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|Index||71 reviews in total|
A delightful adaptation of a great stage play, it is as witty and full of interesting ideas as its source material is. Hiller plays her cockney flower girl well, including her transformation, and Howard is a superb choice for the charismatic Henry Higgins. The technical side of the film is not too great though, and there are a few awkward jump cuts in the mix. The film is also hurt by constant choices of music that just do not suit what is happening on screen. But these are minor complaints. Even though the ending is abrupt it also only slightly mars the experience. Any viewer who has seen the play performed or studied it will be interested in this version; those who are not familiar with the material are in for a treat. It was, of course, later turn into the musical 'My Fair Lady' - a technical superior film - but that does not prevent this one from being very good too.
After seeing this film I was convinced that Wendy Hiller was the most beautiful woman in the world. After watching her career through to the last film she made before she died affirmed my original perception of her. Even in her late 80s she was still a stunningly beautiful woman and actress.
Anyone who thinks "My Fair Lady" can even come close to this one is a
Howard is better than Harrison and plays him more correctly (Harrison plays him as a cold fish all the way through -- Howard comprehends that Higgins is a very passionate man who has directed his passion to the study of language, and transfers that passion to his student, Eliza. In teaching her, she becomes his ideal woman -- Galatea to his Pygmalion, from whence the title)
Hiller is a better choice than Hepburn (Hepburn is too naturally beautiful to play a "draggletailed guttersnipe" believably).
All the rest of the casting is better, from Pickering and Freddie to "The Count" and Eliza's father.
The idea that you could take the work of a master playwright like Shaw and "add songs" is like colorizing a Hitchcock film (yeah, people are stupid enough to have done that, too...). The songs only serve to disrupt the rhythm and flow of Shaw's dialogue.
In short, if you've seen this before you see MFL, you will be greatly disappointed in MFL.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Copyright 31 December 1938 by Loew's Inc. A Gabriel Pascal Production,
made at Pinewood Studios (England), presented in the U.S. by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in England by J. Arthur Rank through General Film
Distributors, in Australia by G-B-D. New York opening at the Astor, 7
December 1938. London opening at the Leicester Square Theatre, 6
October 1938. U.S. release: 3 March 1939. Australian release: 22
December 1938. 96 minutes. Cut to 89 minutes in the U.S.A.
SYNOPSIS: Professor teaches Cockney girl to pass for an aristocrat.
NOTES: Prestigious Hollywood award, Writing Adaptation, Dalrymple, Lewis and Lipscomb only (unopposed). Also won for Best Screenplay, Shaw (defeating Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters and You Can't Take It With You). Also nominated for Best Picture (You Can't Take It With You), Best Actor, Leslie Howard (Spencer Tracy in Boys Town)), Best Actress, Wendy Hiller (Bette Davis as Jezebel).
Number 3 on the Film Daily annual poll of U.S. film critics (preceded by Goodbye Mr. Chips and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington).
Britain's top money-making picture of 1939. Re-issued in the U.K. in 1944, 1949 and 1953. Re-issued in Australia in 1954.
Third film version of Shaw's play, preceded by a German movie directed by Erich Engel in 1935 with Jenny Jugo as Eliza and Gustav Grundgens as Higgins, and a Dutch movie in 1937 screenplayed and directed by Ludwig Berger with Lily Bouwmeester as Eliza and Johan de Meester as Higgins. Re-made as the musical, My Fair Lady, in 1964.
COMMENT: There is just one thing wrong with Pygmalion. The script is delightfully witty and effervescent, so full of rich humor that no matter how many times you hear it, the dialogue is still fresh and scintillating. The acting of course is absolutely first-rate. Howard and Harrison were both born to play Higgins. They're both so wonderfully self-centered, so scrumptiously patronizing to us lesser mortals.
And this Pygmalion has the advantage of Wendy Hiller, so infinitely superior a Cockney to that emaciated little Belgian girl, Audrey Hepburn (whose acquaintance with the East Side of London was limited to an occasional chat with Cary Grant). Mind you, Miss Hepburn is a whiz as the Lady Fair, but Miss Hiller is so skilled an actress, she's thoroughly convincing both before and after.
The fact that Miss Hepburn is so obviously a grand mademoiselle in superficial disguise, robs "My Fair Lady" of all element of surprise and suspense.
As for Dad Doolittle, Wilfrid Lawson and Stanley Holloway are just about equal. Stanley is such a cheerily obvious layabout and Wil has such a winning way with his vowels, it's virtually impossible to prefer one to the other. Of course, no such dilemma exists with Colonel Pickering. Wilfrid Hyde-White leads Scott Sunderland by a mile; but the part is not so large in this version so it doesn't really matter all that much.
In addition to the inspired casting of Hyde-White, My Fair Lady has it all over Pygmalion in the area of color photography and production values. Stradling's black-and-white lighting seems dim and lackluster by comparison. So do the sets and costumes. And we certainly do miss the songs. Nonetheless, that's no reason to deprive today's viewers of the Shaw-approved version and especially of the company of Howard, Hiller and Lawson.
One would expect that such an enormously popular movie would be constantly aired on TV, but that is far from the case. Yet, so popular was the movie that Penguin Books issued a mass-market paperback of the screenplay in 1941. It was reprinted many times. Not only was it the first screenplay to be published as a mass- market paperback, it is the only such publication to be commercially successful. A similar edition of the "My Fair Lady" stage play failed dismally.
