The Music Box:

Does Music Add to or Take Away from a Story Line?

     George Bernard Shaw's 1938 play Pygmalion was adapted to screen to two different formats. Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, starring as Henry Higgins, directed the 1938 black and white screen version of the play. The musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, was was produced by Jack Warner. Each version has pros and cons, with the main one being the sheer length of the films.

     The movie Pygmalion was 85 minutes in length. Shaw scripted the film himself. As a result, the movie and play were very similar. Important details were not lost in the screen adapation. The movie was effective in conveying everything Shaw thought important.

     My Fair Lady, on the other hand, was 170 minutes in length. Alan J. Lerner adapted the screenplay to the musical format. In this version, scenes were excluded and others were extended. Some of Shaw's original thoughts were either misconstrued or exempted from this version. Scenes, such as the song Liza's father sang on the night before his nuptials, were entirely too long. The first three verses justly elaborated on the his feelings about getting married the next day. But the fact that song lasted for over five minutes was just simply ridiculous. As a fan of musicals, I was waiting for the song to end. I cannot imagine the thoughts of those in the room who do not enjoy musicals.

     Other scenes, such as the one at the races, were vital to the movie scheme. The well-executed choreography and Liza's obvious mistake, showed she was not ready for her debut yet. The whole scene made a statement, using the visual and musical element that the movie Pygmalion just could not portray to its viewers.

Music enhances the verbal and visual elements of a movie. If it did not, movies would not market and make a profit off of the soundtracks they sell. Those who do not like musicals should expand their horizons. I know I watch regular movies and enjoy those as well.

Denise Higgins

Table of Contents