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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>
Even if I had not yet seen this film I'd have had good reason to assume its merit simply because George Bernard Shaw, as cantankerous and protective of his work as he was, liked it. But I have seen it, many times, and that only validates that conclusion.
Leslie Howard not only starred in it but co-directed as well, and accomplished both magnificently. His rapid-fire intensity, conveying the true overbearing Higgins using Eliza as if she were "a block of wood," to quote, to be sawed, hewn, nailed, drilled and pounded into an object to his liking, is wonderfully complemented by Wendy Hiller's Eliza, bringing us to understand the full range of her growth from the depths of her imprisonment in the class of the street vendor barely escaping mendacity by selling flowers to a real princess, not by royal birth, but by her strength and accomplishment. Higgins may like to claim credit for her transformation; but it's Eliza who really made it happen.
There's a lot said here comparing Pygmalion to My Fair Lady. That's really a classic apples-and-oranges fallacy. Musical theatre is an entirely different art form, with a different goal. It's clear that if this interpretation of Pygmalion had been duplicated with songs and dances tacked on, it would have been horrible; yet My Fair Lady is a triumph of its art. It's often called a musical adaptation. That's mistaken; it's "based on" Pygmalion. The nature of musical theatre requires a different approach. To evaluate either by the standards of the other is a waste of time and thought.
Shaw would undoubtedly have hated MFL; his revulsion for Romanticism and the failure of The Chocolate Soldier, the operetta based on Arms and the Man, would guarantee that. MFL is not a musical Pygmalion, and should never be mistaken for one.
It is a great tribute to the genius of George Bernard Shaw and his best-known play that it could spawn both this artful and powerful movie version and a greatly different and beautiful musical as well.
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