"My Fair Lady" is a 1964 movie musical based on the 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical of the same name, which is in turned based on the 1913 stage play "Pygmalion" which, in its own turn, is based on Greek mythology. Sure, that trail ends with Hollywood, but Broadway is up to exact same shenanigans when it comes to remakes and reboots. Although the story of "My Fair Lady" is significantly altered from the original mythos, the core relationship between creator and creation is unchanged. Well, it's now about British high society and not about a sculptor and a sculpture anymore. Close enough, right?
Anyway, the 1964 film stars the one and only Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the titular fair lady. Co-starring as professor Henry Higgins, the titular claimant of possessing a "fair lady," is Rex Harrison, who also played the role opposite Julie Andrews in the original Broadway production. Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, and Jeremy Brett also appear in prominent roles, and their credits will be named in due time.
"My Fair Lady" is over 50 years old and the story its based upon is infinitely older, and yet no fault would be laid at your feet for having not watched it. The writers used 300 words where 30 would have easily sufficed and that adds up pretty fast. The Warner Bros. film demands an astounding two hours and fifty-three minutes of your attention. That's difficult, even for the musically inclined among us. With that in mind, we've got you covered with the cliff notes and just enough analysis to permit you solid footing into any conversation about the movie. Here's a breakdown of the ending of "My Fair Lady."
A Tale Of Two Rich Dudes
Before we dive into the finale's ramifications, it's important to ensure that all parties are privy to the same foundational context. If you don't need a quick plot recap, feel free to skip to the next slide! "My Fair Lady," despite its arduous runtime, is actually pretty straight-forward. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is an impoverished woman, with a thick Cockney accent, who sells flowers to scrape together a meager living. Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) is an affluent scholar of phonetics with a curious mind and a dispassionate attitude toward humanity, especially toward women.
The story is set in motion when the two meet in the streets of London. After their initial encounter, in which Higgins complains about the variety of English accents that he deems abhorrent, Eliza pleads with Higgins to teach her how to speak in a way that might better her station in life. Higgins accepts after his colleague, Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), frames Doolittle's plight as a bet against Higgins' teaching skills. Pickering also offers to pay for the whole thing, which helps get the ball rolling. The challenge is this: Higgins must pass Eliza off as a proper citizen of high society during an event six months after the wager is placed. Through music and dancing and the clashing of obstinate personalities, "My Fair Lady" explores Eliza and Higgins' relationship, which is refreshingly devoid of romance.
From time to time, Alfred Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), Eliza's deadbeat father, shows up to break the tension with a six-minute song and an open disdain for his current partner, to whom he is unmarried. Oh, yeah, Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett), a man who is infatuated by Eliza, is also there, but here's the thing…
Freddy Eynsford-Hill Literally Doesn't Matter At All
Freddy Eynsford-Hill is a charming and handsome socialite that Eliza Doolittle encounters when they both attend a horse race. He's there to enjoy the pretty ponies and a bit of gambling along with the other members of high society, including Ms. Higgins (Gladys Cooper), Henry Higgins' mother. Eliza, on the other hand, is there to complete a trial run for the end of Higgins and Hugh Pickering's wager. To her credit, Eliza succeeds in blending in … mostly. Her verbiage almost exposes her background as a commoner and her cockney accent slips through when she practically screams at one of the racehorses, saying, "Come on Dover! Move your bloomin' arse!"
Good ol' Freddy is instantly smitten and does what any reasonable person would do in his situation — he follows Eliza home with flowers and stalks her street while singing love ballads. His big number is literally called "On the Street Where You Live." After he finishes his creeper song, it's implied that he lingers nearby just to get an impression of Eliza's natural habitat. Afterward, Freddy is seen exactly once more because, as a character, he literally does not matter at all. It's abundantly clear that Eliza possesses no love for him in return and it's equally understood that, should things go sideways with her platonic roomie, Higgins, she would be willing to land on her feet in Freddy's lap.
His inclusion feels like a pacifier to satiate any audience members that might feel jaded by the intentional lack of romance between the two lead characters. Freddy's only other purpose is to be present when Eliza grows tired of Higgins' self-absorption (much more on that later) and needs a person to shout at. Poor dude. Meh, moving on.
