The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

What bugged me about My Fair Lady

with 18 comments

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

My Fair Lady has two faces.

The first face is the one of the classical musical, containing massive dance numbers, amazing costumes and some pretty catchy songs (even if I’ve heard better in other musicals to be completely honest.) It sparkles with stardom and the typical musical cheerfulness which makes me nod approvingly, saying: “see there, that’s a proper movie! Why don’t they make movies like that anymore?”

But then there’s the other face, a face which makes me confused and bothered, well, even pissed off to put it bluntly. And that’s what I’m going to talk about most in this post, because that’s where the controversy is.

One little line changed everything to me. It was the final words, uttered by Professor Higgins to Eliza, the woman he has transformed from a simple flower selling girl to a proper lady.

Leaning backwards in a lazy gesture, he says smugly:

“Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?”

And instead of turning the back to him, which would have every reason in the world to do, leaving him to brew in his own stew, Eliza walks towards him with a loving smile on her face as the violins start playing.

It’s an ending open for interpretations some would argue. Perhaps Elize will stick to her earlier vow never to see Higgins again? Perhaps she’ll go with Freddy, who treats her with respect, as an equal, open a flower shop and be happy for the rest of her life?

But my interpretation of this scene is the opposite. It looks to me as if she’ll end up marrying this creep of a man, regardless of how he treats her. She’ll willingly carry his slippers in the name of love. Just look at her eyes! Remember her previous love songs! If she would have had any intention to stick to her love for the far more deserving Freddy, of course we would have gotten a hint about it. She would have turned her back to Higgins, leaving for good. Perhaps we would even see him waiting outside for her.

The sad thing is that this way of ending the story, for how disappointing it is, isn’t taken out of the blue. This is the ugly, gritty reality. For some reason, which I’m unable to fully comprehend, there are quite a lot of women who are attracted to men who treat them like crap. They stay in abusive relationships, even if they’re risking their own and their children’s lives doing so. They send love letters to completely unknown men who are serving prison sentences for bestial murderers. I know those things happen.

You could argue that the ending of My Fair Lady actually is meant to highlight and question this situation, exposing the tragedy. The merry musical is suddenly and unexpectedly twisted into an edgy, dark and knife sharp criticism of society. But something tells me that while this interpretation is possible, it would be an after construction rather than the intention as they made a movie.

Look at all those flowers, listen to the violins, and think about this movie is marketed! I’m pretty sure it’s not meant as an irony. To me it seems more plausible that the music and the flowers are meant to reinforce what we’ve already seen – that the misanthropic professor’s heart eventually melted and that he fell in love with Eliza.

Previously she had rightfully called him out for using and dismissing her, but as she finally sees him clinging to his recording of her, she’s willing to forgive him and will overlook his flaws. After all – love conquers everything.

I got a little bit of comfort as I read a bit further about the original source of this musical, the play Pygmalion by Bernhard Shaw, which I’ve never read or seen myself. Apparently the ending has been up for discussions many times before, which prompted Shaw to make an addition with some clarifications.

“Will she look forward to a lifetime of fetching Higgins’s slippers or to a lifetime of Freddy fetching hers? There can be no doubt about the answer. Unless Freddy is biologically repulsive to her, and Higgins biologically attractive to a degree that overwhelms all her other instincts, she will, if she marries either of them, marry Freddy. And that is just what Eliza did.”

Thank you for that, Mr. Shaw.

There are still many women in the world who are locked into unhappy marriages with men who don’t deserve them. But at least Eliza wasn’t meant to be one of those.

And that’s how I’ll try to remember My Fair Lady –  regardless of what I actually witnessed on the screen.

My Fair Lady (George Cukor, US, 1964)  My rating: 4/5 (Because despite the ending and despite the fact that I didn’t care for Audrey Hepburn very much, especially not when she tried to fake a cockney accent, I’ve got a soft spot for old musicals.)

Addendum: I published this post at the Filmspotting forum a few days ago. This prompted another forum dweller, who has My Fair Lady as her number 1 movie to write a reply. Her reading was completely different to mine; there is no romantic love between Eliza and Higgins and there never was. It’s all about friendship. The final line from Higgins is just an ironic remark, referring to their previous discussion.

I can see her point; as a matter of fact she’s probably right. But on the other hand – if I was mislead to read in something different, weren’t many others this as well? I think it’s all the pink that wraps up the movie that lead the thoughts this way, reinforced by song numbers such as “I could have danced all night”, where Eliza certainly looks and behaves as if she just had fallen in love with Higgins. Why not be more clear on this point? For all I know it could be deliberate. The audience love to see a happy end, especially with a romantic touch. So if they see this, there’s no reason to correct them.

I may have been wrong about what happens in the end scene. But this doesn’t change the first impression it made on me.

Written by Jessica

September 28, 2011 at 2:00 am

Posted in My Fair Lady

18 Responses

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  1. Love is the last thing I see in this movie (the only one I see is Freddy->Eliza, which is secondary line). There are so many other topics it discuss.
    “My Fair Lady” may be not my number 1 movie already, but it it is still in my “top 4”.
    If you think the movie would be better without last scene – ignore it.
    If you can interpret it the way it do not oppose everything you’ve just seen – interpret it that way.


    September 28, 2011 at 11:18 am

    • Please expand this a little bit! What about it is it that you enjoy so much that it gets so high up on your best-movies list? I’d love to hear about it and get a new perspective on the movie.


