The film stars Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins respectively, with Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Wilfrid Hyde-White in supporting roles. A critical and commercial success, it won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. In 1998, the American Film Institute named it the 91st greatest American film of all time.
In Edwardian London, Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), a scholar of phonetics, believes that the accent and tone of one's voice determines a person's prospects in society. In Covent Garden one evening, he boasts to a new acquaintance, Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), himself an expert in phonetics, that he could teach any person to speak in a way that he could pass them off as a duke or duchess at an embassy ball. Higgins selects as an example a young flower seller, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), who has a strong Cockney accent. Eliza's ambition is to work in a flower shop, but her thick accent makes her unsuitable. Having come from India to meet Higgins, Pickering is invited to stay with the professor. The following morning, Eliza shows up at Higgins' home, seeking lessons. Pickering is intrigued and offers to cover all expenses if the experiment should be successful.
Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), a dustman, shows up three days later, ostensibly to protect his daughter's virtue, but in reality simply to extract some money from Higgins, and is bought off with £5. Higgins is impressed by the man's honesty, his natural gift for language, and especially his brazen lack of morals. Higgins recommends Alfred to a wealthy American who is interested in morality. Eliza goes through many forms of speech training, such as speaking with marbles in her mouth, enduring Higgins' harsh approach to teaching and his treatment of her personally. She makes little progress, but just as she, Higgins, and Pickering are about to give up, Eliza finally "gets it"; she instantly begins to speak with an impeccable upper class accent.
As a test, Higgins takes her to Ascot Racecourse, where she makes a good impression initially, only to shock everyone by a sudden lapse into vulgar Cockney while cheering on a horse. Higgins, who dislikes the pretentiousness of the upper class, partly conceals a grin behind his hand. Eliza poses as a mysterious lady at an embassy ball and even dances with a foreign prince. At the ball is Zoltan Karpathy (Theodore Bikel), a Hungarian phonetics expert trained by Higgins. After a brief conversation with Eliza, he certifies that she is not only Hungarian, but of royal blood, declaring her to be a Princess.
After all the effort she has put in, however, Eliza's actions aren't even acknowledged; all the praise going to Higgins. This, and his callous treatment towards her afterwards, especially his indifference to her future, causes her to throw Higgins' slippers at him, and to walk out on him, leaving him mystified by her ingratitude. Accompanied by Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett), a young man she met at Ascot and who is charmed by her, Eliza returns to her old life, but finds that she no longer fits in. She meets her father, who has been left a large fortune by the wealthy American to whom Higgins had recommended him, and is resigned to marrying Eliza's stepmother. Alfred feels that Higgins has ruined him, since he is now bound by morals and responsibility. Eventually, Eliza ends up visiting Higgins' mother (Gladys Cooper), who is incensed at her son's behaviour.
The next day, Higgins finds Eliza gone and searches for her, eventually finding her at his mother's house. Higgins attempts to talk Eliza into coming back to him. He becomes angered when Eliza announces that she is going to marry Freddy and become Karpathy's assistant. He makes his way home, stubbornly predicting that she will come crawling back. However, he comes to the realization that he has "grown accustomed to her face." Henry returns to his study to lament his loneliness. As he listens to Eliza's recorded voice, she reappears in the doorway behind him, turning off the recording and saying in her old Cockney accent, "I washed my hands and face before I come I did." Higgins looks surprised then pleased before asking for his slippers once more as Eliza smiles on behind him, leaving the audience to decide what happens next.Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle
Marni Nixon as Eliza's singing voice (uncredited)
Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins
Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle
Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering
Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Higgins
Jeremy Brett as Freddy Eynsford-Hill
Bill Shirley as Freddy's singing voice (uncredited)
Theodore Bikel as Zoltan Karpathy
Mona Washbourne as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper
Isobel Elsom as Mrs. Eynsford-Hill
John Holland as the Butler
Uncredited CastHenry Daniell as the British Ambassador
Baroness Rothschild as the Queen of Transylvania
Buddy Bryant as Prince Gregor of Transylvania
Charles Fredericks as the King in Eliza's fantasy
Lillian Kemble-Cooper as female Ambassador (in yellow dress) at Ball
Queenie Leonard as Cockney bystander
Moyna MacGill as Lady Boxington
Alan Napier as gentleman escorting Eliza to the Queen
Betty Blythe as Lady at Ball
Marjorie Bennett as Cockney with pipe
The head of CBS, William S. Paley, put up the money for the original Broadway production in exchange for the rights to the cast album (through Columbia Records). When Warner bought the film rights in February 1962 for the then-unprecedented sum of $5 million, it was agreed that the rights to the film would revert to CBS seven years following release.
