Academy Awards 1938 -
Best Adapted Screenplay: Cecil Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Ian Dalrymple & W.P. Lipscomb
Empire - 09/01/2007 4 stars out of 5 -- "[I]ts place in British cinema history is assured through the biting wit of Shaw's language and the tremendous performances."
Sight and Sound - 01/01/2008
"Wendy Hiller makes a wonderfully vivacious Eliza Doolittle and Leslie Howard brings a supercilious edge to Professor Higgins in this lively adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play."
George Bernard Shaw's play, PYGMALION, which takes its title from the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue of his own making, was a hit on the London stage in 1912. The transition to film was co-directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, who also stars as Henry Higgins, the vainglorious snob who claims he can turn a guttersnipe into a Lady. Wendy Hiller is smart and witty, giving as good as she gets, as Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl Higgins takes from the street and tries to pass off as a Duchess. Hiller and Howard play off each other with a delightful spark. The play opens up well for the screen, as evidenced in the dreamy sequence when Eliza attends a society party, a scene smoothly edited by the young David Lean.
Shaw wrote the film script himself, ensuring that his original setting in the more innocent time before WWI, didn't feel dated in the dark days of 1938. Other writers were brought in to lighten Shaw's view of the class conflict between Higgins and Eliza, and to lessen the amount of brow beating Higgins employs. Still, compared with the musical version, MY FAIR LADY, there is no magical Cinderella process here, but a painfully, realistically resisted struggle mixed with a slowly developing romance.
George Bernard Shaw wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own beloved stage masterpiece about Professor Henry Higgins's wager to turn a low-class flower vendor into a "proper lady," and won an Oscar for his efforts. Pygmalion, which would later be adapted once again, as the musical My Fair Lady, is one of the great Cinderella stories and a tart-tongued romantic comedy par excellence.
In a variation on the original Pygmalion myth, an English phonetics professor makes a wager that he can transform a Cockney flower girl into an elegant lady. Using his linguistic expertise, Professor Henry Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle the speech and manners that allow her to move effortlessly among the rich and titled. Higgins wins his bet, but the young woman, tired of his overbearing tutelage and sexist ways -- and unsure of where she now belongs in society -- develops a mind of her own and a surprising independence.