Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
—Henry Higgins, "Why Can't The English?"
While most people are more familiar with the 1964 Audrey Hepburn film from Warner Bros, My Fair Lady started life as a stage Musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. It was a smash hit when it opened in 1956, and set new records for the longest run in Broadway musical history (a title now held by The Phantom of the Opera, which is still running).
The musical follows the young Eliza Doolittle, an outspoken and hopeful flower girl in Edwardian England who takes elocution lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, who (as a result of a bet with the kindly Colonel Pickering) promises to turn her into "a lady." He then trains her, day and night, using some downright bizarre machinery and techniques (the marbles make sense, but some of the others...)
When Higgins attempts to try Eliza out on Society by introducing her into his mother's box at Ascot, the transfigured flower girl also encounters young Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who, unaware of Eliza's true social standing, is instantly smitten -- despite Eliza's humiliating lapse into vulgarity at the running of the horserace itself.
The lessons finally culminate in the Embassy Ball, at which ambassadors, lords, and the Queen and Prince of Transylvania will be present. The ball, despite the presence of the venal language expert Zoltan Kaparthy, goes incredibly well; Eliza dances with the prince and many at the ball believe Kaparthy's identification of Eliza as a Hungarian princess(!).
Then the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, which had been steadily improving, takes a huge blow when Higgins takes all the credit for Eliza's success. Eliza is understandably saddened and enraged and she leaves the house after an outburst that leaves Higgins angry and confused; the rest of the play involves them figuring out their relationship in their own way, though if it works out in the end is left to the viewers' interpretations.
The film follows this plot exactly, and was very well received as well, winning 8 Academy Awards. The filming of the movie took place at the time of President Kennedy's assassination; actress Audrey Hepburn made a speech to the cast and crew on the day.
The movie was named to the National Film Registry in 2018.
- Adaptation Decay: Not enough, really. One peculiarity about the film is how it uses the old stage directions, even the meta jokes that don't work in a movie setting. Instances of this include Higgins doing a short jig at the horse race -- a Call Back to "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- but without the knowing laughter of a live audience, he merely looks a like a lunatic. He also sets a teacup on his hat, a gesture which would be funny on-stage, but looks really odd in this context.
- Adorkable: Freddy gets positively randy over Eliza's bad social graces.
- Adult Child: Higgins, by the time Eliza and Mrs. Higgins work him over.
- Anti-Love Song: "Just You Wait" and "Without You".
- Backhanded Compliment: Which is about the best you can hope for from Higgins. "I've learned something from your idiotic notions."
- Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Higgins said this out loud, and Eliza certainly thought he meant it in the trope sense, too. He didn't.
- Beard of Evil: Zoltan.
- Big Fancy House: Higgins' pad.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: Subverted when Higgins asks Alfie point-blank how much he wants. Alfie insists on beating around the bush, seemingly on principle.
- Bowdlerization: The name of the oily language expert was changed from Nepomuck to Zoltan Kaparthy, because St. John Nepomuck (as Shaw was well aware) was a Catholic saint and patron of the confessional.
- Break the Haughty: Mrs. Higgin's favorite sport with her son, and delights in Eliza putting him in his place in front of her.
- British Accents: Received Pronunciation ("Queen's English") as enforced by Henry Higgins. A wide variety of other, more common ones, especially during the opening scenes.
- British Stuffiness / Dull Surprise: "The Ascot Gavotte." The English sure know how to party.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: He may be lord of the manor, but Higgins' weirdness is very apparent in public.
- Can't Live with Them, Can't Live Without Them: Eliza and Henry, to each other.
- Catch Phrase: "I'm dashed." -- Pickering
Higgins: Oh, Pickering, for God's sake stop being dashed and do something!
- Chorus-Only Song: "Ascot Gavotte" / "Servant's Chorus" (film only).
- Con Man: Alfie.
- Costume Porn: Eliza's gorgeous dresses after her transformation.
