The 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and the 1964 film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, are both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion. While both of these films are well made, I much preferred the colorful musical version to the black and white earlier one. Also, I was far more drawn to Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins than I was to Wendy Hiller's Eliza and Leslie Howard's Higgins.
The difference between the two sets of principal actors, make these two very different films. Eliza Doolittle and the actors who portray Professor Henry Higgins give a very different feel to each film. The original film, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, starred Wendy Hiller as Eliza, while My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.
Upon viewing both films, it was interesting to see how the two actresses compared to each other. I believe it is fair to say that, of the two actresses, Audrey Hepburn is better known, and for good reason. She does an outstanding performance in My Fair Lady, better than I have to say Wendy Hiller did with the same role a few decades earlier. Audrey Hepburn's character was more sincere, and I felt closer to her than I did with Wendy Hiller's character. More of Audrey's life was shown in the movie including a more detailed storyline of her father. The way she interacted with other actors on set also helps project her character as more believable and warm individual toward others.
I much preferred Rex Harrison's depiction of Henry Higgins to that of Leslie Howard. Howard's Higgins in Pygmalion is more of a comedian than a famous linguist in my opinion. He makes a joke every chance he gets; while this is quite funny, it takes away from the theatrics that Hiller's Eliza is attempting to make. However, I believe that in My Fair Lady the couple of Dr. Higgins and Eliza complement each other very well. They are a much more believable couple, as more emotion is expressed through both of them.
The movies have differences between them other than actor performance. Pygmalion was filmed in black and white, while My Fair Lady was filmed in color. This by itself can give a viewer a great different perspective of a film; almost as if night and day! The use of colors in My Fair Lady contributed to the overall bright and attractive feel of the movie, as the costumes and most importantly, the flowers stuck out. The black and white Pygmalion was dingy and unattractive, so much so that it was difficult to even recognize that it was flowers in the basket and not another item. Colors are an important element in this movie. For Eliza to go from the dark gutters to wealth, color is an easy component to manipulate to show the change.