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Pygmalion
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Reviews & Ratings for
Pygmalion More at IMDbPro »

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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Do Little

Author: tedg (tedg@FilmsFolded.com) from Virginia Beach
25 November 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers herein.

Seeing this and My Fair Lady together was a real lesson for me, a lesson in how a seemingly small change in presentation can completely transform a production. The lines of MFL are precisely those of Pygmalion, plus the Ascot race and some foolery with Dad. The sets of the two are nearly identical. But the effect is radically different.

Shaw's play was about how people are actors, and the supposed class system, indeed all rank in society is a result of how skillfully you play the role. It is a socialist notion, highly intellectualized through the then promising science of linguistics. In other words, this play is a self-referential criticism of the notion of play.

Shaw would have been repelled by the transmogrification into MFL -- because the musical is an exploitation of the medium for sheer entertainment. In other words, MFL is a celebration of the notion of play.

Done with the very same words!

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

And Shaw Created Woman

10/10
Author: wes-connors from Earth
26 February 2011

Linguistically appropriate and bad-mannered Leslie Howard (as Henry Higgins) bets he can teach cockney guttersnipe Wendy Hiller (as Eliza Doolittle) how to speak in high society, and then pass her off to the Buckingham Palace crowd as a Duchess. This production of George Bernard Shaw's classic story doesn't have the great Lerner / Loewe songs made familiar in the musical ("My Fair Lady") version, but it's a much better production, overall. Mr. Shaw receives official credit; he shared an "Academy Award" win with three screenplay adapters. Whatever the distribution of work, Shaw's sharp and brilliant satire on British dialects shines prominently. Everyone performs marvelously. The accent is on excellence.

********** Pygmalion (8/38) Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard ~ Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Scott Sunderland

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A Worthy Adaptation of a Distinguished Play

8/10
Author: James Hitchcock from Tunbridge Wells, England
31 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" was written in support of his controversial thesis that class divisions in British society could be overcome by encouraging the use of Received Pronunciation (supported by reformed spelling in a phonetic alphabet) in place of regional and class accents. Today such an idea would doubtless be attacked as snobbish and reactionary, but in 1912 Shaw clearly intended it to be enlightened and progressive. The story concerns Henry Higgins, an upper-class professor of phonology, who accepts a bet that he can teach a Cockney flower-seller to speak like a duchess and pass her off as one at an Embassy reception. The title was taken from a Greek myth about a sculptor who creates a beautiful statue which the gods transform into a real woman; the implication is that Higgins is the sculptor and Eliza his "creation". (I remember misunderstanding the title when I was taken to a performance as a child and found myself wondering why, in a play called "Pig Malion", pigs were never mentioned once).

This film, dating from 1938, was the first cinema adaptation of the play. Although it was a financial and critical success in its day, its fame has today largely been overshadowed by that of the 1964 musical version "My Fair Lady". The screenplay was adapted by Shaw himself from his play, although the ending was changed against his wishes, with Eliza returning to Higgins' home in such a manner as to suggest a romantic attachment between them. The original play ended with Eliza marrying her admirer Freddie Eynsford-Hill, a wealthy but vapid and foolish young man, and Shaw strongly resisted any attempts by actors or theatrical producers to change this ending. In "My Fair Lady" it seems at first as if the audience are being prepared for Shaw's original ending; Freddie is made more attractive, both in looks and in personality, and he gets to sing one of the film's big romantic numbers, "On the Street Where You Live". That film, however, also ends with Eliza returning to Higgins.

There was a reason why Shaw resisted attempts to turn "Pygmalion" into a romantic comedy. (He seems to have deliberately ignored the fact that in the original myth Pygmalion fell in love with and married his creation Galatea). Besides social class, the play also deals with the theme of feminism, with Eliza seen as a strong, determined "new woman" who learns to stand up for herself after being bullied first by her drunken, womanising old reprobate of a father and then by Higgins, a crashing snob and misogynist. (He regards Eliza as a "guttersnipe" and has no qualms about calling her one to her face). The attraction of Freddie for her is precisely that he is a weak character and therefore unlikely to bully her.

