George Cukor (Gone With the Wind)
Alfred P. Doolittle: Stanley Holloway
Prof. Henry Higgins: Rex Harrison
Prof. Higgins is a rude insensitive bachelor and a "woman-hater:" a man with an enormous amount of self-confidence in men, and in himself. He is also an expert in the field of phonetics. He has been planning to meet with Col. Pickering, an expert in the field of Indian dialects. One night in the streets of London, Prof. Higgins, who is always studying local London dialects, upsets a young flower-girl by writing down her speech in a phonetic alphabet. On this same night, and in the same street, he happens to meet Col. Pickering, who has recently returned from India. Prof. Higgins boasts to Pickering that he can train anyone to speak correctly, and adds that even the flower-girl could get a better job if only she could learn to speak correctly.
The girl, Eliza Doolittle, thinks about what Higgins has said long after he has gone. The next morning she presents herself at his door and asks for lessons. Both he and Pickering are astounded but amused. Pickering makes a bet with Higgins that he can't teach her to speak properly, and offers to pay for all the expenses of the experiment. Higgins decides to try for six months, and test his new pupil by going to a grand ball (a formal dance) at the end of the time. Eliza is frightened and uncertain, but Higgins manages to coerce her into the experiment.
The experiment is long and grueling. Higgins and Pickering are up late at night and early in the morning teaching Eliza the proper pronunciation of the vowels. Higgins drills her over and over again on the phrase "the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain." Even his household staff is annoyed, and asks the Professor to stop trying to teach Eliza. Finally one night when they are all exhausted and discouraged, Higgins displays a little bit of kindness to Eliza, and encourages her to keep trying. She begins at last to be able to correct her pronunciation, and soon makes rapid progress. To test her abilities, Higgins takes Eliza to see the horse races at Ascot. Her pronunciation is perfect, but her choice of converstional topics is inappropriate to say the least. The ultimate blunder comes when she shouts out, "Come on Dover, move your bloomin' arse!" Although the first test is a failure, she does attract the admiration of the foolish Freddy Ainsford-Hill. Higgins and Pickering decide to keep training her and hope she will do better at the ball.
The ball is a wonderful success. Her manners are perfect and her accent above reproach. In fact, she even fools an linguistics expert who tries to discover who the mysterious Miss Doolittle might be. But after they return from the ball, Eliza grows more and more upset--first, no one congratulates her on doing a good job, and more importantly, she begins to wonder what will happen to her now that she has finished her training. She is no longer fit to sell flowers on the street, and besides her perfect English, she has no skills with which to support herself. She cries, has an argument with the Professor, throws his slippers at him, and leaves without warning early the next morning with Freddy Ainsford-Hill. Higgins and Pickering are frantic and call the police and Scotland Yard.
Eliza has in fact left Freddy and gone on to see Higgins's mother, whom she met at the Ascot races. From Mrs. Higgins she gets sympathy and good advice. Then Higgins comes to ask his mother for help in finding Eliza; the two meet and have another argument. Without really realizing it, they have become accustomed to each other's faults: Eliza to Higgins's insensitivity and selfishness, and Higgins to Eliza's temperamental nature. They have, in fact, fallen in love with each other, although neither wishes to admit it. Higgins walks out after the argument, furious and trying to forget Eliza, but reluctantly realizing that he can't. When she appears at his door a few minutes later, he smiles, leans back, and says, "Fetch my slippers, will you?"
As with most movie-musicals, the highlights of the film are found in the sets, costumes, and songs. This musical can be praised on these counts as well as its dialogue, since it is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.