To best explain my attitudes toward the film Pygmalion, directed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard and based on the original 1913 play by George Bernard Shaw and the film My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor and based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical play, I would like to preface this compare-contrast essay with two other films.
Years ago, I sat down to watch Space Balls, directed by Mel Brooks in 1987, a completely hilarious rip of the legendary saga Star Wars, directed by George Lucas. I had never seen Star Wars before Space Balls, but I still managed to enjoy the humor and comic relief of the very mocking spin-off. I later tried to watch Star Wars; but, instead of experiencing the awe and amazement for the timeless classic, I found myself bored and uninterested. The point here is that Star Wars is, by most all critics, one of the greatest series of movies of all time. For me, this film had become laughs, jokes, and satire, not action, drama, and suspense. Although My Fair Lady was and is a great film, I had already viewed Shaw's Pygmalion, and I could only think how ridiculous all this new singing was.
"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" "Get me to the church on time!" "I could of danced all night." It's really great to know that Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) "could have danced all night,"and for the most part she did in her room. She would hop up into her little bed, then spring back out, over, and over again. I remember thinking, "Just climb into your bed and go to sleep." Perhaps it was not the singing that irritated me for so much of the film, as it was the repetition of the lyrics. It almost felt as though Cukor were off camera, saying: "Just keep singing the same lyric over and over. We're really going to milk this scene," even though Cukor had to be faithful to the original song as it was performed in the original play version.
Pygmalion maintained a strong, steady story line. Eliza's (Wendy Hiller) evolution from "Flower Girl" to "Miss Prim & Proper" was gradual. Her dynamic relationship with Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) progressed and moved in a parallel fashion. My Fair Lady seemed to focus more on being a musical than a story. The songs felt forced at times, as if they had been added after production was complete. The songs were post-dubbed, with Marni Nixon doing most of Hepburn's singing. Eliza's character developed in sporadic increments, as did her relationship with Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison).
Overall, I feel that the film Pygmalion did a much better job at expressing the moral of giving and taking; and, as with Eliza and Professor Higgins, being grateful for those who are grateful for you.