1 My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady, the musical based on Pygmalion, stars Audrey Hepburn in a role originally written for Julie Andrews. At the time, it was common to cast actors and actresses and later dub their voices with singers, or rather more specifically, Marni Nixon. Marni dubbed Audrey Hepburn’s voice, as well as the voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Debra Kerr in The King and I.
The film relies heavily on the play by George Bernard Shaw, but with an added romantic ending that is lacking in the original play. Apparently, audiences from the very beginning wanted a romantic ending for the two characters, but Shaw protested this arrangement, and wrote an essay explaining why this was impossible. (I agree.)
The film is very funny, and addresses the rigid class system of Britain in the Edwardian/Georgian era, before the war. Henry Higgins studies speech patterns and believes that, by “correcting” a woman’s cockney accent, that he can pass her off as a duchess. It also addresses the rolls of men and women within society. Shaw’s plays, for all his importance and prolific output, have not fared well in the decades since his death, but My Fair Lady remains incredibly popular.
Audrey Hepburn is wonderful in the role and Rex Harrison, who reprises his role from onstage, is suitably gruff and pompous. The music is incredibly famous, with many of the songs becoming standards. The sets and musical numbers are charming and excellent, and the costumes are wonderful.
Here is Marni Nixon singing (and Audrey Hepburn’s acting) for I Could Have Danced All Night, the most famous number from the film.
It’s the kind of film making and film that exemplifies a style that no longer exists.
2 Norma Rae
Norma Rae was offered to many famous Hollywood actresses, all of whom turned it down. In the end, it was offered to Sally Field, who was mainly known for the television series The Flying Nun. The role won her an Oscar and made her a star. It was very well deserved. Sally Field is wonderful in the role of a southern woman working in the textile industry. The work is hard, monotonous, and very dangerous. She meets a young Jewish man from New York who is a member of the Textile Worker’s Union, who has come to unionize the factory. Norma quickly becomes convinced that her factory needs a union to correct the injustices in the factory and to protect the workers from abuse.
As stated above, Sally Field is a force of nature in the film. In the most famous scene in the film, she rebels against her bosses and demands that they call the national guard to drag her out of the factory. She jumps on top of a workbench and holds up a sign that reads Union, and in solidarity, the rest of the workers shut off their machines. As she is ordered out by security, she triumphantly rings the bell.
The story is also shows life in a small southern town. It is delightful to see films about places other than New York, much as I love New York. (I really do. It’s the greatest city of the world.) It also shows the strain that takes place in a marriage when one partner strives for a vision and a dream. Norma Rae devotes all of her free time toward unionizing her factory, and her marriage suffers.
Norma Rae is also a celebration of bygone people in a bygone era; a time when many Americans worked in factories and fought for unions.
3 Philadelphia Story
In Part 11, I discussed the film August Osage County, a play turned into a movie with many of Hollywood’s greatest stars. This last film, The Philadelphia Story, proves that this kind of film is nothing new. This film stars Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart (in the role that won him his only Academy Award) and Carey Grant. Carey Grant’s salary in this film was the highest ever paid to an actor, and he donated it entirely to the British War Effort.
The film is about a couple , Samantha and Dexter Haven, played by Carey Grant and Katherine Hepburn, who are divorced. Samantha is about to marry a nouveau riche man named George Kittredge.
It’s a film about a love quadrangle, snoopy reporters, and family secrets. It also addresses the idea of perfection in women, and women who like to be seen as perfect, as opposed to human.
It is a lighthearted film that actually served as Katherine Hepburn’s comeback film. Several of her films in previous years had bombed, and she was earning the reputation of box office poison. She bought the rights to this film and carefully orchestrated her comeback. Jimmy Stewart and Carey Grant were brought in by the studio to buffer the star, because it was believed that she could not carry a film by herself. The film was a success, and Katherine Hepburn re-established herself as one of Hollywood’s top actresses.