Pygmalion (1938 film)
Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard in Pygmalion
|Directed by||Anthony Asquith
|Produced by||Gabriel Pascal|
|Written by||George Bernard Shaw
W. P. Lipscomb
|Music by||Arthur Honegger|
|Edited by||David Lean|
|Distributed by||General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK)
The film was a financial and critical success, and won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and three more nominations. The screenplay was later adapted into the 1956 theatrical musical My Fair Lady, which in turn led to the 1964 film of the same name.
The Hungarian producer Gabriel Pascal wished to create a set of films based on Shaw's works, beginning with Pygmalion, and went to see Shaw in person to gain permission to do so. Shaw was reluctant to allow a film adaptation of Pygmalion owing to the low quality of previous film adaptations of his works, but Pascal managed to convince him (on the condition Shaw retained full control over the adaptation) and later went on to also adapt Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra and Androcles and the Lion.
The resulting Pygmalion scenario by Cecil Lewis and W. P. Lipscomb removed exposition unnecessary outside a theatrical context and added new scenes and dialogue by Shaw himself. Ian Dalrymple, Anatole de Grunwald and Kay Walsh also made uncredited contributions to the screenplay. A long ballroom sequence was added, introducing an entirely new character, Count Aristid Karpathy (seen both here and in the musical My Fair Lady, named as Professor Zoltan Karpathy – mentioned in the final scene of the original play, but with no name or onstage appearance), written wholly by Shaw himself. Against Shaw's wishes, a happy ending was added, with Eliza fleeing Higgins with Freddy but then returning to Higgins' home (though whether permanently or on her own terms is left deliberately ambiguous). Shaw and his fellow writers did, however, retain the controversial line "Not bloody likely!" from the playtext, making Hiller the first person to utter that swear word in a British film and giving rise to adverts for the film reading "Miss Pygmalion? Not ****** likely!".
Cast and crew
Wendy Hiller was chosen by Shaw to play Eliza Doolittle after she had appeared in stage productions of Pygmalion and Saint Joan – though the film's initial credits stated that this movie was introducing her, she had in fact already appeared on film in 1937's Lancashire Luck. Shaw's choice for Higgins had been Charles Laughton. The movie also includes the very first film appearance (brief and uncredited) of Anthony Quayle, as an Italian wigmaker. Cathleen Nesbitt, credited here as Kathleen Nesbitt in the role of 'A Lady,' would portray Mrs. Higgins in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady 18 years later.
The film's crew included David Lean (on his first major editing job; he also directed the montage sequence of Higgins teaching Eliza), set designer Laurence Irving and the camera operator Jack Hildyard (who later carried out the photography for Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Sound Barrier and Hobson's Choice).
The writers, including the uncredited Ian Dalrymple, won the 1939 Academy Award for Writing (Adapted Screenplay). The film also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Howard) and Best Actress (Hiller). Shaw's reaction to his award was "It's an insult for them to offer me any honour, as if they had never heard of me before – and it's very likely they never have. They might as well send some honour to George for being King of England." However, his friend Mary Pickford later reported seeing the award on display in his home.
- The Great British Films, pp. 45–48, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
- Pygmalion at the Internet Movie Database
- Pygmalion is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Pygmalion at AllMovie
- Pygmalion at the TCM Movie Database
- Pygmalion at Rotten Tomatoes
- Pygmalion at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Synopsis at filmsite.org
- Criterion Collection essay by David Ehrenstein