One major difference between the 1938 film Pygmalion and the 1964 film My Fair Lady, both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, is the character portrayed as Eliza. The original film, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, starred Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, a filthy flower girl from the streets. My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, starred Audrey Hepburn in the role of Eliza. Both of these women used their wonderful acting skills to portray Eliza in different ways.
After watching both films, I find that it is interesting to compare and contrast the two actresses. The most noticeable difference in the films is the use of color. Pygmalion was filmed in black and white. My Fair Lady was filmed in color. I really thought that the lively colors in My Fair Lady took away from the filth that Eliza was living in at the beginning of the movie.
It is amazing how the use of color can totally change the way a movie is watched by an audience. If the musical version of My Fair Lady had been in black and white, the movie would be boring to watch because the movie used so many vivid colors to attract attention. Instead of watching the movie, I often found myself more intrigued with the set.
The musical influence in My Fair Lady made Eliza seem like a character that would eventually overcome her situation. She seemed more driven than Eliza in the Pygmalion version. At the beginning of My Fair Lady Hepburn dances and sings around colorful garden carts. Hiller was never that cheerful in the beginning of Pygmalion.
When George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion, I think he would have pictured Hiller playing the role of Eliza. Hepburn is naturally beautiful, even in rags. Hiller is a plain woman. Her makeover was much more noticeable. Hiller's body language and speech really alluded to the fact that she was an uneducated woman. It seemed as if Hepburn had to try harder to produce a matching performance.
One scene that really showed the difference between the two actresses was the bathtub scene. Hiller gave a very convincing performance as she was forced to take a steamy bath. While Hepburn refused to take the bath, she did show the same fear as Hiller when forced into the tub.
I enjoyed both interpretations of Eliza, but I definitely thought that Wendy Hiller did the best job of portraying the fair woman Shaw wrote about in the book. Her performance was magnificent. Sometimes original acting is hard to beat.