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Pygmalion

Pygmalion (1938)

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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 4
Fresh: 4 | Rotten: 0

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Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 3,319

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Movie Info

Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller star in Anthony Asquith's and Leslie Howard's classic version of George Bernard Shaw's satiric comedy. Henry Higgins (Howard) is an upper class phonetics professor who encounters low-class guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle (Hiller) and bets his friend Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he can pass her off as a duchess within three months. Pickering accepts Higgins' bet, with Eliza readily agreeing to the proposal, since she will get to live in Higgins' fancy home.

Unrated,

Drama, Romance, Classics, Comedy

,

George Bernard Shaw

Sep 19, 2000

Criterion Collection

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All Critics (17) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (15) | Rotten (1) | DVD (9)

Smartly produced, this makes an excellent job of transcribing George Bernard Shaw, retaining all the key lines and giving freshness to the theme.

November 6, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A marvelous 1938 adaptation of the Shaw classic.

November 6, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
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Above all, the film is remarkable in that it strengthens rather than dilutes Shaw's insistence on language as the vital instrument of power and oppression.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
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Pygmalion is good Shaw and a grand show.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
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There's something special about this first English film version of George Bernard Shaw's play, before it became a musical

October 25, 2008 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

This authorized version is the most successful adaptation of George B Shaw to the big screen, one that maintains the text's acerbic wit and droll humor and is splendidly acted by Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in Oscar-nominated performances.

June 14, 2007 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

Embora não tenha o mesmo charme da versão realizada em 1964 (My Fair Lady), este filme conta com uma atuação inesquecível da dupla central (especialmente Hiller) e com os ótimos diálogos de Shaw.

July 30, 2003
Cinema em Cena

Brilliant film version of the Shaw play.

June 16, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

A brisk but far from irreverent classic.

May 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Leslie Howard strikes the perfect note as the super-efficient Professor Higgins.

February 28, 2002 Full Review Source: Goatdog's Movies
Goatdog's Movies

the film ultimately wins your heart not because of the social lessons it offers, but because of the truthfulness of its human relationships

February 27, 2001
Q Network Film Desk

...not only the best movie adaptation of a George Bernard Shaw play, but one of the most enduring social comedies of all time.

January 1, 2000
Movie Metropolis

Like My Fair Lady, Pygmalion has been falsely perceived as a romantic comedy...But Pygmalion does let one get closer to the truth; that it's really a biting social satire...

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Pygmalion (1938) is the non-musical film version of George Bernard Shaw's 1912 stage play, a socio-economic drama based on the Cinderella story,

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Tim Dirks' The Greatest Films
Tim Dirks' The Greatest Films

Shaw's magnificent comedy, a 1913 stage smash, was never better served than here, with Howard and Hiller perfectly matched as thoroughly mismatched lovers.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for Pygmalion

The great original adaptation of Shaw's satiric play, which would be remade into the classic musical My Fair Lady many years later in 1964. Quite inspired and convincing, this film counts on a sharp, well-written dialogue and superb performances by Hiller and Howard.
January 12, 2012
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

Theatre and film have always had a complicated relationship. Ever since the invention of film they have told each other's stories and borrowed each other's actors. Part of this intermingling spirit remains today, where writers like Peter Morgan and directors like Neil LaBute divide their time equally between stage and screen. But back before the death of music hall and the decline of melodrama, the stage play was a common source of inspiration to budding filmmakers like Anthony Asquith.

Pygmalion is the second and finest adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play of the same name. It is superior to both My Fair Lady and She's All That as a retelling of the Pygmalion myth, chiefly because it captures the savage tone of Shaw's writing and gives it equal billing with the central story. This is not entirely surprising, since Shaw was closely involved in the production, but the film is also well-directed by Asquith (assisted by Leslie Howard) and retains both its wit and substance over 70 years on.

Where subsequent versions centred round the comic interplay between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion is strongly rooted in the Greek myth and the resulting social commentary. The myth recalls Pygmalion, a man who carved a stone statue of the perfect woman; in moulding something so perfect, he felt in love with the statue and wished it to come alive. After praying to Cupid and Venus his wish was granted, as the statue became a woman, took the name of Galatea and married Pygmalion.

Shaw's version substitutes the power of the gods for the power of language. Language is the modern-day equivalent of tools, with which the rich Pygmalions of this world may shape the poor (and by extension women) in something more attractive and flattering of their intelligence. Leslie Howard's character is a professor of phonetics so apt at his art that he can tell an individual's place of birth simply by listening to their intonation. He sees himself as the guardian of the English language, of "Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible", and his duty is to improve the lives of those not blessed with his level of knowledge or confidence.

Shaw's Oscar-winning screenplay is saturated with dry wit from the outset, with Howard keeping all the juiciest metaphors for himself. It's difficult not to chuckle when he cruelly describes Eliza as a "squashed cabbage leaf" and asks two lady bystanders to "cease this detestable boo-hooing immediately". But even the most ornate of Higgins' remarks are more than mere rhetoric: they betray the crueller traits of his character, especially the arrogance and self-assurance which form the basis of his 'charitable' conviction.

