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>
The nice thing about watching the screen version of Pygmalion is that having seen My Fair Lady and heard the original Broadway cast album a few thousand times, you know where the songs are supposed to go.
And you know the plot. There's a little more of George Bernard Shaw's social commentary about class in this one, but still we enjoy the romance of the man falling in love with his creation.
Leslie Howard is cast very much against type here. The romantic idealist that was Alan Squire or Ashley Wilkes, there's no trace of here. Professor Henry Higgins is one misanthropic fellow, a man who's disdained the social class mores of the pre-World War I, United Kingdom. But he's no social crusader. He's taken up the esoteric study of language and phonetics and on a bet with Colonel Pickering, boasts he can obliterate class lines for any subject by teaching proper speech.
And who's the subject, cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. Someone who Higgins opens a new world for and after the wager is finished, just can't go back to what she was.
As in My Fair Lady, the funniest scenes are Eliza trying to master the English of the Oxford Dons. We don't get the Rain in Spain here, sung and danced as Eliza breaks through, but it's still the part I like the best.
Shaw's commentary about class distinctions come out of the mouth of Alfred P. Doolittle. Wilfrid Lawson's ideas about morality may very well make him the most original moralist in the English speaking world. The poor just can't afford them and he's driven kicking and screaming into the middle class with a sudden burst of luck. Think Mickey Rourke in Barfly, forced to clean up his act for the sake of convention.
Pygmalion introduced Wendy Hiller to the screen as Eliza Doolittle. It's a difficult part as Eliza evolves in front of us. Quite a revelation for Leslie Howard also.
Hiller of course would be another Shavian heroine in Major Barbara, another great role for her. Howard, sadly, never got a chance to tackle George Bernard Shaw again. I could see him as Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra or Cusins in Major Barbara.
Even without the songs, Pygmalion can be seen and enjoyed by all.
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