Pygmalion (1938) film review

The first time that I viewed the British romantic comedy Pygmalion (1938) was on Turner Classic Movies; produced by the Hungarian film director Gabriel Pascal (June 4th, 1894-July 6th, 1954) and directed by the cinematic teaming of leading English film director Anthony Asquith (November 9th, 1902-February 20th, 1968) & the English star of theatre/silver screen Leslie Howard (April 3rd, 1893-June 1st, 1943) who masterfully portrays the enigmatic Professor Henry Higgins, Pygmalion was based on the 1912 play of the same name by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (July 26th, 1856-November 2nd, 1950) and adapted by him for the screen; the screenplay was again later adapted into the 1956 musical My Fair Lady, which in turn led to the hugely successful Oscar winning 1964 film adaptation. It’s interesting to first point out that Shaw wanted Academy Award winning English theatre/film actress Dame Wendy Hiller (August 15th, 1912-May 14th, 2003) to portray the seemingly naïve cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who’s transformed by Professor Henry Higgins into a cultured lady who speaks proper dialect/English after Hiller’s appearance in the stage productions of Pygmalion and Saint Joan; Shaw also wanted the Oscar winning English-American theatre/film actor, producer, director and screenwriter Charles Laughton (July 1st, 1899-December 15th, 1962) as Higgins. The immensely talented stellar cast included Hiller as Eliza, British stage/silver screen character actor Wilfrid Lawson (January 4th, 1900-October 10th, 1966) as Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle, gifted Australian stage actress Marie Lohr (July 28th, 1890-January 21st, 1970) as Henry’s mother Mrs. Higgins, the English actor Scott Sunderland (September 19th, 1883-1956) as Higgins’ friend Colonel Pickering who takes a fatherly liking (by means of caring/understanding) to Ms. Doolittle, Scottish born character actress Jean Cadell (September 13th, 1884-September 24th, 1967) as Ms. Pearce, the distinguished English stage/screen actor David Tree (July 15th, 1915-November 4th, 2009) as the smitten Freddy Eynsford-Hill, British character actress Everley Gregg (October 26th, 1903-June 9th, 1959) as Freddy’s mother Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, British actress/playwright Leueen MacGrath (July 3rd, 1914-March 27th, 1992) as Clara Eynsford-Hill, English film actor Esme Percy (August 8th, 1887-June 17th, 1957) as Higgins’ phonetic “muse” Count Aristid Karpathy, who seems to know all about Higgins and his latest creation….or does he? Also included in the cast are English screeen actress Violet Vanbrugh (June 11th, 1867-November 10th, 1942) as the Ambassadress who wants to find out so much more in regards to Eliza, British actress Iris Hoey (July 17th, 1885-May 13th, 1979) as the Social Reporter Ysabel, English actress, singer, playwright and author Viola Tree (July 17th, 1884-November 15th, 1938) who costars alongside her son David in the film portrays the other half of the Social Reporter scene Perfide, English stage/film singer and actress Irene Browne (June 29th, 1896-July 24th, 1965) as the Duchess, English actress/singer Kate Cutler (August 14th, 1864-May 14th, 1955) as The Grand Old Lady, English theatre/film actress Cathleen Nesbitt (November 24th, 1888-August 2nd, 1982) as a Lady, who would later portray Mrs. Higgins in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady 18 years later, British character actor Wally Patch (September 26th, 1888-October 27th, 1970) as the First Bystander, British actor O.B. Clarence (March 25th, 1870-October 2nd, 1955) as the Vicar Mr. Birchwood, prolific South African-born writer and actor H.F. Maltby (November 25th, 1880-October 25th, 1963) as the Second Bystander, British music hall performer and actor George Mozart (b. David John Gillings on February 15th, 1864-December 10th, 1947) as the Third Bystander, English film actor Ivor Barnard (June 13th, 1887-June 30th, 1953) as the Sarcastic Bystander who lures Eliza into thinking that the Professor has mean spirited/malevolent intentions in regards to her speech when in reality it’s the complete opposite (and gets a wakeup call in the process courtesy of Higgins), English actor Cecil Trouncer (April 5th, 1898-December 15th, 1953) as the First Policeman, English cinema, theatre, radio and television actor Stephen Murray (September 6th, 1912-March 31st, 1983) as the Second Policeman, English film/stage actress Eileen Beldon (September 12th, 1901-August 3rd, 1985) as Mrs. Higgins’ parlormaid, British actor Fred Atkinson (March 19th, 1893-February 23rd, 