- Curse Cut Short: While singing "Without You", Eliza nearly tells Higgins he can go to Hell -- but replaces it with "Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire" (echoing Higgins' speech exercise from earlier).
- Dances and Balls: The Embassy Ball.
- Dark(er) Reprise: "Just You Wait" gets a reprise shortly after "You Did It". This time, It's Personal.
- Deconfirmed Bachelor: Henry Higgins embodies this trope, having said 'So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so' and so much more. The only hang up is that he can actually be considered deconfirmed by the end-- though most people agree he had at least befriended and came to care about Eliza by the end-- and since he is such an extreme case that he'd never even had a female friend before, by his own admission, this could still be enough of an about face to qualify him.
- Did Not Do the Research: Henry Higgins REALLY should have known that, when referring to the form of execution, it's hanged, not hung.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Freddy, in what would be considered stalking by today's terms.
- Dr. Jerk: Henry Higgins himself, though he's technically a professor of linguistics and not a doctor per se.
- Dresses the Same: In the Ascot scene in the film.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Higgins mercilessly drills Eliza day and night. Meanwhile, his servant staff fawns over his ordeal.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Eliza is extremely angry over how Higgins gets all the praise for fooling everyone at the Embassy ball.
- The Edwardian Era: 1912, to be precise. (Makes one rather wonder about Freddy's fate.)
- Entertainingly Wrong:
And although she may have studied with an expert dialectician and grammarian,
- Epic Movie: Huge cast, lavish sets and costumes, long (nearly 3 hours), highly promoted, award bait? Yep, it was an epic movie.
- Fanfare: "The Transylvanian March".
- Fee Fi Faux Pas: Eliza's outburst at the races, to her (and Henry's) embarrassment.
- Fictional Holiday: In Eliza's dream ("Just You Wait"), the King is so enraptured by her voice that he declares Eliza Dolittle Day.
- Gentleman Snarker: Professor Higgins is impeccably polite in the rudest way possible.
- Giant Poofy Sleeves: Eliza's dress for the races (pictured above).
- Gilligan Cut: In the film, after Pickering pulls the plug on the Embassy Ball. ("This experiment is OVER.") He's wearing a tux in the next shot.
- Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Yoooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuu did it! ♫
- Good Cop, Bad Cop: Pickering and Higgins.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: One of its Oscars was for Costume Design.
- Got Me Doing It: The voice exercises start getting to poor Pickering after awhile. "'Ave you troid the ploin cayke?"
- Grief Song: "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" arguably, since it's a combination of grief and anger.
- Hates Everyone Equally: Higgins' defense to Eliza's charge that he still treats her like rubbish. In point of fact, he treats everyone like that -- and he's proud of it, too.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Henry is very misogynistic, though he insists he's not. In fact, he's got a whole song dedicated to whining about how much he dislikes women ("An Ordinary Man"). The end of the play may have helped him get over it, but again, it's up to viewer interpretation.
- Two whole songs -- there's also "A Hymn to Him" (a.k.a. "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?").
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Both Higgins and Pickering have that "confirmed bachelor" vibe thing going for them.
- Higgins even uses that exact phrase, then shudders at the idea of marriage. He also has a hard time admitting Eliza "might" be attractive when he suggests she marry herself off (cue flamboyant flourish), laments that women aren't more like men, and while all this might have been intended as Belligerent Sexual Tension it's taken so far that the idea of a sexual/romantic relationship between him and Eliza becomes ... a stretch.
- Higgins asks Pickering where one can find a Ladies' Dress Shop. Pickering replies so quickly, Higgins asks how he would know. Pickering clears his throat and says "Common knowledge" (despite having just arrived in London from years living in India).
- If you insist, you can interpret Higgins' "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man" number as evidence.
- Hypocritical Humor: As they prepare for the ball, Pickering downs a glass of port while cursing Higgins for his constant serenity. Before they leave, however, Higgins peeks over his shoulder and gulps some wine.