This film updates the action from the 1910s to the 1930s (although some of the costumes look a bit old-fashioned for the latter period) and makes a few other changes to the plot of the play, some of which were retained in "My Fair Lady", such as the invention of the Hungarian Professor Karpathy. Shaw, however, kept his controversial line "Not bloody likely!", making Wendy Hiller the first person to utter that particular profanity in a in a British film; rather surprisingly the censors appear to have raised no objection. One thing the makers of this film got right, unlike the American makers of "My Fair Lady, is the pronunciation of the name "Eynsford", originally a Kentish village. (It's "Ainsford", not "Inesford").

Hiller was reputedly Shaw's favourite actress and was certainly something of a specialist in Shavian drama at a time when performances of his works on the London stage were more frequent than they are today; her next film, "Major Barbara", was also a Shaw adaptation. It is therefore unsurprising that she makes a fine Eliza, perhaps closer to Shaw's original conception than Audrey Hepburn who always seems more convincing as the society lady of the later scenes than as the Cockney of the earlier ones. Leslie Howard is certainly a better Higgins than Rex Harrison, who was too old and too laid-back; I have never understood why he won the "Best Actor" Oscar, especially as his singing voice was not really up to taking the male lead in a musical.

In his lifetime, Shaw was held in very high esteem as one of the greatest British dramatists of all time, at times regarded almost as a twentieth-century Shakespeare. Since his death his reputation has declined somewhat, although a number of his plays, "Pygmalion" among them, still hold a popular place in the repertoire. He was able to create witty dialogue and interesting characters, even when he was writing a didactic piece, which most of his plays are, and this is particularly true of "Pygmalion". Antony Asquith's film is a worthy adaptation of this distinguished play for the cinema. 8/10

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

"The silly fools don't even know their own silly business."

9/10
Author: DanFG80 from Vancouver, Canada
14 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I prefer this to the much-enjoyed 1964 musical, My Fair Lady. The delightfully lavish musical says as much in roughly double the time. Howard and Hiller are brilliant here, as are Harrison and Hepburn in My Fair Lady. I can't favor one pair over the other. However, Esme Percy as the Count is more amusing than his counterpart, Theodore Bikel.

I agree with the controversial ending. Eliza had come too far to leave Higgins for Freddy, a comparative dolt. To my mind, it wraps up this witty picture appropriately. There is no telling how many more great Leslie Howard roles there would have been, had he not been a casualty of that awful dustup World War II.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

"You see, the difference between a lady and a flower girl isn't how she behaves, it's how she's treated."

10/10
Author: Terrell-4 from San Antonio, Texas
23 February 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The opportunity to watch Pygmalion next to My Fair Lady is not to be missed. If Shaw at first was reluctant to approve a movie version of Pygmalion, he ended up enthusiastically promoting Wendy Hiller for the part of Eliza Doolittle and, at 82, co-adapting his play into a screenplay and writing several new scenes, including the whole ballroom episode involving that oleaginous fraud, Karpathy. Thanks to Shaw, director Anthony Asquith, co-director Leslie Howard who plays Professor Henry Higgins, Wendy Hiller as Eliza and Wilfred Lawson as Alfred Doolittle, we have one of the wittiest, cleverest takes on social inequality that ever had a romance wrapped around it.

"I can't change my nature and I won't change my manners," says Higgins, a crabby, bossy, arrogant, insensitive fellow who believes the intellectual life is the only life, and who benefits from private wealth and his talent as a teacher of phonetics. His reaction to Eliza declaring her independence is to squawk, "I tell you I've created this thing out of squashed cabbage leaves in Convent Garden!"

Eliza (and Shaw) sees things differently. "You see," she tells Colonel Pickering, "the difference between a lady and a flower girl isn't how she behaves, it's how she's treated." Eliza Doolittle, after she's been cleaned up spectacularly and taught not to drop her H's by Higgins, has become, not just a "proper lady," but a woman of confidence and spirit.