Our play reading group (of retired university peeps & spouses) recently
finished Shaw's "Pygmalion" and -- as we often do when available --
show a film of the play we've just read for both our play reading group
plus any of the hundred or so other retiree members who'd like to
We thought that this 1938 film was absolutely superb. It fully captured Professor Higgins' lack of any personal concern for Eliza, her growth and developing inner conflict, and Col. Pickering's valuable humanity with Eliza. Almost all the characters were very nicely and fully brought to life except, IMO, perhaps one and that's Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle. While this film does give an initial view of him that's quite adequate (e.g., in his willingness to "sell" Eliza for 5 pounds), it's not quite as detailed or adequate (IMO) as the play in depicting his misery as the recipient of a grant that makes him wealthy. (But that's a small point and perhaps mainly just me.)
A TRULY EXCELLENT film -- Wendy Hiller as Eliza is absolutely SUPERB!
George Bernard Shaw won an Oscar for his screenplay of "Pygmalion,"
which he further adapted from his own stage play that had been a huge
success. The later musical hit of 1964, "My Fair Lady," was fashioned
from this highly successful and popular film production. Other movies
have been attempted, but all fall short of this original. Nor can any
other musical attempt top the original musical rendition.
This film won the Oscar for best screenplay and was nominated for the top three awards best picture, actor and actress. "Pygmalion" and its stars were up against huge competition that year. I think Leslie Howard's Professor Henry Higgins was as good as Spencer Tracy's Fr. Flanagan in "Boys Town." And, Wendy Hiller's Eliza Doolittle was as good or better than Bette Davis's "Jezebel." The supporting cast of "Pygmalion" were all very good. Most notable were Wilfrid Lawson as Alfred Doolittle, Marie Lohr as Mrs. Higgins, and Scott Sunderland as Col. Pickering.
This is a wonderful movie that all should enjoy. It's a good companion to the more popular 1964 musical. But before or after watching that film, watch this original movie version of Shaw's play as well. It is the prototype for all renditions put on film. One would be hard pressed to find better acting for this story anywhere.
After having been required to read this play in high school and then
being re-exposed to it in My Fair Lady, this authentic movie version
was a total breath of fresh air.
First and very important, is the fact that Criterion has beautifully restored this black and white movie. In fact, one wonders if it was ever seen in theaters with such clean, pristine images and sounds (the latter of which is very important to the story itself).
The opening credits say "Introducing Wendy Hiller." I remember thinking, if this is her film debut, how could she have thought that she would ever equal it!! Nevertheless, she did come back in another great Bernard Shaw movie in 1941, Major Barbara (which also cries out to be equally restored by Criterion).
I especially appreciate these two movie versions of Shaw's plays due to their closeness and authenticity to Shaw, himself. In both, Shaw wrote the scenario and dialogue; both were produced by Gabriel Pascal (who went on to produce and or direct other Shaw play-based movies) and directed by Anthony Asquith (who went on to direct other Shaw play-based movies).
This 1938 movie is the "gold standard" of the play! I've never seen a better Henry Higgins than Leslie Howard (who also co-directed the movie). He was born for this part and it is hard to imagine that Rex Harrison didn't use him as his model in My Fair Lady. Likewise, Wendy Hillerunlike Audrey Hepburn--was totally believable as Eliza Dolittle. Also look for Jean Cadell to shine in the small role of Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper.
This is my first review and I will try to make it short. This movie is based on Shaws play "Pygmalion". Its basically an adaption of an old Greek myth. You can read more about it by just searching for Pygmalion on Google (I do not want to somewhat spoiler). Its not like all the comedy nowadays. You do not sit there and laugh at big jokes. This movie rather makes you smile continuous. You have to look at the movie as a whole and not at the single little jokes. The acting is brilliant. Both Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller do a great job and they really get into their roles. If you like comedy with a little more content, you should try to watch "Pygmalion".
We've all seen the 1960s musical version of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion -
My Fair Lady. Well, the musical is great entertainment and very well
done and unmissable too but this 1938 B&W film version is a revelation.
It is fantastic to see different actors deliver the same lines. In my
opinion the 1938 version is funnier and the characters are more fully
developed so that their relationships are more interesting and
I enjoyed the scene dressing and wonderful costumes in My Fair Lady but the scene dressing, props and costumes in this 1930s film are great too - woollen suits, in fact all of the clothes, made in natural fabrics like fine wool and silk, just glow in the studio lights and are stunning, and get a load of Prof Higgins' owl-spectacles (step aside Harry Potter)! I love the haircuts, the body language (even the extras walk like HM Elizabeth the Queen Mother), the make-up, the huge Bakelite telephones, the bone china tea cups - everything looks real not just a prop. The jewellery glitters, eyes glint, hair glows - everything is so well lit it really does convey candlelight or daylight. The B&W tones are amazing. All-in-all simply fantastic!
This is a movie about a girl named Eliza who tries to learn how to
speak proper English from a guy who's simply doing it to win a bet. The
plot is fairly basic. I could have sworn that this was based on some
Shakespeare play, but instead it was a George Bernard Shaw play which
was loosely inspired by Greek mythology. The best part is actually
probably in the first eight or so minutes. You get an introduction to
all of the main characters at once. It's interesting to see how these
characters will develop into the plot. It's a little tedious, but
certainly worth checking out.
It's really fascinating how intense this film can be. There are many great shots of Eliza failing and people acting out how she's supposed to be like. These characters mostly keep their personalities when the major conflicts truly happen. The camera work is quite impressive. I also feel that this film had a really nice length. It wasn't too long or too short and seemed to be in the middle for a lot of movies released at this time. I rarely see movies that are completely about language, so this was a nice and rare find. ***1/2.
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