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Opinions -- Has MY FAIR LADY what you would call "A Happy Ending"? (1 Viewer)

Dick

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I have thought this through over the years, immediately following my every viewing of the film (I also saw this on Broadway as a musical, but was too young to ask this question of myself), and have come to the conclusion after all these years that it does not have a happy ending. The heavy lifting of any identifiable character "arc" seems almost exclusively to be on the shoulders of the Eliza Doolittle character, even if pretty much forced upon her by her pompous phoneticist Henry Higgins. Following her eventual transformation, Eliza is able to rise from the bottom of the British caste system of the 19th century. That should be a good thing, right? Should be, yes, but for the unusual circumstances.

Higgins, on the other hand, is a wealthy boorish lout, and he doesn't change much throughout the story. He's a veritable misogynist, whose only interest (until the bitter end) is in proving he can transform a gutter snipe into a swan who could nearly pass for royalty with nary a trace of cockney in her speech, barely a hint of awkwardness in her poise. In her case, once her transformation is "complete," she is left in what must have seemed to her to be a terrible emotional dichotomy, able to outclass her friends and family and perhaps be shunned by them for it, yet in love with an upper class "gentleman" who at first serves as a father figure for her, then as a potential mate, who cannot give her what she really wants, which is true love. She'd have likely found that love eventually within her own Cheapside community, but by the end of MY FAIR LADY she is caught between two very distinct worlds. She can fool almost anyone into believing she is an elegant, proper Brit, but maybe you can't completely take the beggar out of the lifelong flower girl.

As for her "mentor," Higgins -- and his jovial pal Colonel Pickering -- for both of whom Eliza's fate hangs on a challenge between uncaring men, there is really no character arc at all, unless you count what I suppose is to be considered the former's "epiphany" about his feelings for the women he "created" as expressed in the musical's final song, I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face. I say, too little, too late. He had callously treated this fragile woman like a plaything for months in order to prove to his naysayers that he could mold her into an acceptable -- no, a classy -- lady with perfect diction and manner. This is not who Eliza was or fundamentally is, but it is who she has ostensibly become. How easily would she be able to simply slip back into her old neighborhood and profession, now that she has had a taste of quote The Better Life, unquote? Would she be happy to marry Freddy (Jeremy Brett in the film) and live happily ever after? Would she be happy to marry or live with Higgins, who is always going to be the selfish snob for whom any actual verbalizing of the affection he might have developed for his "pupil" would be nigh to impossible? This sort of man has been brought up since birth to be a sexist prick. From where will this poor women find fulfillment?

It doesn't matter to me one wit that Higgins is suddenly having a change of heart about Eliza after she decides to leave him. Oh, sure, now you realize what a gem she really is. Yeah, absence makes the heart grow fonder, etc. etc. He feels inexplicably (for him) lonely, and I've not a pinprick of sympathy for the man. And when Eliza returns to him in the very last scene, what does he say with his back turned to her, immovable pompous ass that he is? "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?" Back in Victorian England, or even in 1956 when the musical first appeared, this might have suggested a generous turn of heart by Higgins and the suggestion that romance will ensue. Now, not as acceptable. Women are much more aware of their value to society and would hopefully not fall into such a bottomless trap.

My mind shouts, "Eliza, get the hell out of there and don't look back!" Even if these two have found love for one another, it is she who's always going to take the back seat, remain the proverbial slave, to Higgin's callous machismo. In contemporary terms, this could quite easily translate into wife beating and verbal bullying and in general the "Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant" mindset. So, no, I do not feel this film ends happily, or even (as most might proffer) hopeful. Bernard Shaw wrote a brilliant play and rightly left the ending up in the air, but from my (admittedly not consummate) knowledge of human relationships, I feel any union between Higgins and Doolittle would be doomed, and the one who would lose largest would, of course, be Eliza.

For me, I now recognize the story to be a human tragedy.
 

Joseph Bolus

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Well, "Not So Fast!"

In addition to Higgins' "Epiphany" -- as you put it -- with the song "I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face", there is also the influence of Higgins' mother who made it very evident in her last scene that Eliza is very much in her favor. Higgins is at least 3/4ths of the way there with his admission that "She almost makes the day begin". He knows his days as a batchelor are numbered. His mother will make sure that he traverses that last 1/4th of the journey; and she is hopeful that Eliza can teach him what a lady of class is *really* all about.

This *was* a happy ending!
 

TJPC

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If you go by the original play, and it's written only epilogue, the song "I Can See Her Now" is basically what happens in a disastrous marriage to Freddy.
 

Robin9

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Dick: I think you're taking it all a bit too seriously. Most comedies don't make much emotional sense, and I don't think audiences are expected to worry about what is likely to happen after the end titles.
 

Jim*Tod

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Right... the "Happy" ending with Eliza returning to HIggins came about when PYGMALION was made into a film in the thirties. Shaw wrote the revised ending for this apparently somewhat under duress. It is instructive to see this version and compare to MFL.