Shaw, of course, turns all this into a contest of ideas -- his -- stated in dialogue so provocative and clever one really needs to appreciate the skill of Howard and Hiller. The contest between the two becomes interesting because we know (this is corny) the two were made for each other. Higgins may have taught Eliza how to speak and behave like a lady, but he doesn't have the faintest idea how to appreciate her. Eliza turns out to be a great teacher, too, and she has a good deal to teach Higgins, squirm as he may.

"Eliza, where the dickens are my slippers?" may not be the most romantic last line in movies or plays, but with Shaw, it does just fine. More than fine, because the question of whether Eliza will stay with Higgins is left up in the air. That last line also works so well because of the two extraordinary performances by Howard and Hiller. Despite Pygmalion being a showcase for Shaw's opinions, Howard and Hiller make it also a showcase for this strange and appealing combination of intellect, sexual attraction and love.

Watching My Fair Lady right after is something like looking at carefully preserved mastodon bones hauled out of the LaBrea Tar Pits. There are some great bones, but the life is gone from them. This isn't to say that the theatrical version of My Fair Lady isn't one of the best musicals Broadway ever came up with. The movie version, however, was made, it seems to me, with such ponderous dignity, such careful attention to giving the audience what they think they remember, and with such an overpowering sheen of Hollywood's deadly professionalism, that the sparkle and much of the wit is either gone or coarsened. Harrison is superb, but at 56 too old (and irreplaceable in the part, although Jack Warner at first wanted Cary Grant). Hepburn is beautiful but not believable as a grubby cockney. Her beautifully posed and lit close-ups are all about Audrey Hepburn and not for a moment about Pygmalion's Eliza. Stanley Holloway is energetic but no patch on Wilfred Lawson's way with a Shavian line. When Lawson wheezes, Howard looks askance because of Doolittle's nature. Higgins' reaction is amusing. When Holloway wheezes, Harrison reaches for his handkerchief because it's a setup for a visual joke involving Doolittle's spittle and bad breath. It's just a cheap laugh.

Enjoy both movies. There's certainly much to like, sort of, in the movie of My Fair Lady. But to see a witty classic of manners, ideas and even romance, watch Pygmalion.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

My First Shaw Movie

9/10
Author: Krystian Rivera from United States
25 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Pygmalion was the first experience that I had with Shaw's Films. I have seen Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, Doctor's Dilemma, St. Joan, and Arms and the Man as well. So far though this film is my favorite. I thought Leslie Howard (Professor Higgins) made an excellent performance in this film. I found his rudeness in the film particularly enjoyable and very fun to watch. And even being the rudest character in the movie, he pulled off to be the most likable as well. I liked Wendy Hiller (Eliza) much more in this film then in Major Barbara. Another enjoyable character in this film was Wilfred Lawson who played Alfred Doolittle. I enjoyed the part in the movie where he first speaks to Henry Higgins. He displays how even though he is lower class he still has cleverness with in him. I would definitely recommend this be the first film that anyone studying or learning about Shaw should watch as their first. If I were to recommend a second Shaw film, it would definitely be Arms and the Man.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Great example of expressionist film-making.

10/10
Author: mevans-14 from Oakland, Califorani
30 June 2004

I love this film, from Wendy Hiller's Eliza (fabulous) to the Honegger score, the weird camera angles, jumping back to conventional polite society -- great contrasts if you like that sort of thing, and I do.

The film amazes especially when you realize it's from 1937, when it Won the Oscar for Shaw, still living, for best screenplay. He knew Hiller.

He worked on this film, which gives it an authenticity that few adaptations have (another one being Death of a Salesman, with Dustin Hoffman, screenplay by Arthur Miller.)

The scene with Eliza's first bath is priceless it makes My Fair Lady look ultra-tame. This film is the real thing.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Great entertainment. Ahead of its time.

