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Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Fair Malady

She's the horse in the horse-race, you see. She's where the bets are placed
Rex Harrison, in 1965, won an Oscar for portraying a misogynist.

Granted, he was portraying a misogynist, and did the part so well that he won an award for it, but he was also portraying that misogynist in a film called "My Fair Lady," which begins with a montage of flowers and has a title implying a femininity one would not expect from a man named 'Rex Harrison'. The film was not called "My Good Man," or "My Man Who Sing-Talks." It did not begin with a montage of fedoras and cigars.

The film was "My Fair Lady," and it begins with montage of flowers, and its main star is Audrey Hepburn. And Rex Harrison won an Oscar for his role. Audrey Hepburn, had she been nominated, would've lost the Oscar to Julie Andrews that year, and Julie Andrews, of course, originated the role of Eliza Doolittle.

Famously, Julie Andrews lost the part of Eliza to Audrey Hepburn in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical that made her a star. In 1965, Rex Harrison won an Oscar for playing the misogynist asshole Henry Higgins opposite Hepburn's Eliza, who was not even nominated for her performance, and Julie Andrews won an Oscar for playing a singing nanny in "Marry Poppins."

"My Fair Lady" won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and a few other awards, even though the Lady of the picture was not even nominated. In fact the lady was not even allowed to sing in the picture she was presumably anchoring: Audrey Hepburn, the eponymous lady of the film, performed her role assuming her voice would be used in the musical parts of the film (the film was, after all, a musical; she was the star of the musical; she was cast over the previous star of the Broadway musical... surely she'd gotten the role for both her acting and her vocal ability).

When watching the film now, you get why Rex Harrison not only managed to transition from his Broadway performance to his Hollywood performance: he managed to win both the Tony and the Oscar for his performance as a misogynist while the Fair Ladies either lost the nomination or failed to get nominated. The film and the play is really all about Henry Higgins, you see. The emphasis of the show is on the possessive "My" and not the fair lady.

The Shaw play upon which the musical is based isn't a feminist screed by any means, but it does have its moments. The Broadway musical is a bit rough, but it breaks some traditions. But ye gods, the musical film is almost unbearable, because it is robbed of charm--you know the lead actress was robbed of her voice, for instance. And that's the whole point of the story. It's like watching Ariel, in "The Little Mermaid", lose her voice, and realizing she forgot to closely read her contract.

Also, "My Fair Lady" won a lot of awards, but Audrey Hepburn didn't even lose because she wasn't even nominated. The actress who did get nominated and win that year was, as I said, Julie Andrews. For "Marry Poppins." The next year, of course, she got nominated for another role as a singing nanny, and lost to Julie Christie.

Julie Christie solved a problem like Maria, and won for "Darling," playing a role described like this: A beautiful but amoral model sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion scene at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

Best Actor that year went to Lee Marvin, for  "Cat Ballou."

The point is that "My Fair Lady" is a terrible musical with some good tunes, and the two women were better off without it. The man who won all the awards for it went on to star in an awful film about singing animals, and is largely forgotten.

And Lee Marvin won an Oscar. For "Cat Ballou."



Matt Osborne said...

Cat Ballou is still one of the funniest Westerns ever, IMO.

MM said...

Well, maybe. Blazing Saddles was much better, and I don't think got anyone an Oscar.

Oddly, this wasn't the only Western musical Marvin was in.

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