Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cinema Tuesdays {Pygmalion}

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This is the 1938 adaptation of Pygmalion starring Leslie Howard, who also co-directed with Anthony Asquith with costumes by Worth and Schiaparelli. Shaw personally adapted his play for the screen (making him the only person to win both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize) and selected Wendy Hiller (who was also in this film) to play Eliza. However, the ambiguous ending was not written by Shaw and he hated it. However, having read some of Shaw's other works, I'm not surprised that he didn't approve of happy endings. All I can say about Shaw as a person is that I would not want to be in the same room with him.

I've never liked My Fair Lady.
Here's why:
  1. AH is clearly miscast as Eliza. No one can believe that AH would ever be in the gutter, even though she is a great actress. You've read about how much work they had to do in an effort to scrub away her elegance by coating her with dirt. Wendy Hiller made no such effort, it was all down to her behaviour and making us believe that she was a squashed cabbage leaf. However, everyone still knew that Eliza was really AH as a princess in disguise.
  2. Rex Harrison played Higgins as a cold, emotionless fish. After watching My Fair Lady, I was surprised that Eliza didn't marry Freddy. At least Jeremy Brett played Freddy as being hopelessly in love with Eliza. Leslie Howard, on the other hand, understood Higgins as being passionate and pouring his passion into his love of languages, while still retaining those trademark Leslie Howard facial expressions to show that Higgins really did care for Eliza
  3. Cecil Beaton's costumes are fantastic, but a bit too fantastic. Here we see not only the work of Schiaparelli but also some great examples of everyday late Thirties outfits
  4. Leslie Howard is my favourite actor. Unfortunately he's only now remembered for GWTW and for dying a hero's death (the files wont be released for another thirty years, so no one knows exactly how high up he was involved in intelligence work). However, he was a truly gifted actor and adept at developing his characters and Higgins is one of his best performances.
  5. Too much damn singing! I love musicals as much as the next person, but there is such a thing as too many musical numbers. It really takes away from the plot and the characters. It actually doubled the length of the story without adding anything to it.
Ultimately the reason why I prefer Pygmalion over My Fair Lady is not because of the acting, costumes, Leslie Howard or because I think that B&W is a better cinematic choice from an artistic stand. It's because Pygmalion is a superior film. I've even uploaded 53 screencaps, which is more then I have for any other movie that I've covered so far. I'm not going to explain what's going on, because I'm assuming you already know the plot.

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"I ain't dirty"
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"I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!"
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Trivia: Wilfrid Lawson, who plays Doolittle, was seven years younger than Leslie Howard.
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In this version, Eliza is smart and quite adept at phonetics, but still takes months to learn how to speak, not in two minutes while singing "The Rain in Spain"
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"Gin was mother's milk to her"
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"How kind of you to let me come"
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"Damn Mrs. Pearce and damn the coffee!"
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"The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated"
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Pygmalion is available on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4. The Region 1 Criterion edition is well worth the expense, simply due to the marvellous restoration.
It is also (at this time) on YouTube in ten parts.

A clip from the unrestored version:


Penny Dreadful said...

I haven't seen this version before, I will have to put it on my wish list now. I enjoy My Fair Lady for the music and constumes, but wholly agree with your points. I love Audrey but she was no Eliza, and Rex Harrison was just a horrid pig.

Betty Lou said...

I love love that movie! Haven't seen it in ages. I've seen My fair Lady and i really hated it. Leslie Howard rules!

Andi B. Goode said...

I think the reason I still sort-of love My Fair Lady is because I grew up watching it and, as a child, I was even more easily pleased than I am now. ;] So it has a place as a memory of my childhood. The costumes are certainly gorgeous and I love the songs but I certainly have NO idea why Eliza would want to be with Higgins AT ALL. He's so cruel and, as you said, cold. (Also, how did I just realise Jeremy Brett plays Freddy?! Boy, he was a babe.)
Anyway, I would love to see Pygmalion. But when you live in Australia, only have free TV, not enough data limit to download films and not always enough $$ for DVDs (when movies are released, of course) it's awfully difficult being a classic movie fan (or maybe I'm just not trying hard enough?). I've wanted to see it for a while but this makes me want to see it even more. These caps are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing - if I can't see the film, yet (though I do think it has a region 4 release, at least) I can at least appreciate the pictures!
Whew. Long comment.
-Andi x