Songs Create Difference

     Most film adaptations of a book fall somewhere between two extremes. A film version is usually neither very close to the original story line or very far away from it. Instead, the movie generally falls somewhere in between. In the case of Pygmalion, written in 1913 by George Bernard Shaw, something different happens. One film version stays close to the plot of the book, while another strays quite far from it. The original movie version, Pygmalion, directed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, remains quite similar to the book; but the musical version, My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor, gets very far away from the book because of the songs which are included.

     The first movie version of Pygmalion follows the plot of the book with much accuracy. The characters are portrayed quite similarly to the way the book introduces them. Henry Higgins, as played by Leslie Howard, is shown as a man that does not favor the company of women. as in the book, though, he does not hold any hate or contempt towards the opposite sex. The character of Eliza Doolittle, as depicted by Wendy Hiller, is also quite like her character in the book. She is extremely defensive about the way she lives and acts. At the same time she is somewhat scared of Higgins. She is not scared that he will hurt her, but she is worried that he will throw her out of the house and no longer take care of her. These two characters are shown to have a small rivalry, which they do. Higgins feels that he should without a doubt be in charge. Eliza, on the other hand, believes that Higgins is no better than she is and should therefore have no control over her. The friendship between Eliza and Higgins, as well as many other things in the movie, is correctly portrayed in relation to the way things are in the book.

     In the musical, My Fair Lady, many things differ from the way they actually are in the book. Although the characters seem similar to those in the book at first, it soon becomes clear that they two types are nothing alike. The character of Higgins, as portrayed by Rex Harrison, is not only shown to dislike the company of woman but also shown to truly despise women in general. The song he sings to Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) while in the study reveal the way he feels towards women. He openly states that they are pushy and that he would never want to marry one. He also recommends that Pickering should avoid marrying women. Higgins' view on women in the musical is in no way similar to the views he holds in the book. Eliza, as depicted by Audrey Hepburn, is also quite different from the way she is displayed in the book. She fears that Higgins might throw her out of the house, but not in the same way. Eliza hints at getting revenge for anything mean that Higgins does to her. The song she sings while standing in the stairwell shows that she is not truly afraid of Higgins. She instead tells how she would get him back for the way he has treated her. The rivalry between Higgins and Eliza still exists, but it not accurately portrayed when compared to the book.

     Because of the songs, the musical has to stray from the original story line. The songs enhance the way the characters feel on many subjects. For this reason, the plot must be altered so that the songs will fit in. Even with the changes in the plot, the songs do not always fit well. The songs bring about the need for many of the characters to undergo drastic changes. Higgins' dislike for women is transformed into hate, while Eliza's fear of Higgins changes into a want for vengeance. By the addition of the songs, the characters change, so the story itself must also be changed. Because the songs were included, the musical is not a very good version of the book. The original movie, however, is a very good adaptation since it keeps the characters the same as they were in the book.

Grant Apanowicz

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