When film makers are adapting a literary work to film, numerous obstacles can surface and cause problems. When director Elia Kazan adapted Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) into a box office hit in 1951, certain sacrifices had to be made as a result of the play's graphic content. George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion also underwent significant changes in George Cukor's My Fair Lady, filmed in 1964.
Much of Streetcar had to be edited before making the transition to the big screen. Film censorship in 1951 was very strict, and there were very specific rules that had to be followed. In the play, we learn that Blanche's young husband killed himself after having been caught in bed with another man. This leads one to think that he had married Blanche simply for her ability to attract members of the opposite sex. In the play, Blanche had had too much to drink and began to ridicule her young husband. Unable to deal with her harsh words, he shot himself. This dramatic turn of events gives the reader a better understanding of how Blanche came to be so neurotic. As a result of these details being left out of the film, one is forced to make blind assumptions about the root of her behavior.
Another product of blatant censorship is the violent rape scene. The ambiguity used in the film leaves one to wonder what exactly occurs the night when Stanley (Marlon Brando) and Blanche (Vivien Leigh) are left alone together.
Although I feel some of the key components of the play fail to make it into the film, I believe the film version is excellent nonetheless.
The most obvious difference between Pygmalion and My Fair Lady is the use of music; however, this addition is quite lovely in my opinion. One particular revision I did not enjoy was the romance between Higgins (Rex Harrison) and Eliza (Audrey Hepburn). In the grand tradition of Hollywood romances, Pygmalion is transformed from a liberating rags-to-riches story to an anti-feminist Cinderella story. I honestly cannot blame the film makers; in that industry, one must give the people what they want. I blame the people for choosing sappy love stories over more believable stories of life and heartache. Everyone knows that in real life, Eliza would have told Higgins to get lost. However, something happened in My Fair Lady that makes one want her not to.
Given the time period when these plays were adapted to film, I think the film makers do an excellent job, still managing to follow the rules and give the people what they want.