I remember very little of the film, but what I do remember Higgins pretty much treats Eliza like crap throughout the film. So in the end when she comes back, all of us guys are like WTF? Meanwhile all the girls in the class were all like, “Ahhh, that’s so sweet.” What were they thinking?
First is the idea that when we’re kids, a boy shows his liking for a girl by picking on her - following her around, calling her names, mistreating her, et cetera. If Higgins really has it in for Eliza like he seems to, he must really really like her. Once she figures this out and calls his bluff, she can wrap him around her little finger.
Second is the more unfortunate phase a lot of girls and women go through - the idea that love reforms a jerk. It shows up in pop lit, romantic comedies, and romance novels all the time. The man is hateful to everyone, but he just can’t resist That Special Woman. While he mistreats her at first, he sees the error of his ways, and to win or keep her love, he reforms. At least towards her. He still treats nearly everyone else badly.
The funny thing is, in the original play My Fair Lady is taken from, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Eliza ends up leaving Higgins and marrying Freddy Einsford-Hill. Shaw even wrote later how exasperated he was by the endless letters he got saying that Eliza should have stayed with Higgins. He wrote that Higgins and Eliza remained friends, but Eliza took to bullying him.
They misinterpreted the dark theme of Shaw’s play, while the guys got it right. They thought the ending was “love conquers all” with Liza and Henry to live happily ever after. Shaw actually saw Liza as a tragic figure. Brought up out of the gutter on nothing more than an idle bet between Higgins and the other linguist, she is a ruined creature, with no money to support herself as a lady, and no longer able to endure the life of a guttersnipe now that Higgins and Doolittle have show her a better life, she is forced to go back to Higgins and press her claim that he must support her as he is responsible for her condition, it is her only option though Higgins has treated her very badly. A dark ending, widely misunderstood, and “My Fair Lady” promotes that misunderstanding though the original “Pygmalion” did not.
I’ve never really gotten the ending, myself. Don’t musicals have happy endings with people falling in love? When Henry sings “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, it seems that he’s recognizing that he wants to be with her. It would be so much tidier if he had shaped up and proposed to her at the end.
My romantic interpretation is that while Higgins has figured out that he loves Eliza, Eliza has come to accept that Higgins is what he is - that he won’t make love to her the way Freddy does, and that she prefers him to Freddy anyway. She was annoyed by Freddy’s style of wooing. She doesn’t want to reform Higgins - she likes him just the way he is, especially now that she knows she can stand up to him.
The ending of My Fair Lady is problematic. Shaw knew that a relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza was unlikely; in the original play, he left things very open-ended, though this was changed by the director in the original run to suggest they got together.
The problem was how to end the musical. Shaw’s original lacked drama and emotional punch (though it was the most likely result). But audiences responded better to a happy ending.
The response is simply that Higgins did fall in love with Eliza. His songs show this.
“I’m an Ordinary Man” (“But let a woman in your life”)* – how he’s happy to live alone and how much he wants to remain single.
A Hymn for Him (“Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man”) – A slight change from #2 – implying that he might accept a woman in his life under certain circumstances. The song has a subtle implication that if a woman were not involved with things like style and gossip. The final line is telling: “Why can’t a woman be like me?” It’s a sign of pure ego, of course, but it also implies that if a woman were assertive and logical, it would be a good sign for him.
I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face – Higgins is admitting he loves Eliza.
Thus, when he realizes her actions are more like him, he wants her back. The final line can be read several ways – that Higgins loves Eliza but is incapable of expressing it, so he does what he always does: order her around (the most romantic interpretation), or that Higgins has learned nothing (possible, but I think the previous one fits better). But Higgins comes to see Eliza being assertive, and he likes that.
If you need a romantic ending for the play, I think it would be interesting to have Eliza fall in love with Pickering who, after all, treats her kindly and decently throughout. You’d have to cast a younger actor in the role and the relationship needs an extra scene or two for it to be believable, but it’s possible.
Actually, this is one thing I have never been able to unravel.
