Quicker and Cheaper Is Better:
On Adaptation: Pygmalion and My Fair Lady

         I thoroughly enjoyed the first adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, that we watched in the class. One thing that I would particularly like to touch base on is the pacing of the film compared with the newer version, My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor.

         I think Pygmalion runs very smoothly and is not near as excruciating as the later version that stars Audrey Hepburn. Pygmalion is a much better standard, and even if it had been filled with musical numbers, I would have to think that they would have been more tactfully done (and shorter) than in the later film. I used to watch lots of musicals as a child, and have several favorites, but My Fair Lady is not one of them. The songs have too many verses, and that lowers the emotional impact with redundancy. Another reason I would have to point out would be an obvious: the film is far too long.

         Before this class I had not seen Pygmalion, so being exposed to it was a good experience and made me enjoy the story much more than when I had read it in high school. Henry Higgins is portrayed so much better in the earlier version, and I think that has to do with the fact that the actor, Leslie Howard, is younger and more energetic. The portrayal of Henry Higgins by Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady is so much stiffer, and the age difference between him and Doolittle removes the romantic quality from the film altogether.

         My Fair Lady also sports a much higher budget, so the film is way too glamorous. I think the film could have done completely without the scene where Higgins "tests" his pupil at the Ascot races. That is a real slow-down in the pacing of the film, and it just was not as funny, I thought, as the very same scene in Pygmalion where the pupil (Wendy Hiller) is tested by Higgins' mother (Marie Lohr) at the gathering in the house. That seemed much more seamless to me, and the scene was not nearly as long in the second version because, once again, there was no singing.

         Therefore, I much prefer the older, shorter, faster-paced Pygmalion to the newer, longer, slower-paced My Fair Lady.

Eric Pitman

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