Best Picture #37: My Fair Lady

Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is My Fair Lady (1964).

Though West Side Story and The Sound of Music may get all the love when it comes to ‘60s musicals that won Best Picture, both are vastly inferior to My Fair Lady which, despite its shortcomings, is actually a watchable film and occasionally charmingly entertaining. An adaptation of Pygmalion, My Fair Lady tells the story of a professor (Rex Harrison) with little regard for anyone making a bet with a colleague (Wilfrid Hyde-White) that he could train a lower class flower girl with a heavy Cockney accent (Audrey Hepburn) to act like a duchess so convincingly that royalty would be unable to discern her roots. What follows is mostly a lighthearted and humorous affair that sees Hepburn struggling to change her voice and adhere to ridiculous customs through a number of songs that are generally passable but rarely extraordinarily memorable. There is still some substance to the film though as Hepburn realizes the main differences between the upper and lower classes are not how they act but how they are treated and Harrison is forced to see that his dismissiveness only harms others, but the serious aspects of it are never so much as to try and make the viewer forget that they’re still watching a film where song and dance could break out at any moment and the inherent ridiculousness that comes with that. It’s the kind of film that I would’ve said probably wouldn’t be for me before I saw it, and it’s certainly far from incredible, but it holds a certain appeal, mostly due to the skill of its performers, that was pleasing to watch and made the three hour runtime pass quickly.

The Real Best Picture:

It was another one of those weak lineups (that’s right, I called Dr. Strangelove weak) and even among the musicals nominated, Mary Poppins has occupied a larger place in the collective consciousness since, but I’ll stand by giving it to My Fair Lady.

Best Picture Winners

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