Although the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, tell the same exact story, they tell it in two different ways. Good arguments have been made for which is superior (if either), and it is my belief that Pygmalion is a better work than My Fair Lady. However it is interesting to see them both, and I think the differences in them make for a better understanding of both adaptations because they both have something to offer. But for reason to be explained shortly, I stand with the view that the Pygmalion version tells the story best.
Time plays a key role in why I believe Pygmalion is superior to My Fair Lady. The former clocks in at an hour and twenty-five minutes while the latter at a whopping two hours and fifty minutes. They are telling the same story, so how is this possible? I believe because MFL is more drawn out it takes away from the story. It takes almost an hour and a half longer for MFL to say what Pygmalion does. I almost get kind of lost while watching MFL, especially after seeing Pygmalion, not lost as I do not understand what is going on, but as I do not understand where all the extra time went to.
Although I do not have anything against musicals, it is my belief that sometimes they take away from the storyline more than they add. I believe this to be true of My Fair Lady. When Higgins goes off on a ten-minute musical tangent that feels that it will never end, I really stop caring why the English cannot speak English and start caring more about when the song will be over. However in the musical's defense when Doolittle goes into his carpe diem declaration, it is very entertaining and adds to the story. But all in all I believe the songs take away more than they give.
Thirdly I believe the actors in Pygmalion are more believable. Rex Harrison, the Higgins in the musical, seems more comedic and kind of reminds me of a British Kelsey Grammar. The way I see Higgins is far more closely related to the one portrayed in Pygmalion, by Leslie Howard. He is drier and less exuberant than the more upbeat Higgins of the musical.
In the end though it is all about who is watching and his/her particular dispositions concerning this issue. You know they say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; so, to me, Pygmalion is prettier than My Fair Lady.