8/10
Author: MatthewJP from New York
18 September 2000

This 1938 movie interpretation of Shaw's "Pygmalion" is great entertainment. Beautifully photographed and quick moving, this film will thoroughly entertain you. While mildly serious this film avoids the heavy seriousness and moral whining that might be characteristic of a Hollywood treatment. It should be part of your cinema repertoire., and in a "Top 100" list.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Forget "My Fair Lady". This is the real thing.

10/10
Author: Jon Gwynne (jgwynne@hotmail.com) from Newport Beach
9 August 1999

George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have absolutely despised musicals. There is speculation that the original idea behind "My Fair Lady" was based on a discussion of the absurd and what could be more absurd than a musical based on one of Shaw's plays?

It is equally true that a lot of people love MFL in spite of either the absurdity of it or what Mr. Shaw would surely have thought of it but the fact is that the musical can't hold a candle to the magnificent original.

The performances and characterizations of Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard are far more complex and rewarding than they ever were in the musical and without all of the sentimental fluff and music, the story is allowed to stand on its own merit.

Shaw stages a broad assault on the hypocrisy of the English class system and at the same time he affirms the value of the individual. He does this through two very complex characters that are, at the same time, both lovable and imperfect.

The lesson here is that others are who they are and not who we perceive them to be. In this, the film had a lot in common with "As Good as it Gets" that also illustrated beautifully how some people even late in life have yet to learn the all-important less that nobody thinks of themselves as a bad person; we are all just trying to do what we think is right while suffering other people's misunderstandings and reactions to us.

I read some other remarks here from people who complained that the idea of Eliza returning to Henry was absurd or unrealistic. How can it be? Who better understands her than he and who does she better understand than him? They are the perfect couple not because they are the same but because they understand one another and true love can only come with understanding.

You don't need songs to put that point across.

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Classic without being Pretentious

Author: chconnol from New York, N.Y.
11 August 2003

The film version of the musical sensation, 1964's "My Fair Lady" was unfortunate because it befell the rather common problem faced by properties that become too beloved and well known. Instead of finding it's own voice as a film, the producers (and pretty much everyone else involved including the cast) maintained a "safe" course not daring to divert from the source material. The result was an entertaining but not particularly memorable movie. It's the same thing that has happened currently with the movie adapatations of the "Harry Potter" books. The source material is so rich that the makers of the films simply don't dare to try and make their own statement. They think it would be some kind of blasphemy and treat their material with too much reverence. However, this version of Shaw's "Pygmalion" for some reason doesn't fall into that trap. Maybe it's because Shaw was alive at the time the movie was made (and was on the set). This may have created the feeling that the movie was contemporary. I think that has a lot to do with it. Unlike the sodden 1964 Hepburn/Harrison vehicle which you really never could figure out exactly what era it was supposed to be, this version is firmly planted in (then) contemporary London of the 1930's. Therefore, there is a freshness and vitality that makes the whole film seem spontaneous. Nothing more indicates this then the GREAT scene after the ball when Eliza tells Higgins off. Higgins (the great Leslie Howard) is stunned. And he attempts to make a grand exit after being mortally wounded. As he descends the stairs, his foot ever so slighly slips. It's a great small moment that speaks volumes about Higgins' vanity and how deeply Eliza's words have affected him. Just compare the exact scene in the '64 version. It's all stiff and affected. The ONLY thing about this version that I don't like is the rather long and drawn out discussion near the end between Eliza and Higgins. It's definately due to the play as it's written rather than the movie because it's the point where Shaw makes his arguments about class structure and how it isolates people, etc. Compared to the wonderful fast pace of the rest of the movie, this is very static and nearly stops the movie dead in its tracks. But it's very small quibble when one considers how good the rest of the movie is. Excellent cast throughout. Leslie Howard shows how brilliant he could be (as opposed to the sap he played in "Gone With the Wind"). And of course, Wendy Hiller's Eliza is nearly perfect. One can see both her need and desire to better herself AND the intelligence she possesses that eventually gets her out of the gutter. Ms. Hepburn was never convincing in the early parts of "My Fair Lady".

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