1963) as the Taxi Driver who takes a particular liking to Eliza’s newfound monetary happiness, given to her by Higgins after a sudden otherworldly revelation, British film/stage actor Leo Genn (August 9th, 1905-January 26th, 1978) in an uncredited appearance as the Prince who becomes quite fond of the refined Eliza Doolittle, Irish stage/film actress Moyna MacGill (December 10th, 1895-November 25th, 1975) who’s also the mother of the multiple Oscar nominated actress and January’s SOTM Angela Lansbury gives an uncredited appearance as a Woman Bystander, English actor Patrick Macnee (b. February 6th, 1922) who’s best known for his iconic role as secret agent John Steed in the 1960s British TV series The Avengers gives an uncredited appearance as an Extra and finally English actor/director Sir Anthony Quayle (September 7th, 1913-October 20th, 1989) rounds out the supporting cast in an uncredited as Eliza’s hairdresser. With an uncredited editing debut by future Oscar winning English film director, screenwriter, editor and producer David Lean (March 25th, 1908-April 16th, 1991) and the incomparable film scoring of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger (March 10th, 1892-November 27th, 1955), Pygmalion was distributed by General Film Distributors (aka The Rank Organisation until 1955) in the UK and MGM Studios in the US; it was released on October 6th, 1938 with a running time of 96 minutes. Some crucial key facts to point out are that 1) Pygmalion was nominated 4 times for the Academy Award: for Best Adapted Screenplay via George Bernard Shaw, an uncredited Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis and W.P. Lipscomb (won), Best Picture (the winner was You Can’t Take It With You), Best Actor for Howard (the winner was Spencer Tracy for Boys Town) and Best Actress for Hiller (the winner was Bette Davis for Jezebel) during the 11th Annual Academy Awards held on February 23rd, 1939. 2) Despite not winning the coveted golden statuette, Leslie Howard did not walk away empty-handed; at the 1938 Venice Film Festival in Venice Italy, Howard won the Volpi Cup for his critically acclaimed performance as Prof. Higgins and the film was nominated that same year for the Mussolini Cup as the best foreign film, 3) This was the first British film to use the word “bloody” in its dialogue, 4) Wilifrid Lawson was only 38 when he portrayed Eliza’s father, 4) George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have won both the Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize, 5) The English theatre/film actor Rex Harrison (March 5th, 1908-June 2nd, 1990) won the 1964 Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Prof. Higgins in My Fair Lady, but once quipped to American journalist, writer and columnist Earl Wilson (May 3rd, 1907-January 16th, 1987) “ Actually, my dear fellow, I play Leslie (Howard) doing Higgins” which goes to show the profound cinematic, awe-inspiring and picturesque impact Leslie Howard has in his films especially in Pygmalion and many other classic films. 4) Shaw’s reaction to his award was “It’s an insult for them to offer me any honor, as if they had never heard of me before – and it’s very likely they never have“. They might as well send some honor to George for being King of England.” Although he expressed indifference to the Academy Award he won for writing this movie, his friend, the Canadian-born silent screen legend Mary Pickford (April 8th, 1892-May 29th, 1979) reported that George Bernard Shaw proudly displayed his Oscar in his home, and showed it off to his visitors. There’s so much that I love about the films of Leslie Howard and Pygmalion has become an essential addition into the classic film world; even though Rex Harrison gives an astounding performance as Higgins, I believe that the raw, impassioned, fervently inspiring and noteworthy characterization emanated from Leslie Howard. This is not to say that Harrison’s performance was not deemed worthy of his Oscar.. far from it!! I’m just stating that Leslie Howard and his films have become an awe-inspiring cinematic part of my existence here on the CFU; whether it’s through such beloved classics as The Petrified Forest, Intermezzo: A Love Story, Of Human Bondage, Secrets, Smilin’ Through and countless others, his legacy has brought so much infinite passion, sheer bliss, ecstasy, refinement, joy and wondrous splendor in my never-ending love/passion for classic films and Leslie Howard Steiner has continued to gain respect, love, admiration, appreciation and sincere adoration from so many classic film lovers like myself!




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