1.) Shaw’s play Pygmalion ends with Eliza walking out and saying she’ll marry Freddy and start her own florist’s shop.
2.) Shaw later sold his play in book form, with an added-on afterword (Shaw usually add extensive forewords, often longer than the play itself. Pygmalion is unique in having the extensive afterword) explaining what happened, and how Eliza and Freddy got on.
3.) the printed version also had extensive added bits and directions for turning the play into a film.
4.) A filmed version was made in 1938, with Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes!) as Higgins and Wendy Hiller (Alice More!) as Eliza. More on this below.
5.) When Lerner and Loewe made Pygmalion into the musical My Fair Lady, they changed the ending. In the published version of the script, Alan Jay Lerner wrote something like “Shaw forgive me, but I do not think he was right!” in explaining the change.
6.) The ending of the 1938 film has Eliza Returning to Higgins!!! Even though Shaw was involved. Nobody – including Lerner, who could’ve used this fact as a defence for his own ending – ever mentions this. It seems like something that slipped in from an alternate universe.
No, they all got back together and lived…for the moment. (There’s a Theme in there!)
My Fair Lady has always bugged me, but I’ve managed to reconcile it due to Liza’s outburst at Freddy: “Words words words! I’m so SICK of words!”
Liza wants a straight shooter. An honest man. Which, for all of his faults, Henry certainly is. Freddy annoys her because he moons over her, which, all the way back in her guttersnipe days, we see she’s not going to fall for (“not a brass farthing” to her father, despite his elaborate sob story). She wants honesty perhaps even more than she wants romantic love. That doesn’t change simply because her dress does.
Would I have been happier with more of a softening in Henry? Yes, absolutely. I don’t see a lot of Love there, only a matter of convenience and perhaps admiration (but mostly for himself). But for Liza, that might be her best bet, and she knows it. Definitely a bittersweet end.
Heh. This is Mom’s favorite movie. I watched it with her as a teen, and thereafter harped on Higgins being a misogynistic, sexist, horrible old man that I simply couldn’t stand. Why Eliza would want anything to do with him at all after is a total mystery to me.
So at least one teen girl didn’t have that opinion after watching it.
I caught the film on TCM recently; Leslie Howard & Wendy Hiller played the leads. Wikipedia points out that Shaw only agreed to let the play be filmed if he got full control. He made certain changes that Lerner & Lowe used for the musical.
So, they arm-twisted the old guy just a bit! The age difference between the movie’s stars was less than the one in the musical (staged or filmed).
I see Liza’s return as “on her own terms.” As a colleague & intellectual equal, with any “romance” stuff strictly on the back burner; Shaw really didn’t do romance. Sort of like The Doctor & His Companion. (Surely, I’m not the only one seeing Professor Pickering as the Watson to Higgins’s Holmes?)
I go back to Eliza’s song “All I want is a room somewhere. . .” I think in the end that really is all she wants. To be comfortable and warm, and to hang out sociably with Higgins and Pickering. While she enjoyed the wild experience, (I could’ve danced all night) in the end she wanted a sustainable comfortable life, something Freddy was too milquetoast to provide.
I agree with the guys though, that the loveable curmudgeon is a greatly overrated character. Eliza is with Higgins for the same reason that Cuddy is with House - because women are stupid sometimes. In reality, such women wind up broken and exhausted, because such men are exactly what they present themselves to be, and the grudging affection that they offer seldom makes any real change in their demeanor.
Lerner’s notes in the published edition of My Fair Lady, however, don’t say anything about the 1938 film, and give the impression that he didn’t know about it at all. he seems to take the responsibility onto himself. This wasn’t written in his dotage – it was only a decade or so after the play came out.
and how did they ever persuade Shaw to agree to that ending change? If there’s one thing Shaw was known for, it was defying expected romantic conventions. Caesar and Cleopatra is a monument to that point of view, and his ending to Pygmalion was altogether typical. “arm-twisted just a bit”?? I can’t see Shaw caving in to anything less than a full-body racking.