For the most part, both Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film Pygmalion and George Cukor's 1964 film My Fair Lady were very similar; however there is one key difference I noticed, Professor Henry Higgins. In Pygmalion, Higgins (Leslie Howard) was portrayed as young, semi-attractive, arrogant, and insensitive. On the other hand, in My Fair Lady, Higgins (Rex Harrison) was older, less physically attractive, and much more kindhearted. Thus, I believe that the director George Cukor presented Higgins much more sympathetic and wiser in his film than the directors Asquith and Howard did in their film.
I believe Higgins showed more emotional concern for Eliza in My Fair Lady than in Pygmalion. In My Fair Lady, Higgins claimed during a song he had the "milk of human kindness" and was a gentleman. In Pygmalion, Higgins never mentioned he was kind or, never to say the least, a gentleman. One key difference I noticed was evident close to the beginning of both films when Higgins offered Eliza her weakness, a piece of chocolate. In My Fair Lady, Higgins kindly split the chocolate with Eliza (Wendy Hiller), saying it would be a pledge of good faith. However, in Pygmalion, Higgins rudely shoved the chocolate candy down Eliza's (Audrey Hepburn) throat. This just demonstrates that Higgins in My Fair Lady was much more of a gentleman than Higgins in Pygmalion. In My Fair Lady, Higgins also dressed much more appropriately partly out of consideration for Eliza. On the other hand, in Pygmalion, Higgins often had to be reminded by the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Jean Cadell) to dress appropriately as well as behave at the dinner table. In my opinion, both of these scenes show the differences between the two Higgins characters. It is as if Higgins in My Fair Lady had more respect for Eliza than Higgins in Pygmalion
In My Fair Lady, Higgins also seemed to have more confidence in Eliza as opposed to Higgins in Pygmalion. During the famous horse race scene in My Fair Lady, Eliza acted like a prim and proper lady until she shouted, "Move your blooming arse!" to Dover, a racehorse. This statement drew quite a bit of attention from the crowd and was rather embarrassing for Eliza. Instead of Higgins getting frustrated and humiliated, he still had confidence in her and believed she could be turned into the phenomenal lady he had envisioned. This scene is a great example because it shows Higgins' confidence in Eliza as well as in himself. On the other hand, in Pygmalion, Higgins got extremely frustrated with Eliza after the faux pas at his mother's home. This was Eliza's first public appearance, and she happened to mention some inappropriate topics. Instead of complimenting Eliza on her positive behaviors, Higgins seemed to focus on the negative and was rather unsympathetic. At one point, it even seemed Higgins was losing some confidence in her as well as himself. This just proves that Higgins in My Fair Lady is more confident in Eliza than Higgins in Pygmalion
All in all, I am not trying to make it sound as if Higgins in the film My Fair Lady was a perfect gentleman. He still was dominating and selfish throughout the film. I do believe he had his ups and downs just like Higgins in Pygmalion. The point I am trying to make is that Higgins in My Fair Lady seemed to show more sympathy and respect towards Eliza. Before the society ball, he even admitted that Eliza mattered immensely, whereas Higgins in Pygmalion never mentioned such a thing. Both Higgins succeeded in doing what they had set out to do, turning Eliza into an elegant lady for the society ball. However, I truly believe Higgins in My Fair Lady did a better job of it because he was much more sympathetic and supportive.