My Fair Lady

  • Directors: George Cukor
  • Producers: Jack L Warner
  • Writers: Alan Jay Lerner, George Bernard Shaw
  • Genres: Drama, Family, Musical, Romance
  • Actors: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Jeremy Brett

In London, Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), an arrogant, irascible, misogynistic professor of phonetics, believes that it is the accent and the tone of one’s voice which determines a person’s prospects in society. He boasts to a new acquaintance, Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), himself an expert in phonetics, that he can teach any woman to speak so “properly” that he could pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball, even Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), a young flower seller with a strong Cockney accent.

Eliza goes to Higgins’ house and offers to pay for speech lessons. Her great ambition is to work in a flower shop, but her thick working-class accent makes her unsuitable for such a position. All she can afford to pay is a shilling per lesson. Pickering, who is staying with Higgins, is intrigued by the idea and bets Higgins all the expenses that he will not be able to do it. Higgins accepts.

Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), a dustman, arrives three days later, ostensibly to protect his daughter’s virtue, but in reality simply to extract some money from Higgins, and is bought off with £5. Higgins is impressed by the man’s genuineness, his natural gift for language, and especially his brazen lack of morals (Doolittle explains, “Can’t afford ’em!”).

Higgins makes his way home, stubbornly predicting that Eliza will be ruined without him and come crawling back. However, his bravado collapses and he comes to the horrified realization that he has “grown accustomed to her face”. He is reduced to playing an old phonograph recording of her voice lessons. Then, to his great delight, Eliza returns.

Pygmalion

  • Directors: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard
  • Producers: Gabriel Pascal
  • Writers: George Bernard Shaw, W P Lipscomb, Cecil Lewis
  • Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
  • Actors: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Leueen MacGrath

The phoneticist and speech coach Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) meets the flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) on the steps of St Paul’s Covent Garden and offers a bet to the Sanskrit scholar Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he can teach her to behave and speak like a duchess in six months, which would then allow her to join a florists’ shop rather than sell flowers on the street. The following morning, she arrives at Higgins’ flat asking for elocution lessons and he takes her on, formalising the bet with Pickering. Eliza’s father, Mr Doolittle (Wilfrid Lawson), also calls at Higgins’ house, and ‘sells’ him his daughter for £5. After some work, Higgins takes Eliza to a social event at his mother Mrs Higgins’s (Marie Lohr) house in Chelsea, where she causes comic consternation by delivering an account of a relative’s death in Received Pronunciation that is still entirely Cockney in phraseology. There she also meets Freddy Eynsford-Hill (David Tree), a young upper-middle-class man who becomes enamored with her.

After more work, and a dress and appearance ‘makeover’, Higgins and Pickering take her to a reception at the Transylvanian embassy. There they meet an over-confident Hungarian pupil of Higgins’, Count Aristid Karpathy (Esme Percy), who is now operating as a speech coach in his own right and becomes suspicious of Eliza. Just when it appears Karpathy is about to reveal Eliza as a Cockney and thus lose Higgins his bet, he very publicly concludes that Eliza speaks English too well to be an English duchess and is in fact a Hungarian.

The four return home after the ball, having succeeded in fooling everybody there. Higgins and Pickering, however, ignore Eliza’s achievement in the affair, and Higgins even has an outright argument with her about it. The following morning the men wake to find Eliza has fled, and go to Mrs Higgins to seek her help finding her. It is revealed that Eliza has fled to Mrs Higgins’ protection, and also that Eliza’s father has now come into money due to a joke by Higgins to an American philanthropist and is marrying his long-term partner against his will. Pickering leaves with Doolittle for the wedding, and Higgins and Eliza are left alone to argue. Asserting her independence and threatening to leave Higgins’s house, marry Freddy and go to work for Karpathy, Eliza storms out and drives away with Freddy. Infuriated, Higgins walks from Chelsea back to his home in Wimpole Street, where he smashes some of the records he had made of Eliza’s voice and then sits to think. Hearing Eliza’s voice coming from behind him, he turns to find her at the door.