As I sat and watched the two movie versions of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, I was prepared to be happy with the revised endings in which Eliza returns to Higgins. I had always heard what a wonderful movie My Fair Lady (1964) was and that it was a great love story. So, after watching the 1938 version of Pygmalion, I thought it was just that the directors, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard had not done a good job of conveying the chemistry between Wendy Hiller's Eliza and Leslie Howard's Higgins. I thought that maybe the musical, directed by George Cukor, would be better. After watching it, I was even more disappointed. How can anyone think that those two--Audrey Hepburn's Eliza and Rex Harrison's Higgins-should be together? In my opinion, the revised endings simply ruined two otherwise good movies.
The first thing that makes me think that Eliza should have stayed as far away as she could is that she is treated as if she did not matter. Higgins verbally abuses her and treats her with less respect than he treats his servants. The worst part is that this is the point that she starts developing feelings for him. How can anyone develop romantic feelings for a man while he is pushing her around and treating her like a doormat? He is very obnoxious to her the first time they meet at Covent Garden, and she still goes to his home for lessons. He shows his true self immediately, and she still falls for him!
Another thing that irks me is that the viewer cannot really tell that either Henry has feelings for his Eliza. In most movies that end in love, the men may start out like Higgins, but the love they begin to feel for their respective heroines changes them so much so that the dimmest viewer can tell these men are in love. Where is that element in these two movies? Higgins never shows much emotion except annoyance and never changes. Of course, he says that he misses her presence, but he gives the distinct impression that he is just used to having her hanging around rather instead of being so in love with her that he cannot stand to be without her. I do not see this latter feeling in Higgins. The chemistry between both sets of actors would have been much higher if they would have added this element of romance into the script. If the writers and directors were going to change Shaw's work, they should have changed more to make it more believable.
The entertainment industry twice took a perfectly good work and turned it into a sappy screen love story, all in the name of making money. They knew the British and American audiences would spend more money on going to see the movies if they were conventional love stories. I think George Shaw had it right the first time: it is a romance in its fashion but not in the conventional Hollywood sense.