Pygmalion is centrally a satire on what could be called 'the stupidity of intellect'. This oxymoronic term is the blind conviction held by people with wealth and education that it is their duty as citizens to act charitably towards the poor in a way which ultimately reflects well upon them. Shaw, who was an active member of the Fabian Society, is satirising the whole concept of charity, arguing that it is unfair in its distribution of good will, irrational in its determining who deserves it, and self-serving since its outcome is improved reputation for those who give rather than any real benefit for those who receive. Shaw goes further still, suggesting that this attitude leads the rich to become delusional, believing they are constantly right: this is most markedly shown when Higgins' former pupil becomes utterly convinced that Eliza is Hungarian.

When Shaw turns his focus to the working man, with his examination of Eliza's father, he is swift to demonstrate the different kind of intelligence such a figure possesses. Neither Shaw nor Asquith want the audience to pity him, showing instead how he can hold his own against Howard and Scott Sutherland while coming across as altogether more humble and rounded as a human being. The working class in this film are not greedy and short-termist: they are, or at least have the potential to be as capable as those of higher standing. Howard remarks on his skill with rhetoric and is just as surprised when he refuses the offer of more money.

From this clearly socialist base, Shaw constructs a romantic relationship with a broadly feminist twist. The film addresses the part of the story which the myth does not explore: if the statue has a will of its own after it comes alive, how can it be controlled, and what happens if it has different ideas to its creator? Although Eliza is attentive to Higgins' lessons she retains a strong will and self-belief, even if that self-belief is not expressed in the way that Higgins intended. Her rebellion against his teachings in the final third is not an out-and-out rejection of civilised society, but of the ends which that society serves. She remarks how Higgins will always see her as a flower girl while to Colonel Pickering she is always a lady.

Even if you aren't prepared to soak up all this social satire, Pygmalion is still wonderfully funny as a comedy of manners. The scene of Eliza having tea with Higgins' mother and friends is a classic farce, and Eliza's responses are almost painful to watch (in a good way). This and the scenes of Eliza's lessons are technically accomplished, thanks in no small part to the presence of a young David Lean in the editing suite. The montage of Higgins instructing Eliza late into the night is funnier and more efficient than the drawn-out lessons in My Fair Lady, and such sequences prevent the film from becoming theatrical in the manner of Murder!.

In its final third, however, Pygmalion begins to ramble and lose sight of what made the opening hour so captivating. The driving force for the satire shifts from the language spoken by the characters to the character of Eliza herself: she becomes something of a mouthpiece for Shaw, losing some of her unique nature as a result. Howard co-directed sections of the film and in this period his lengthy tirades begin to seem tiresome.

The biggest problem, however, is the ending. As early as 1914, Shaw had to fight to keep his great original ending in which Eliza runs off with her admirer Freddy, leaving Higgins a broken and frustrated man. As is so often the case, the producers opted for a happy ending which would see the characters romantically reconcile and sweeten the bitter pill for paying audiences. Having presented Asquith with a compromise, which showed Eliza saying a romantic farewell to Higgins, Shaw was incensed when producer Gabriel Pascal secretly reshot the final scene. It still feels unsatisfying, though it is less unsatisfying than any version that followed it.

Once we disregard the ending, Pygmalion remains a thoroughly enoyable film. It is an admirable take on the original play lifted by the central performances of Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, who would later excel in Powell & Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going!. It is funnier and more enjoyable than My Fair Lady, and unlike Asquith's later work The Millionairess it keeps its eye on the ball and delivers the satirical goods. Above all it is an efficient and technically adept piece of storytelling, which hints at the future promise of both its director and director-in-waiting.
May 15, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Another underwhelming film on the Best Picture slate of 1938. "Pygmalion," a British film starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, both of whom were nominated for acting Oscars for their work here, starts out with crackling wit and commanding direction but drifts into predictable, syrupy melodrama in the second half.

"Pygmalion" takes its inspiration from the classical Greek myth of a sculptor who fashions a statue of his ideal woman. He prays to the gods to bring the statue to life, and the gods oblige him. George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, put a modern spin on the myth by setting it in turn-of-the-century London, where a phonetics professor wagers a bet with a colleague that he can take a member of the city's under-class (a "common guttersnipe") and mold her into a duchess by manipulating her speech and teaching her aristocratic manners.

Initially the battle between the guttersnipe and the arrogant but brilliant professor is tremendous fun. The scenes where the girl triumphs at an aristocratic party are also superb. Hiller was most likely nominated for the Oscar particularly for those powerful scenes. But then the film devolves into a romantic tug-of-war between the girl and the professor, and you feel like you're watching an ordinary melodrama in the end. If the tone of the film had remained high throughout, "Pygmalion" might have been a masterpiece.
July 29, 2009
Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

    1. Count Aristid Karpathy: Because Doolittle is an English name and she is not English.
    2. Prof. Henry Higgins: Oh.
    3. Duchess: But she speaks it perfectly.
    4. Count Aristid Karpathy: Too perfectly. Can you show me any Englishwoman who speaks English as it should be spoken, there is no such thing. The English do not now how to speak their own language, only foreigners who have been taught to speak it speak it well.
    5. Prof. Henry Higgins: Yes, there's something in that.
    – Submitted by Jason S (8 months ago)
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