A great way to usher in a new year is to watch old classics. My Fair Lady,just out on a smartly packaged DVD,is every bit as delightful as it was on first viewing. The story of a Cockney flower girl,whos turned into the fairest-of-them-all lady,was a smash hit in its theatrical avatar.
The backstory of how it turned into an equally successful film is part of the special features: theres the oh-so-elegant,swan-necked Audrey Hepburn being wary (the interviewer with a mike is a pushy American,clearly enjoying his access to the star,and Hepburn is being very classy and continental),theres Rex Harrison fudging questions on his starry behaviour,and theres Jack Warner (the bossman of Warner Bros) talking about how they put the biggest movie in Hollywood together.
Americans love their hyperbole,and theres a lot of it in other parts of the add-ons: the massive studio lots that were turned into London streets,the hundreds of period costumes,cars and wardrobe girls (there was one whose sole job was to ensure that all the ladies at the ball had spotless,elbow-length gloves at all times). But then you come to the film,as you should in the DVD,having watched the specials first,and you know its all well warranted. Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle,of the unforgettable screech (I Yam a Good Girl,I Yam),and the lovely songs (All I want is a room somewhere),and Harrison as Professor Higgins create cinema magic.
So is The Seven Year Itch,another play-turned-movie,in which Marilyn Monroe established once and for all that she was,and would always be,the sexiest star in Hollywood. More than 50 years on (it released in 1955),the film and its luscious star remains the ultimate male fantasy. Wife and kid safely away,the mice,in this case,the straight-laced Tom Ewell,will play. Especially when the plaything is as drop-dead sexy as Monroe,with her skintight skirts,deep scarlet lips and flaxen hair. The phrase blonde bombshell must have been created for her.
Billy Wilders screenplay is a thing of beauty. Not one line or situation is out of place. Sample this: Ewells character comes home,hides his cigarettes (wifes told him not to smoke),takes out a harmless drink from the fridge (wifes told him not to drink),settles down with the most boring tome about men and their desires. Bang,a flowerpot comes crashing down,and he looks up,all set to blow his top off,when he sees an apparition. Its Monroe,and we can only see her bare shoulders. She smiles,he instantly turns into a puddle. How about a drink? Oh sure,says she. Will be down just as soon as I throw some clothes on. Let me get dressed in the kitchen,I keep my undies in the icebox!
Ewell is in a heap. He is a sea of desires. The rest of it is every bit as funny,and frothy. A special feature mentions that more handsome stars were auditioned for the male part,but Ewell got it because he was such an average joe,which is exactly what this film needed. In the script,Monroes part is never given a name. She is just The Girl. It was meant to be the mans story,but it became,irrevocably,The Monroe Movie: that scene in which she stands over the subway grating,her dress flying about her,is in this one. Cant get more iconic than that.