There is a certain fondness I have for the classic horror flicks like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and others of that ilk. I am also a Bud Abbott and Lou Costello fan and love their foray into horror parodies. Here, though, I wish to reference mostly Frankenstein (and I leave off any year, director, or author to insinuate that a specific work is not the point), that crazed doctor out to reanimate dead flesh. It gave him a sense of being God and the rage that ensued was perhaps deserved. Different works conclude the tale differently as to what Frankenstein's monster does truly to the doctor. I kind of prefer the original end in Mary Shelley's novel, which has a grandiosity and horror I love, and the novel itself has a sadness as well (I have yet to see Kenneth Branagh's 1994 version, which I hear restores more of the novel, though without such a good reception). But the element that stays is that dynamic idea of Frankenstein bringing life to this creation of his, and it is the same element I saw in Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film Pygmalion.
Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play of the same name, it is quite naturally not horror, nor is Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) a dead corpse. She is, however, as good as dead in the eyes of Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard), who sees this fascinating creature with such an awful manner of speaking. She could not possibly be worth anything in this world as a flower girl without a sense of being a "lady." It is just not proper. And so Higgins takes in this lowly being to make something out of it. The ensuing experimentation is shown like something right from a horror film, with a probing score and overlapping imagery giving us a sense of the time and labor put on this poor girl to learn the mechanics of proper speech and behavior.
The film completely nails everything I was hoping it would, with the precise wit and display of the class system down to the sadness that permeates some of the end...the same sadness that Frankenstein's monster is given. But, as I said before, this is not horror. Not to undermine the greatness of Frankenstein and the levels one could even look at it, but I merely need to say Eliza was perfectly alive before. What is truly important is for her to find who she really is, no matter how she talks or how she dresses. She is a human being, and it is humanity that makes this tale truly striking. And Professor Higgins, in his own way, maybe learns a little, too, though he has the sort of air about him that makes it harder to so easily pinpoint.
The display also of Higgins' own language usage and how the film could be the first film to use the word "bloody" and so on is really interesting to me, having seen Brian de Palma's 1983 Scarface so recently. What constituted controversy then (as another film starring Leslie Howard, Victor Fleming's 1939 Gone with the Wind, did so infamously) is to a very large degree nothing now. But what is most important is not what they "got by with" but by what was conveyed by the story. When a film like 2000's Scary Movie does nothing more than try to push the boundaries and forgets to even be funny, you have to be grateful to come back to something that aspires to actually tell something. It is that true life of a work that makes a story worth telling.