- "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." He's a most forgiving man.
- "I Am" Song: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "An Ordinary Man".
- I Meant to Do That: In the midst of being thoroughly castigated by Eliza, Higgins springs up from his chair and claims credit for her self-confidence. What a chide.
- "I Want" Song: Eliza's "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?": she wants a cozy warm room, a comfy chair, and lots of chocolate.
- I Uh You Too: Higgins finally confesses to Eliza that he's going to miss her... then quickly follows it up by saying Pickering misses her, too.
- Innocent Flower Girl: Eliza at the start of the story. The later battle to get her bathed kind of proves her innocence.
- Insufferable Genius: Even Higgins' own mother can't stand him.
- It's All About Me: "You Did It".
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Henry. Maybe there's some gold in there somewhere, but you'd be hard pressed to find it. Not quite Jerk with a Heart of Jerk territory.
- Kavorka Man: Alfie. There's a reason he departs for his wedding as if it were his own funeral.
- Last-Second Word Swap:
You, dear friend, who talk so well
- Lighter and Softer: Much more so than the original Shaw play.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Ascot Gavotte," wherein upper-class gents and ladies sing about "a ripping, absolutely gripping moment" with all the enthusiasm of a funeral host.
- Maybe Ever After: Eliza and Henry are reconciled at the end, but are they a romantic couple now, or what? The answer is only hinted.
- May-December Romance: What may have happened between the 21-year-old Eliza and the much older Higgins, who is at least twice her age.
- Meaningful Name: A name like Doolittle totally makes sense for someone like Eliza's father. Eliza herself, on the other hand...
- Missing Mom: Seeing as Eliza's father remarries, and his side comments about his old wife are along the lines of "You look just like her, Eliza" and "Just like her, you never give me money!" it can be safely assumed Eliza's mother is dead.
- The Musical
- Mysterious Middle Initial: Alfred P. Dolittle.
- Nice Hat: Just look at the page image. The racetrack scene goes crazy with this. Every lady has a hat nicer than the previous one.
- Honorable mention goes to Henry's teacup and saucer.
- No Sympathy: The servants express more compassion for Higgins than his hapless student (Doesn't rest / Doesn't eat / Doesn't touch a crumb!) Cut to Higgins munching on cakes while Eliza is wasting away.
- Nursery Rhyme: The title, of course, comes from "London Bridge is falling down", a snatch of whose melody is heard at the beginning of "Get Me To The Church On Time".
- Obsession Song: "On the Street Where You Live". Considering that Freddy continues to wait outside for several days: possibly weeks -- this song can get creepy for some viewers.
- One really should consider that he has no other polite way of contacting her, due to Higgins. It's not as if he could just text her.
- The text of the musical says that he arrives at the house after Ascot. Six weeks later is the Transylvanian Embassy Ball, and the day after that is the first time we see Freddy again. He's been on that street for SIX WEEKS.
- Parental Abandonment: Eliza's father pushes this into borderline abuse levels as he not only leaves all of his children to fend for themselves, he takes their hard-earned money for himself to waste on alcohol. (And he brags about this, no less!)
- The line immediately following his proud description of his parenting style? "You've got a good heart, Alfie..."
- Pass Fail: The plot is driven by Higgin's bet that he can train a rough, low-class flower girl into passing as a member of the aristocracy.
- Pet the Dog: After a full day of nonstop, grueling exercises, an exhausted Higgins finally offers Eliza a few soft words of encouragement. At this, her voice instantly transforms into an impeccable upper class accent.
- Alfie gets one when he cajoles Eliza to be self-reliant, as "she's a lady now."
- Pimped-Out Dress: See the photo; also, her gown for the Embassy ball.
- Plank Gag: Happens during the "With A Little Bit Of Luck" song, since Alfie Doolittle is singing in what seems to be a construction area and there is inevitably someone who swings a plank around and someone else gets hit by it.
