Rex Harrison, I discovered while watching this film (and perusing IMDB for tidbits of trivia) was the inspiration for Stewie’s character on Family Guy. That’s not really relevant to anything else I have to say about this movie, but it seemed like one of the more pleasant things I could say about Henry Higgins, so let’s start there, shall we?
In college, I took a couple of classes in linguistics, so that obviously makes me an expert in the field. And I have so much trouble believing that a character like Professor Higgins who seems to be so fascinated with speech can also be so judgmental about how people talk. What intrigued me most about linguistic study was the sheer range of sounds that we could make and still be understood. But then douchey Higgins comes along and makes a little science experiment out of Eliza Doolittle and takes all the credit for her transforming herself into a bombshell with excellent elocution.
Is it truly a romantic movie if you spend most of it hoping that the female lead will come to her senses and get the hell away from the guy? Why is it considered romantic for a woman to fall in love with a total asshole who treats her like crap? Even worse, a man who sings songs about how terrible women are and how they should be more like men (listen, buddy, when you’re singing a song to your live-in, confirmed bachelor, fellow-linguist colonel friend about how you wish women were more like him, you need to come to terms with some basic truths about yourself; just run off together, already). Eliza has the good sense to get away from him, but then comes back, just in time for him to demand his slippers. Come on, Liza. You can do better than that. Find a damn prince.
There’s an interesting commentary here about social class, and how the way people present themselves to the world – through speech and dress – affects the opportunities they can access in life. Eliza recognizes this from the beginning, and manages to raise her station by getting lucky and working hard. It’s a shame to think that, even in her best-case scenario, all she thought herself good for was to work as a teacher supporting a worthless lump of a suitor. Instead, she finds herself silenced at every turn, even as she struggles to find a new voice. Meanwhile, the men sit around congratulating themselves on how well they’ve fooled everyone with their pet project. The scene after the ball, where Higgins and Pickering are singing about how great they are as Eliza cowers in the background, worried about what’s next for her is kind of heartbreaking, though I suspect it was meant more to be funny.
Bits like that add up to a big fat zero when it comes to the Bechdel Test. There are so few scenes where Eliza is not surrounded by the phonetic duo that I didn’t even keep track of any spots where she spoke to other women. Maybe a couple of moments where she’s alone with the maid or Higgins’ mom, and where she’s either screaming bloody murder or playing coy about running out on Higgins. But any movie that takes such pains to blather on about women’s irrationality doesn’t deserve a feminist pass.
You can change a human by changing her speech, Higgins says at some point in the film. It’s a shame he couldn’t change his own speech to be a better person.
Theme: Ladies on film
Bechdel Test: Even if it passed, all the misogynistic songs would disqualify it
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: Well, I’m dashed