The order of the songs in the show was followed faithfully, except for "With a Little Bit of Luck". The song is listed as being the third musical number in the play; in the film it is the fourth. Onstage, the song is split into two parts sung in two different scenes. Part of the song is sung by Doolittle and his cronies just after Eliza gives him part of her earnings, immediately before she makes the decision to go to Higgins's house to ask for speech lessons. The second half of the song is sung by Doolittle just after he discovers that Eliza is now living with Higgins. In the film, the entire song is sung in one scene that takes place just after Higgins has sung "I'm an Ordinary Man". However, the song does have a dialogue scene (Doolittle's conversation with Eliza's landlady) between verses.
The instrumental "Busker Sequence", which opens the play immediately after the Overture, is the only musical number from the play omitted in the film version. However, there are several measures from this piece that can be heard as we see Eliza in the rain, making her way through the cars and carriages in Covent Garden.
All of the songs in the film were performed near complete; however, there were some verse omissions, as there sometimes are in film versions of Broadway musicals. For example, in the song "With a Little Bit of Luck", the verse "He does not have a Tuppence in his pocket", which was sung with a chorus, was omitted, due to space and its length. The original verse in "Show Me" was used instead.
The stanzas of "You Did It" that came after Higgins says "she is a Princess" were originally written for the Broadway version, but Harrison hated the lyrics and refused to perform them, unless and until those lyrics were omitted, which they were in most Broadway versions. However, Cukor insisted that the omitted lyrics be restored for the film version or he would not direct at all, causing Harrison to oblige. The omitted lyrics end with the words "Hungarian Rhapsody" followed by the servants shouting "BRAVO" three times, to the strains of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" before the servants sing "Congratulations, Professor Higgins".
Hepburn's singing was judged inadequate, and she was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who sang all songs except "Just You Wait", where Hepburn's voice was left undubbed during the harsh-toned chorus of the song and Nixon sang the melodic bridge section. Some of Hepburn's original vocal performances for the film were released in the 1990s, affording audiences an opportunity to judge whether the dubbing was necessary. Less well known is the dubbing of Jeremy Brett's songs (as Freddy) by Bill Shirley.
Harrison declined to pre-record his musical numbers for the film, explaining that he had never talked his way through the songs the same way twice and thus could not convincingly lip-sync to a playback during filming (as musical stars had, according to Jack L. Warner, been doing for years. "We even dubbed Rin-Tin-Tin"). George Groves decided to use a wireless microphone, the first such use during filming of a motion picture. The sound department earned an Academy Award for its efforts.
One of the few differences in structure between the stage version and the film is the placement of the intermission. In the stage play, the intermission comes after the embassy ball where Eliza dances with Karpathy. In the film, the intermission comes before the ball, as Eliza, Higgins, and Pickering are seen departing for the embassy.
Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, and George James Hopkins won an Academy Award for Best Production Design for art direction of the film. Beaton's inspiration for the library in Higgins' home, where much of the action takes place, was a room at the Château de Groussay, Montfort-l'Amaury, in France, which had been decorated opulently by its owner Carlos de Beistegui. Hats were created by Parisian milliner Paulette at Beaton's request.
With a production budget of $17 million, My Fair Lady was the most expensive film shot in the United States up to that time. The film was re-released in 1971 and earned North American rentals of $2 million. It was re-released again in 1994 after a thorough restoration.
My Fair Lady currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The general consensus states: "George Cukor's elegant, colorful adaptation of the beloved stage play is elevated to new heights thanks to winning performances by Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison." Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, and, in 2006, he put it on his "Great Movies" list, praising Hepburn's performance, and calling the film "the best and most unlikely of musicals."
My Fair Lady won eight Oscars:Academy Award for Best Picture – Jack L. Warner
Academy Award for Directing – George Cukor
Academy Award for Best Actor – Rex Harrison
Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Harry Stradling
Academy Award for Sound – George R. Groves, Warner Brothers Studio
Academy Award for Best Adaptation or Treatment Score – André Previn
Academy Award for Best Art Direction – Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, and George James Hopkins
Academy Award for Costume Design – Cecil Beaton
Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – Alan Jay Lerner - Nominated
Academy Award for Film Editing – William Ziegler - Nominated
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – Stanley Holloway - Nominated
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – Gladys Cooper - Nominated
My Fair Lady won three Golden Globes:Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture – George Cukor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Rex Harrison
My Fair Lady won the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any source
The film was restored in 1994 by James C. Katz and Robert A. Harris, who had restored Spartacus three years earlier. The restoration was commissioned and financed by CBS, to which the film rights reverted from Warner Bros. in 1971. CBS would later hire Harris to lend his expertise to a new 4K restoration of the film for a 2015 Blu-ray release, working from 8K scans of the original camera negative and other surviving 65mm elements.
A new film of the musical was planned in 2008 with a screenplay by Emma Thompson but the project did not materialize. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Colin Firth were among those in consideration for the lead roles.