The snobbish & intellectual Professor of languages, Henry Higgins makes a bet with his friend that he can take a London flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, from the gutters and pass her off as a society lady. However he discovers that this involves dealing with a human being with ideas of her own. Written by
Steve Crook <email@example.com>
George Bernard Shaw editorialized and lectured on the need for uprooting obsolete notions of a rigid English class-structure in order for individuals to realize their full potential. He wrote the play "Pygmalion" in 1912 and 1913 as part-social protest, part-satire, part-comedy of manners. Its central character, Henry Higgins, a London teacher of elocution and expert in regional phonetics, makes a small wager with his friend and colleague, Colonel George Pickering, that he can take a waif from the streets, one Eliza Doolittle, and pass her off as the cream of the social crop. Using a pedagogical technique consisting mostly of inhumane badgering and humiliation, he manages to pull off the feat with unexpected success but at an emotional cost he does not foresee.
Besides the inventive montage sequences illustrating the frustration of linguist Higgins as he transforms Eliza from Cockney flower-girl to the statuesque, gowned beauty who's mistaken for a royal princess at a diplomatic reception, there are other items which failed to materialize in Shaw's original transcript the use, for example, of the phrases, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plains" and "Hurricanes hardly happen in Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire," both of which became lyrics for Lerner and Lowe's musical version of the play. Additionally, in Shaw's original play, Higgins's irritating Hungarian nemesis is not given a name; here, for the first time, he is dubbed "Kaparthy."
Leslie Howard, who co-directed this 1938 filmed version of the play, impersonates Higgins as a hard-core realist - diabolical, profane, impatient, sometimes maddening. And as Eliza, Wendy Hiller has her coy moments, particularly when she is "tried out" at a tea party given by Higgins's mother. Her carefully high-toned enunciation of "the new slang" is timed to perfection.
The film, unfortunately, leaves one with the feeling that at the story's conclusion - with Higgins quietly demanding to know from Eliza the whereabouts of his slippers - both student and mentor "live happily ever after." This contrived ending must have been a compromise on the part of the producer, Gabriel Pascal, although one finds it mystifying that Shaw, who is credited with the story's adaptation, would have ever endorsed such a sentimental ending. For as Shaw had written at the end of his play over two decades earlier, "the rest of the story need not be shown...if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the...reach-me-downs of the rag shop in which Romance keeps its stock of happy endings..." The playwright then proceeded into seven pages of prose, describing an epilogue in which Eliza married the worshipful young suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and the generous Colonel Pickering set up the newlyweds in their own business near Victoria Station. As for any relationship between Higgins and Eliza, according to Shaw, "(to this day) he storms and bullies and derides; but she stands up to him so ruthlessly that the Colonel has to ask her from time to time to be kinder to Higgins." As is the aftermath of most good stories, the worm indeed did turn.
With Wilfrid Lawson as Eliza's father, Alfred; Scott Sunderland as Pickering; and David Tree impersonates the shallow but inoffensive Freddy in high style. (He would do the same with the role of Charles Lomax three years later in "Major Barbara.") If the American schleps and male-pushovers that Ralph Bellamy used to play in "The Awful Truth" and "His Girl Friday" ever had a British opposite-number, David Tree was it; he did the upper-class twit better than anyone.
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