My Fair Lady
Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Jeremy Brett
Damn, this is good. Harrison is completely majestic as speech researcher Professor Henry Higgins, who takes on Covent Garden flower-girl Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), as the result of a bet, vowing to pass the "draggletailed guttersnipe" off at an Embassy ball. Initially, she is simply the tool to an end, but by the end, the fiery academic who had bemoaned, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" has now "grown accustomed to her face." Hepburn and Harrison strike magnificent sparks off each other, the former eventually proving more than a match for the initial intellectual superiority of the latter. For a Hollywood musical, it's surprising how much was of the original social satire remains, as intended by George Bernard Shaw when he wrote Pygmalion, the play on which the musical and film was based, in 1912. The rigid class structure of the time come in for particular lampooning, most notably at the Ascot races, though the ending of Shaw's play was significantly changed to soften the final relationship. It's perfectly fine by me, given the alternative is Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Brett), who comes off as creepily clingy, to the point of being stalkerish ("I spend most of my nights here. It's the only place where I'm happy...")
That's likely the film's only weak spot. The songs, by Lerner and Loewe, are great, immensely hummable and catchy, even though none of the leading characters actually sing: Hepburn and Brett were both dubbed, while Harrison - and to a lesser extent, Holloway - don't even bother to try. Hepburn won the role over Julie Andrews, who'd played Doolittle on Broadway, simply through being better known - and notched only the second-ever million-dollar salary for an actress. While it's easy to tell Hepburn was dubbed, it's hard to imagine Andrews being as perfect as Hepburn is, in what's effectively two roles. It's a perfect romantic comedy for those who don't like romance, because that angle is underplayed in favour of smart dialogue and fabulous characters, even for minor roles like Higgins' mother. I doubt Emma Thompson's upcoming remake (which has already seen Thompson diss Hepburn as "can't sing and she can't really act") will be able to come within the same solar-system in terms of lasting appeal.