I will admit it is probably common to prefer the movie one saw first: I saw Anthony Asquith's and Leslie Howard's 1913 Pygmalion first, and I prefer it to George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion. This sounds blasphemous, no doubt, especially to fans of the darling Audrey Hepburn, whose very legacy hardly makes for a fair comparison to any actress. However, where the character of Eliza Doolittle was absorbed too much by Hepburn's own grace, Wendy Hiller's more spirited and realistic Eliza made Pygmalion more poignant.
From Hepburn's first appearance in the musical, her perfect cheekbones and pearly whites smacked of gentility. Wendy Hiller, on the other hand, looked as disagreeable as she was supposed to. She managed to pull off the "dregs of society" image better than Hepburn ever could with all the dirt of London. Both women are beautiful, but Hiller has an unusual look that can "go either way," something necessary for the character of Eliza. Hepburn is doomed to look beautiful no matter what.
Aside from appearances, the emotion of Hepburn's Eliza was much more subdued; her despair never called for an unflattering display. While her middle-of-the-night headache tugged endearingly at my heart, it was too cute, and did not draw the tears to my eyes that Hiller's sobs did the night Higgins drilled her on the British titles.
Another advantage Hiller had over Hepburn was the now-famous line "Not bloody likely!" Eliza is sassy, and this line proved that her refining education had not squelched that sass. Sure, with another few weeks of training, she would learn not to use the word "bloody," but this line showed her spirit in a way that the milder "Move your bloomin'' arse" did not.
Both Hiller and Hepburn are fine actresses, and both did a suberb job in the two movies. But unlike with Hepburn, I managed to forget that Hiller was anyone but Eliza Doolittle, a Cinderella with spunk.