Many people do not like musicals, and then many other people feel that movies would not be the same without them. The movies Pygmalion and My Fair Lady offer the perfect contrast. Both movies are based on the 1913 play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The movie Pygmalion is a 1938 black and white film, directed by Anthony Ansquith and Leslie Howard. My Fair Lady is a 1964 color musical, directed by George Cukor. Both are unique and interesting; however, only one film can be better. This can be seen by only analyzing a few of the factors that each possesses.
The comparison can begin with Professor Higgins. In Pygmalion he was played by Leslie Howard, and in My Fair Lady he was depicted by Rex Harrison. Harrison portrayed a much more likeable and understanding figure. His character was not as harsh and unfeeling. Howard managed to master the hateful and unfeeling part very well. He was not able to, unlike Harrison, make the audience like him; however, that may have been his goal.
There is Eliza, played by Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion and by Audrey Hepburn, with the singing voice of Marni Nixon in My Fair Lady. Just the fact that My Fair Lady had Audrey Hepburn should really be enough. Even without that fact, Hepburn made a wonderful Eliza. Her change from the dirty Eliza to the more sophisticated Eliza was very dramatic, much more so than Hiller's. A strike against Hepburn would be that she did not do her own singing; it was done by Marni Nixon. This would not count much against her, though, since Hiller did not have to sing at all.
It was fascinating, to me, that in My Fair Lady so much more detail was paid to the relationship between Higgins and Eliza. More of an emphasis was put on the training to become a "princess." It was also very amusing to see how the British were portrayed, stiff and unemotional, like in the Ascot horse racing scene. My Fair Lady also had a more upbeat pace and held more of my attention than did Pygmalion. This could have been due to the music and wonderful interactions between Harrison's Higgins and Hepburn's Eliza.
There is no doubt in my mind that My Fair Lady won this battle hands down. The characters, music, scenery, and everything else were so much more wonderful. This movie will go down in the books as a movie classic.