Alfred Doolittle Falls Victim To Middle Class Morality
Alfred Doolittle is Eliza Doolittle's absent father who only shows up in her life to beg for money. He's not unemployed, mind, he's a dustman (a British term for people who collect trash for the city) but, as his song "With a Little Bit of Luck" suggests, he'll take any opportunity to avoid labor. In fact, "My Fair Lady" wastes no time in establishing him as a morally grimy man who would do anything to do nothing, including extortion. When Doolittle discovers that Eliza has moved in with Higgins for the duration of her elocution education, he arrives shortly thereafter to blackmail the professor for money on the grounds that his poor daughter's virtue is at stake. This proves to be his downfall as Higgins is by far the sharper and more conniving the two.
The one thing that Doolittle hates above all else is responsibility and Higgins tricks him into bearing the great responsibility of them all — public wealth. In Doolittle's final scene, he tells his daughter that Higgins set him up with a morally ambitious and financially lucrative American who was looking for an heir to mold. The American left him a sizable public fortune that would "force" him into becoming an honest man. Doolittle whines that others now beg him for money, that he must wear fancy clothing, and that he must now marry Eliza's step-mother, a feat of commitment that he never even offered Eliza's birth mother. Before singing his final song, "Get Me to the Church on Time," Doolittle laments that he is now bound by "middle class morality," something that he wholly despises … just not quite enough to actually do something about it.
Henry Higgins Becomes A Better Man … Sort Of
Professor Henry Higgins is a brilliant man. By his own claim, his linguistic skills are so refined that he can detect where a person was born, almost down to the square mile, simply by hearing them speak. Tragically, he's very much as good as his word. The trouble is that he's a raging egotist and, as we mentioned earlier, an unabashed misogynist. In no uncertain terms, Higgins tells everyone who will lend him an ear — usually his poor staff, which is comprised mostly of women — that people are dumb but that women are dumber. Sure, he uses flowery and fun language while spouting his personal brand of atrocities, but anyone with a dog and a bottle of Febreze knows that one of those scents will not mask the other.
The weird thing about his character's narrative culmination is that he never admits to any wrongdoing. When Eliza rightly accuses him of taking credit for her work during the course of their lessons, he's both surprised and confused that she would consider her feelings worthy of factoring into his efforts. Whenever Eliza, Hugh Pickering, his staff, or even his mother, reprimand him for his astonishing behavior, he either refutes their admonishments or outright ignores them. Higgins is Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) from "Community" if someone excised his sex drive.
After Eliza lays out exactly what makes Higgins a deplorable human being, she leaves him alone with his thoughts. In this solitude, he finally admits that he would miss her. It's a begrudging, partial confession and it's as close to a character arc as Higgins is ever going to get because, two minutes later, Eliza shows back up at his door. He drops one last snark and then the movie ends.
Eliza Doolittle Stands Up For Herself … Sort Of
Eliza Doolittle is broke. Everything that follows, every decision, every contradiction, they all makes better sense in the light of her dire context. While it was Eliza who sought out Henry Higgins and not the other way around, she obstinately repels every change offered her under his roof. Some of her outbursts can be chalked up to a stubborn personality (which she absolutely possesses), sure, but most of her choices are better understood as the actions of someone who's fight or flight trigger is stuck in the "on" position. No one with a restful, secure mindset screams bloody murder when faced with a bathtub.
After a tempestuous beginning, Eliza excels under Higgins' tutelage. She is, after all, a passionate and hard-working individual. Eliza literally overhauls her entire method of speech, including both her dialect and her vocabulary, and ultimately tricks everyone into believing that she was always a member of high society. When Higgins' hogs all the credit for her many months of labor, she leaves. She has nowhere to go, but she leaves. After venting all her frustration with Higgins and his words onto Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and after having a bizarre chat with her suddenly wealthy father, who immediately makes it clear that he would not take her in if she asked, Eliza finds solace and courage in Ms. Higgins, who loathes her son's behavior.
In the end, Eliza finds the strength to explain her disquiet to Higgins, who listens but ultimately denies everything. When she realizes that she will never change him, Eliza says goodbye — permanently. This would have probably been more effective if she didn't reappear at Higgins' door two minutes later but, hey, living with a jerk is better than living on the street.
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