does she represent the appearance of the character; but also she is even able to convey the dialect and emotions properly, so everyone knows what she is going through. Wilfred Hyde-White is great as the character of Colonel Pickering because he has the loving face of a father who would do anything for his daughter, even if Eliza is not his daughter. He is the good-natured man who knows how to behave and calm down Mr. Higgins when he goes too far again. Therefore, the cast was a very good one as a whole.

        Furthermore, the voices and the songs for the musical were very well chosen and contributed to a great musical atmosphere. But if one goes back to the play of Pygmalion , the musical is completely different from Shaw’s work. One could even say that his work was used as an example, but the musical is a work on its own because some scenes were changed completely. If the scene after Eliza’s meeting with Freddy waiting in front of Higgins’ house is taken, she is at the flower market and looking for her roots. This scene does not exist in Shaw’s play; she just takes a cab with Freddy, going to Mrs. Higgins. This scene was certainly inserted in the musical in order to evoke pity or similar emotions for Eliza, which is an exaggeration. It would have been better to have stuck to the work because it lengthens the movie unnecessarily.

        Another scene, which is entirely wrong, is the one at the horse race. Mr. Higgins does not bring Eliza to a horse race in order to test her but to his mother’s house where some other people happen to be. In my opinion, this scene messes up the facts and gives Eliza words she would never have spoken in Shaw’s Pygmalion. The scene at the horse race containing the strange dance of the actors seems also very static and artificial, which makes the film kind of unreal. Additionally, there is the scene of Eliza’s father at the pub, which does not exist in the play of Shaw.

         There are plenty of these changes in My Fair Lady that change the play Pygmalion. So as a conclusion, the musical movie is a success but also a work of its own.

Corinna Witkowski