As for the "fragile" woman comment, a good friend of mine who saw the original production of the play with Harrison and Andrews, always felt Hepburn played Eliza as too weak. He said with Andrews it was two powerful forces in contention with each other. In the film, Higgins is always dominant.

I would say too, as much as I am glad Harrison's performance is preserved on film, by the time the film was made he was older and much of the potential sexual tension between the two main characters is weakened. Again... look at the 30's version. Very different dynamic.

All that said... love the movie and watch it at least once every year. Thank goodness for Robert Harris's work in restoring it for future generations.
 

Dick

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All that said... love the movie and watch it at least once every year. Thank goodness for Robert Harris's work in restoring it for future generations.

Agreed. The latest Blu is gorgeous and I like the movie more upon each subsequent viewing because the restoration is so beautiful. I don't take movies all that seriously in the way I take, say, politics or life in general, but I do seriously opine about aspects of them, because I love movies.

I stand by my opinion that this film does not have a happy ending, because, no matter how Higgins might have actually begun to love Eliza, and in spite of the fact that his bachelorhood is inevitably coming to an end one way or another, I cannot imagine Eliza gaining a position in his household that amounts to much more than looking stunning in public and fetching his freaking slippers. The turn of the century was a continuation of female suppression, and it was a quite a while before women's suffrage began to make inroads. One can argue that Eliza would certainly be better off in a grand home, her food and material needs taken care of, but I dunno. Wealth and social position are no guarantee of happiness and fulfillment.

A poster above mentioned that Hepburn seemed weak and that Andrews was much more equal to Harrison's Higgins in the Broadway show. That's a good observation, and I agree that the casting of the Doolittle character is vital to the dynamics of the story. Unfortunately, I did not see her (or Harrison) on Broadway -- I believe I caught the secondary cast (but still with Stanley Holloway), so I can't confirm this, but I suspect it is true, knowing about both actresses through their other work.

This may have been the story of a man who comes to idolizes a "statue" he has created (PYGMALION), but he created her -- Eliza did not choose to make the change herself. That's rather Frankenstein-like, no?

This women, after a few years of marriage to the very proper Higgins, would find herself in a prison of sorts. He might love her, and she him, but it would never be an equal partnership. Ever. Almost all of both their emotions would remain unsaid, and very possibly unrequited.

Anyway, no biggie. I was just positing an opinion (my personal one, I acknowledge), and I do like the movie a great deal more than when I saw it theatrically in 1964, but (and I will agree to narrow this opinion down to the 1964 film rather than Shaw's original, the film PYGMALION or the Broadway show) I just don't see this relationship between the leads ending up well at all.
 

Mike Frezon

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When the restored MFL hit Blu-ray, we had the obvious discussions about it...and it re-provoked (in me) my great dislike for the ending of the film. I cannot stand it. A member mentioned the ending HERE and I expressed my opinion and off we went...getting into all sorts of discussions about the ending, the characters and their respective motivations.

You might be surprised to find, over the three or four pages of discussion, that there are people out there who actually disagree with me about this! :laugh: But I stand by my opinions of the scene/film. They are, after all, mine! :D

But I think you might be surprised, Dick, how far the discussion went. ;)
 

B-ROLL

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PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT : Only 18 more shopping days until Eliza Doolittle Day !
Happy%2BEliza%2BDoolittle%2BDay.jpg


As for the ending ... it is what it is ... :cool:
I'm 99 44/100 percent sure there was never another ending shot ...
 

David Norman

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I'm going to go with Happy Ending. Eliza was a strong enough person initially, then became more passive being the social/intellectual
subordinate initially to Higgins. By the end, the original strong-willed independent Eliza comes through in her new status and she was going to go toe to toe (emotionally not physically) with Higgins. She was willing to have walked away from Higgins if she didn't think he at his core changed. If she would have walked away, the MFL movie/broadway Eliza would have landed on her feet and been fine.

"Where the devil are my slippers" now becomes a question of an equal and not an order of "Fetch my slippers" you might give a servant.
Play the unseen scene to its conclusion -- the next moment could just have easily been "I don;t know dear, where did you leave them?" as she sits beside him instead of standing at attention or kneeling at his feet. Or at least until he adds a "please" to the request or possibly sits until he gets up to search for his slippers and then "While you're up, could you get me a cup of tea please." Eliza would never have been a lapdog in the beginning to her husband of equal status or quite frankly to an equal after her full transformation.

It's my story and I'm sticking with it.
 

Johnny Angell

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Dick, as one character in Groundhog Day says to Bill Murray, "I'm guessing you're a glass is half empty kind of guy." :lol::P

First, Eliza does become strong willed, which is expressed in "Just You Wait". Second, Henry's mother supports her and Mom's opinion does carry weight with the son. Third, I think "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" is one of the great love songs. Henry is in love. Fourth, when Eliza returns to Henry and he wonders where his slippers are, Eliza smiles as she realizes (IMHO) from a superior point of view that Henry is bending as much as he can, and she will humor him because she loves him.

