Friday, August 1, 2014

My Fair Lady (1964)

Screen Grab from Warner Home Video DVD
WHO: Audrey Hepburn stars in this, although her singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon.

WHAT: The nearly fifty-year-old screen adaptation of the phenomenally successful Broadway musical, directed by George Cukor. According to Mason Wiley & Damien Bona's tome Inside Oscar, it was so popular at special screenings arranged in Hollywood for Academy Award voters that "when the Academy turned away crowds at one showing, so many people came back for the hastily scheduled 11 P.M. showing of the three-hour movie that there was another mad scramble for seats."

Needless to say, the film swept the Oscars that year, winning nine awards including Best Picture. Hepburn, however, was left off the nomination list. Julie Andrews, who'd played her role in the original Broadway and West End productions, won the statue for her screen debut Mary Poppins, an award often attributed to payback for Jack Warner's choice to replace her in the film with an actor whose singing voice was ultimately not used. Marni Nixon performed on screen opposite Andrews in the following year's Sound of Music, and dubbing of star voices in musicals became a more clandestine affair from then on.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today through Sunday at 7:30, with additional 3PM showings on Saturday and Sunday, only at the Stanford Theatre.

WHY: The force behind the Stanford Theatre for the past twenty-five years, David Packard, has often named Audrey Hepburn as his favorite screen performer, and My Fair Lady in particular has been one of his theatre's top draws over the years he's been running things. But it also kicks off a late-summer calendar filled with classics and rarities that should draw any casual or hardcore fan of Hollywood's "Golden Age" to Palo Alto at least a few times over the next two and a half months, if not multiple times a week. 

The best news is that the Stanford will be open every single day from now until (at least) October 12th. Mondays and Tuesdays every week pair a film starring the recently-departed Mickey Rooney with another feature; several 1930s Tarzan films and a few Deanna Durbin vehicles (I highly recommend His Butler's Sister on September 1-2) among them. Wednesdays are reserved for weekly silent film screenings featuring live accompaniment by organist Dennis James; these are not the usual warhorses but infrequently-seen comedies with Reginald Denny, Leatrice Joy films, etc. The only one I've seen before is the heartbreaking The Goose Woman, directed by the underrated auteur Clarence Brown. Thursdays and Fridays match a Basil Rathbone-as-Sherlock Holmes mystery with a Warner Oland-as-Charlie Chan one (though the Swedish star's yellowface performances can be off-putting at first, these films often feature wonderful performances by the Asian-American actors portraying his sons), with an episode of the Kirk Alyn-as-Superman serial made by Columbian in 1948 as a bonus. Finally, Saturdays and Sundays will feature rotating double-bills of somewhat better-known films starting with Roman Holiday and Queen Christina (August 9-10) or The Black Cat and Dracula (September 13-14). Some of these are extremely rare to see on the big screen any longer, although I can't really imagine who would want to ever see something like Around The World In Eighty Days, for example (at three hours, the only weekend offering besides My Fair Lady not showing on a double-bill) on a television.

Some of the films that I'm personally most excited to see at the Stanford over the next ten weeks include James Whale's One More River (Aug. 16-17), John Stahl's Only Yesterday (Aug. 30-31), William Desmond Taylor's Up The Road With Sallie (Sep. 17), the local-interest Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (Sep. 25-26), and William C. de Mille's For Alimony Only (Oct. 8). I've never seen any of these before.

HOW: The Stanford Theatre is the last local theatre I know of (besides far more occasional screening venues like the Paramount) to pretty much exclusively screen 35mm prints. They do resort to a 16mm print on the rare occasion (the last time being more than two years ago) that something necessary for a series can't be found on 35mm.

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