- Precision F-Strike: MOVE YER BLOOMIN' ARSE!
- Princess for a Day: Well, for several months. Eliza's training is to help her pass as a "lady."
- A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Though it's hard to fathom Higgins giving rise to someone even less ethical than he. Zoltan uses his linguistics abilities "more to blackmail and swindle than teach."
- Pygmalion Plot: Duh.
- Rags to Royalty: Well, upper middle class. And she was able to be taken for nobility.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Both Eliza and Henry deliver these to each other. Several times. Henry even gets a Reason Your Speech Sucks Speech.
- Eliza even gets a Reason You Suck Song ("Just You Wait").
- Revised Ending: Compared to Pygmalion. Alan Jay Lerner borrowed the final scene where Eliza comes back to Higgins from Gabriel Pascal's (non-musical) film of Pygmalion, which managed to create this Revised Ending (which Shaw loathed) by recycling earlier lines, to get around the contractual stipulation that every single line of dialogue would be written by Shaw (and credited to him). (It's probably worth noting that the original cast of the Pygmalion didn't like Shaw's ending either and subverted it as much as they could. Henry and Eliza would take their curtain call together, posed as if they were bride and groom.)
"...Shaw explains how Liza ends not with Higgins but with Freddy and -- Shaw and Heaven forgive me! -- I am not certain he is right."
—Alan Jay Lerner, note in a published edition of My Fair Lady
- Romantic False Lead: Freddy
- Or Higgins. It's left very ambiguous.
- The Scapegoat: Following Eliza's spat with Higgins, Freddy gets chewed out for the high crime of being the first man who crosses her path.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: See the image; when first introduced Eliza's very dirty and wearing torn-up, worn clothing. The exact words of the trope are used by her father on first seeing her as a 'lady'.
- Shot At Dawn: Eliza gleefully fantasizes about this happening to Higgins, who is very casual about the whole business before keeling over.
- Slap Slap Kiss: Eliza and Henry's relationship...and if the play is to be believed, no doubt this would have carried on.
- Smug Snake: Higgins throughout most of the musical.
- Sophisticated As Hell: What happens when you combine Eliza's blue language with a posh accent.
- Spot of Tea: It is set in England, after all!
- Springtime for Hitler: Higgins sarcastically writing a letter of recommendation for Alfred Dolittle, calling him "one of the original moralists in England." An American philanthropist dies and bequeaths a fortune to Alfie.
- Stalking Is Love: Freddy. 'Nuff said.
- Stealth Insult: Eliza gets Higgins with a few. Higgins isn't so good at being stealthy with insults, but doesn't understand why he has to be.
- Talk About the Weather: While in public, Higgins advises Eliza to stick to mundane topics. It backfires.
- Mrs. Higgins, disgusted by his conduct, echoes this advice in the end.
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Higgins and Pickering are too stuffed to finish the last cake tart. Not to worry, says Higgins; he knows somebody who loves these. He marches right past a famished Eliza to feed it to a parrot.
- Training from Hell: Linguistics training from hell, although not as over-the-top as some examples.
- Tsundere: Eliza is Type A, though this largely comes through from being around Higgins; when left with her Cockney friends, she's more Type B.
- "The Villain Sucks" Song: "Without You" is this, as well as being a bit of a Anti-Love Song. Also "Just You Wait".
- Wasted Song: Though it gets plenty of screentime, you've got to mention that "On The Street Where You Live" is just too catchy and pretty a song for a secondary Love Interest who Did Not Get the Girl, at least in the film.
- Westminster Chimes: A modified version begins every iteration of "Poor Professor Higgins".
- What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: Alfred's windfall is a double-edged sword, as he's now forced to enter into legal marriage with "Mrs." Dolittle.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Fed up with her keeper, Eliza returns to the old neighborhood after her blossoming into a lady, but no one recognizes her.