      September 28, 2011 at 11:49 am

      • The movie become more interesting once you can see it through Higgins eyes: you can notice that he is honest, not affected by stereotypes, successful. He honestly do not understand why Eliza demand special treatment: he treat her like anybody else. He take her to teach her English, that what he do, nothing more. And he do it well. And take success as his own success as teacher. He do it so well that at some point Eliza do not need him, that’s where his problem starts. He put so much into her, it was so interesting to work with her language and then it’s over and he is not needed any more.
        The story of Eliza’s father echos this line a bit: It was fun for him to try to pull out money, he was good at it. fun was over once he got too much: his talents were not needed any more.
        I say nothing about watching this movie through Eliza eyes, thinking that point of view too obvious.
        But then it also interesting to compare how Eliza and Higgens interpret same scenes.


        September 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

        • “you can notice that he is honest, not affected by stereotypes, successful. He honestly do not understand why Eliza demand special treatment: he treat her like anybody else”

          That is actually true. My sympathies were with Higgins for the most part of the movie. I couldn’t quite understand what Eliza was whining about. She had paid him to teach her, why couldn’t she just do the excercises wtihout complaining all the time? However – towards the end I found him less sympathetic, speaking about her quite pejorative and clearly thinking that he could just throw her away like garbage. She was an object, not a human that deserved to be treated with some kind of kindness and empathy.

          Don’t get me started on Eliza’s father. Such an annoying parasite of a person! Yak.

          Most of the movie I found it hard to like Eliza at all because of the way she spoke. I don’t understand why they needed to have Audrey overacting in that way. Every time she opened her mouth it was like listening to someone pulling their nails over a black board. Was that necessary? Couldn’t she just have had an accent?


          September 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm

          • Yes, she was an object to him, but that was from the same beginning, he never hided that from her. He plan to throw her away from the very start. So, where is the problem?

            language stands between people. It could be a barrier, it could be a bridge.
            I wasn’t scared with Eliza’s language. She has problems explaining herself, doesn’t mean she is a bad person. When her language was fixed, it become more visible that there is something behind it.

            Parasites could be interesting to study, they are not that simple. I do not propose to like them or to be like them.

            It seems to me the difference between your impression and mine is that mine lack lot’s of emotions.


            September 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

            • Hm… Well the problem is that the relationship changed over time. They both admit how they grew accustomed to each other. Or at least I think he led her to belive this, little by little. The sudden change back to the throw-away-approach was a bit unexpected.

              And yes, maybe I’m a little emo about the whole thing, but then again, it’s a romantic (a little at least?) musical, so what do you expect?


              September 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm

          • You definitely should read Pygmalion if you get a chance- I studied it at school and loved it. I think you’ll appreciate it, and the way Eliza fights back, and the last few paragraphs about what happened. It’s really quite stirring. Regarding the accent, see this taken directly from the play.

            THE FLOWER GIRL. Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y’ de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel’s flahrzn than ran awy atbaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f’them? [Here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London.]


            September 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

            • I really don’t mind the dialect. It’s what happens to Audrey’s voice that I mind. Just because you have an accent it doesn’t mean you need to yell and scream constantly. Again: I suppose it’s a part of the farce tradition to be as exaggerated. And I basically don’t like farces very much, so no wonder I didn’t approve of her overplaying it.


              September 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm

  2. For some reason I couldn’t reply to your reply – I get that, and I must admit I do get frustrated by it being overplayed. I guess it is because it’s farce and a musical. However, I recall seeing a film version, have done a little dig around, and voila! There’s a 1938 version of the play available!


    September 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    • It was something in the settings. I’ve fixed it now. I’d love to see the version with Leslie Howard!


      September 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

  3. I grew up listenin’ ta mom’s record of the original Broadway production. Alls I can remember from watchin’ the movie years laters were “Audrey Hepburn’s nice and all, but she ain’t no Julie Andrews.” So I ain’t no help.


    September 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    • If you’re comparing the singing, it’s actually not Audrey Hepburn who sings in the movie. It’s Marnie Nixon. Looking at the comments at imdb it obviously bugged many though that it wasn’t Julie Andrews who got the role.


      September 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm

      • Did not know that, but in hindsight I’s not surprised. Acting and singin’ be two very different talents, and in movies is possible fer ta have one of each. Little research shows me what Ms Nixon were the singin’ voice in several movies I seen (usually uncredited at the time).


        September 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm

  4. There are of course multiple possible readings of the the movie and especially the play but going along your tangent it quite comfortably falls in in with that tradition of the woman being not as much a lover as a mother to her wayward husband (who naturally has a heart of gold somewhere beneath that gruff exterior and she’s the only one who can see it…).

    I’m no great fan of the musical, a bit too lengthy for my taste, but as far as I can remember the ’38 version was quite enjoyable.


    September 30, 2011 at 6:01 am

    • I’ve seen other recommendations about the one from 38. If I stumble upon it I might try to see it. Now that I’m familiar with the story it could be interesting to see a different take on it.

      And yes, don’t tell me about the woman as a mother who spots the heart of gold… It’s a trope we see quite often, thinking of it.


      September 30, 2011 at 7:18 am

  5. Shaw’s first edition of the book had Eliza running off with Freddie. However, at the time that he wrote the play, people were not enamored with such a strong woman. He then subsequently rewrote it with Eliza coming back to the Doctor.
    (harking back to my British plays since Shakespeare class)


    October 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    • Really? I didn’t know that. It’s quite fascinating how many opinions there have been about who that poor woman should marry. Makes you think a little, doesn’t it? I mean – how concerned will the public be about which girl the male character in a play will marry? I’d dare say that they’d more willingly accept whatever choice he makes… Anyway: Thanks for the information!


      October 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

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