I suspect that my wife, as does Eliza, regards me as a child to humor and I'm grateful for it.
 

Jim*Tod

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I am enjoying this lively....and thankfully CIVIL discussion (too often we end up with people sniping at each other). It is nice that the ending is read in different ways.... just as the end of Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS leaves us to decide what happens between the tramp and the flower girl.

We also need to consider that the original PYGMALION was first performed over a century ago, MY FAIR LADY opened on Broadway 61 years ago, and the film is now 53 years old. Lots of attitudes have changed during that time frame. I myself would opt for maybe bittersweet.

I will say this though... for me one simple thing makes this moving at the end... when Higgins sings "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and lists all the reasons he cannot be in love.... only to sigh "And yet...." Never fails to make me tear up.
 

Carabimero

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A case can be made that Higgins appears to grow--until Eliza returns, then he realizes she is willing to take his guff and demands his slippers. So we are right back where we started: he is condescending and she takes it.

I love MY FAIR LADY but the last scene (and by consequence the entire movie) would have been ten times more powerful had Eliza explicitly dramatized even a glimmer of self-respect, something she fought for the entire film.
 
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Alan Tully

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I've always been interested in the "happy" endings of films. People are happy & hopeful at the point when the film stops, but it is interesting to wonder what happens say a year after the film ends. People who have spent the entire film arguing & bickering & are together & kissing at the end, are they really going to stay together? In The Lost Weekend, will Ray Milland really stay off the booze & write that great book? I'd love to know what the ace cynic Billy Wilder really thinks (after a couple of weeks of looking at a blank page he'll be reaching for that 5th of rye). My own view of My Fare Lady...Eliza will stick around, but I just can't imagine them both as lovers, & in a very few years she'll be his carer & nurse, he dies leaves her the house, she meets someone nearer to her own age (very un-Hollywood)...& a happy ending...until she gets ill & her husband goes off with someone else, &...so on. You only get that hard happy ending in movies, maybe that's why we like 'em so much.
 

David Norman

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then he realizes she is willing to take his guff and demands his slippers..

My reading
"Where the devil are my slippers" is a question, not an order "Eliza, get me/fetch me my slippers"

I can even take it after the preceeding song and conversation as even a self deprecating type question making light of his own past conduct.
"I don't know dear, your slippers are where you left them!'

I'm perfectly OK with self delusion and making these two people happy. It's my fairy tale and nobody can talk me out of it. At this point Eliza has the Professor at her mercy and he will do anything she wishes. He can bluster and put on any front he wishes to assuage his Male ego, but in the end he knows the real power is in Eliza's pocket. If she leaves, she will survive and prosper and Higgins will fall apart and be miserable the rest of his short life.

MF or la Femme Nikita, ,
 
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Carabimero

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My reading
"Where the devil are my slippers" is a question, not an order "Eliza, get me/fetch me my slippers"

I can even take it after the preceeding song and conversation as even a self deprecating type question making light of his own past conduct.
"I don't know dear, your slippers are where you left them!'

I'm perfectly OK with self delusion and making these two people happy. It's my fairy tale and nobody can talk me out of it. At this point Eliza has the Professor at her mercy and he will do anything she wishes. He can bluster and put on any front he wishes to assuage his Male ego, but in the end he knows the real power is in Eliza's pocket. If she leaves, she will survive and prosper and Higgins will fall apart and be miserable the rest of his short life.

MF or la Femme Nikita, ,
I really like your interpretation, but Eliza's expression, to me is one of submission, and I guess that's what kills it for me. I just can't escape her expression. Regardless of his line, it's her inaction I take exception with. But I must say I like your take on it and will try to keep it in mind the next time I watch the movie.
 

Jack P

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To me it's a happy ending because yes, Higgins is in love with Eliza and Eliza knows it. What I think people have overlooked is that Eliza herself has deep down had feelings of her own for Higgins which is why she has her emotional collapse after the ball when she feels ignored. Ultimately, she recovers to the point where she knows she *can* do without him, but if given the opportunity from what she senses is a change in Higgins is it what she would *want* to do?

And the fact that Higgins is showing signs of it without falling to pieces yet and going, "Oh Eliza, I love you my darling!" if anything is a point in Eliza's favor because after all, as she herself put it earlier, "If you're in love, SHOW ME!" She's seeing him starting to show it and that means more to her than all the "words, words, words" Freddie could possibly write.
 

Mike Frezon

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But if Higgins isn't going to treat her well and show her in his actions that he loves her, it ain't gonna work. "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" or not, Higgins is too old to change his spots and the way he considers women.

I've always figured that if the film ended a few seconds earlier (with the look of unadulterated happiness from Higgins when he realizes that Eliza has returned) then I might have imagined that Higgins would have made the effort to change.

But since we see his happiness change to that calculated look--that he needs to pretend otherwise, slink down in his chair and then ask her with finding his slippers--it takes on an entirely different meaning for me. And I can't get past it.



Leave it to Shaw to leave us talking about this so passionately all these years later.
 

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