Upon reading the play Pygmalion (1913), by George Bernard Shaw, I felt almost euphoric when Eliza declared that she would marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill instead of wasting her time around the likes of Professor Higgins. Freddy was charming and thoughtful, and he seemed to be genuinely taken with Eliza. I knew that he would love her endlessly and treat her as a lady deserves to be treated. I pictured him to be gorgeous. I just knew he was tall, dark, and handsome with strong, chiseled features. Anyone who believes in fairy tales knows that this is what Prince Charming looks like.
Imagine by unbelievable shock upon watching the 1938 film adaptation of Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. Shock eventually turned to anger, and then to despair. Alas, my poor dear Freddy (David Tree) had been transformed. He was not the handsome Prince Charming I had imagined him to be. Sadly, he turned out to be frog instead. Walking around with mouth half open, giggling like a school girl, and utterly incapable of making a woman swoon was not the image I had of my dear Freddy. No, Freddy was not my knight in shining armor. What I received instead was one of the village idiots. I almost found myself rejoicing when the film strayed from the original ending and Eliza (Wendy Hiller) went back to Higgins (Leslie Howard). He might have been mean, but at least he was better looking and definitely more intelligent.
The trauma of seeing Freddy reduced to such a horrible state influenced my expectations of My Fair Lady, the 1964 musical adaptation of Pygmalion, directed by George Cukor. Upon watching the film, I was happily surprised. Freddy, played by Jeremy Brett, was my knight in shining armor after all. He was tall, dark, and handsome, not to mention that he had quite a suave manner of speaking that would make any girl fall instantly at his feet (myself included). I felt much relieved after meeting this Freddy. I can understand what Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) saw in him, unlike his froggy counterpart in the first movie. The only thing that left me disappointed was that My Fair Lady once again ended with Eliza running back to Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison). It was much harder to swallow now that I saw her leaving a perfectly good Freddy behind.
I can only assume that the reasons for the different interpretations of Freddy reflect each director's feelings about Eliza returning to Higgins. In Pygmalion, Eliza deserts a nice, but doofy Freddy in order to return to a mean, but good-looking Professor Higgins. I can only assume that this is because Howard and Asquith assumed that it was the only way that viewers would understand her returning to such a cruel man. However, in My Fair Lady, Eliza deserts a nice, handsome Freddy in order to return to a not-so-nice and very much older Higgins. My assumption here is that the George Cukor wanted to show that true love triumphs over all other indiscretions.
I found it intriguing that there could be such a wide interpretation of Freddy and his role in Eliza's love life. I myself tend to agree with the Freddy #2 interpretation, although I still wish they had stayed with the original ending as written by Shaw.