The story of George Bernard Shaw's original 1913 play, Pygmalion, is a classic that has seen many adaptations, from George Cukor's 1964 musical movie, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn, to the modern She's All That, directed by Robert Iscove in 1998, which is loosely based on the same story. My Fair Lady is by far the most well-known and loved adaptations; but, despite stunning performances by Hepburn and Rex Harrison, I think the movie fell short.
While I may only hold this opinion because I saw the 1938 movie of Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, before seeing the musical version, I still hold my opinion. For starters, My Fair Lady was far too long. While I understand that most musicals are quite long, and this movie would work very well as a live musical, in movie form it just does not work. It seemed to me that the film makers took most of the original dialogue and even many camera shots from the movie and original play, then just added lots of songs, rather than replacing more scenes entirely with song and dance. Instead of changing it into a musical, they just added to it until it became one.
Some of the songs worked very well to move the story along, and seemed to keep with the original idea of the play. But I thought that the girl's father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway) was given too many songs in the musical. While in the play and the book, little focus was put on this character, only using him to prove a point, the musical devoted several songs and lots of camera time to his character, to little point other than increasing the running time of the movie and adding more catchy show tunes to it.
I have seen many musicals, even some that were quite long. I love Hepburn and thought she did an excellent job as Eliza in this movie. Harrison was good, although I liked Leslie Howard, the previous Henry Higgins, from the first Pygmalion movie. But I simply found myself bored, and was rolling my eyes when the band would strike up for yet another seemingly pointless song. In retrospect, simply having Hepburn replace the previous Eliza Doolittle would have made the previous film excellent, but I could simply not get past the poor musical adaptation.