Great companion to "My Fair Lady"
Patrick Yamada | South Central Orange County, CA USA | 03/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I only heard about the 1938 film version of Shaw's play after I had already seen "My Fair Lady". When I heard it wasn't a musical, it sounded truly promising (I'm not much of a fan of musicals).
If I had to choose between the two, overall I'd pick this film. The story flows better and makes more sense. The biggest example of this is Eliza Doolittle's progress in elocution. In this film Eliza has a good ear for sound despite her lack of education, and she is able to mimic proper speech. Her progress makes sense, while in "My Fair Lady" she can't pronounce words as Higgins teaches her to save her life until an inexplicable breakthrough. The funniest scene is when she speaks beyond the sets of phrases Higgins taught her and properly pronounces butchered grammar and gutter slang. Wendy Hiller may not have the same beauty as the lovely Audrey Hepburn, but she is a convincing Eliza.
Leslie Howard plays a keen Dr. Henry Higgins. His single-minded devotion to his craft to the exclusion of social graces explains his insensitivity to Eliza, and Howard acts it out wonderfully. The surprise in Pygmalion is David Tree as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Here he plays a truly believable twit. We can understand why Eliza doesn't want to marry him because he is so helpless and inept. In "My Fair Lady" Jeremy Brett does not fit the character. He looks too good and confident to be the awkward boob that is Freddy. David Tree is far more annoying, so he plays Freddy perfectly! Overall, "Pygmalion" shows more fidelity to Shaw's original play.
Criterion restored much of the film to its usual high standard, but there are sections where the best extant copy was less than pristine. Fortunately there aren't too many of these sections, so the film pleases overall.
If you have only seen "My Fair Lady", you owe it to yourself to see "Pygmalion". Even if you enjoyed the former, you will see how the original did so well without the color, lush scenery, and grand staging of the latter."
Ending is the only drawback ...
Andrew Raker | PA | 03/22/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
While the acting in this film (especially Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard's) is excellent, I really disliked the altered ending. The ending is NOT Shaw's ending nor did Shaw approve of the ending. While I understood the themes Shaw was trying to convey throughout most of the film, the altered ending left me questioning, "What am I supposed to take away from this film? What am I supposed to learn?"
After a bit of research, I realized that having Eliza reunited with Higgins goes against the entire structure of the play. Higgins is not supposed to be rewarded. In his own epilogue to the play (written in 1941), Shaw clearly displays his disgust with the ending of this film adaptation. Higgins is NOT supposed to receive a happy ending because Higgins REFUSES to alter his behavior.
Because of the ending, I recommend the 1973 BBC adaptations, which follows Shaw's epilogue.
Even though the acting in the 1973 adaptation is quite inferior to the 1938 adaptation, I still believe the 1938 adaptation is worthy of 3 stars while this adaptation should receive no more than 2 stars. (I would have given this film adaptation 5 stars except for the ending, which is the same as the ending in "My Fair Lady", although it pre-dates the musical.)
However, this said, if you can accept the altered ending, my all means purchase this 1938 Leslie Howard adaptation.
Shaw Without the Music Still Sings in the Still Wondrous Ori
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 12/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Far more a pointed satire on social mores than an opposites-attract love story, the original 1938 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's classic 1913 play is still a glistening piece of pre-WWII British cinema fluidly co-directed by Anthony Asquith (The Importance of Being Earnest) and star Leslie Howard. Howard (Gone with the Wind) and Wendy Hiller (I Know Where I'm Going!) are close to perfection in the principal roles, but the movie's key distinction lies in the fact that Shaw adapted his own play for the screen with some assistance from W.P. Lipscomb and Cecil Lewis. Consequently, Shaw's biting wit and uncompromising tone remain intact as the familiar story of Professor Henry Higgins and Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle unfolds without the cherished Lerner and Lowe musical score that decorated the identical plot of My Fair Lady two decades later. As I am not a big fan of the overstuffed 1964 musical remake despite the wonderful songs, this version provides the same narrative in a far more economical 96 minutes. It's a genuine treat to appreciate Shaw's words without the music.
The story is familiar to anyone who has seen the musical. Higgins makes a bet with fellow scholar Colonel Pickering that he can pass off a lower-class flower girl as a duchess by teaching her how to speak and act. None other than later film master David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) directed the montage sequence of Higgins teaching Eliza the proper elocution and etiquette. An awkward trial run occurs at the Chelsea home of Higgins' mother where Eliza makes her social debut recounting her ghastly story of a relative's suspicious death. Regardless, potential suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill is entranced and becomes obsessed with Eliza. Later, Higgins and Pickering decide Eliza is ready for a formal ball at the Transylvanian embassy where Higgins' pompous former pupil, Count Aristid Karpathy, threatens to expose her Cockney roots. Instead, he is fooled by her demure polish into thinking she is a Hungarian princess. Higgins and Pickering celebrate their mutual accomplishment, but Eliza recognizes her contribution and self-worth in the deceptive exercise. When she threatens to leave Higgins' tutelage for Freddy's waiting arms, it becomes an uncomfortable matter that the professor realizes has slipped completely out of his control.
Shaw's ageless point is that class distinctions are artificial at their core. He recognizes that articulate speech, good manners, and an expensive wardrobe are the key elements that separate the classes, and that they can all be attained given the appropriate resources. What genuinely separated Higgins from Eliza is the fact that he is a ruthless, selfish egotist who cannot imagine wanting the respect much less the love of his blossoming student. That becoming a lady of his level of bearing should be Eliza's aspiration is what ultimately appalls her, and it becomes clear that such class distinctions have no relevance when it comes to personal value. Deep in the shadow of Rex Harrison in his definitive role, Howard brings a more impulsive, youthful energy to Higgins, so much so that there is true terror when he threatens to strike Eliza. Hiller handles Eliza's metamorphosis with arresting conviction and makes a more convincing Cockney guttersnipe than Audrey Hepburn. By comparison, Hiller's transformation is more subtle in this treatment. There are nice turns by Marie Lohr as Mrs. Higgins, Sunderland as Pickering, and Wilfrid Lawson as Eliza's ne'er-do-well father Alfred, although David Tree comes across as far too callow for the likes of Eliza as Freddy. The 2000 Criterion Collection DVD surprisingly contains no extras, but the print transfer does justice to the pristine cinematography of veteran Harry Stradling (Funny Girl) and his camera operator Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai)."