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Pygmalion

Pygmalion(1939)

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The title frame of the viewed print read, Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. The film begins with the foreword: "Pygmalion was a mythological character who dabbled in sculpture. He made a statue of his ideal woman-Galatea. It was so beautiful that he prayed the gods to give it life. His wish was granted. Bernard Shaw in his famous play gives a modern interpretation of this theme." This was the first filming of a George Bernard Shaw play in which the playwright fully authorized and participated in the production. According to articles in New York Times, producer Gabriel Pascal went to Shaw hoping to produce a film version of his play The Devil's Disciple, but the playwright said he should try Pygmalion first. Pascal received the film rights from Shaw, though he was not connected with any studio at the time. He originally had an agreement with Columbia Pictures to produce Pygmalion, but left the studio when he did not believe the film would be correctly produced. He then formed his own production company in London. The film was made at Pinewood studios for $350,000, with $50,000 of that budget going to the screen rights, to be taken directly out of the film's box-office receipts. Pascal also told New York Times that the film had a two-week rehearsal period and that he hired top London stage actors to work as extras, paying them 15 a day, rather than the traditional 2. Motion Picture Daily reported in August 1938 that M-G-M agreed to distribute the film in the United States, but the studio required some retakes, a new musicial score and other changes to "bring it up to American standards." New York Times review pointed out some of the significant differences between the film and the play, noting the inclusion of the Embassy Ball sequence, which in the play is off-stage action, lengthening of the tea party sequence, and the reduction of the Alfred Doolittle role. The film was released in Great Britain by General Film Distributors at a length of ninety-six minutes. Hollywood Reporter reported that Shaw was so satisfied with this film that he consented to allow Pascal to make two more films based on his plays. The film won two Academy Awards, one for Best Writing (Adaptation), awarded to Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis and W. P. Lipscomb, and another for Best Screenplay, awarded to Shaw. When Shaw learned of his Academy Award, he was quoted as saying: "Of course it was a good picture. It was the only picture, but it wouldn't have been if Hollywood had made it. It's an insult to offer me any honor. They might as well send some honor to George for being the only King of England." The film also was selected by the National Board of Review as one of the best films of 1938, with Wendy Hiller receiving special notice in the "Best Acting" category. Modern sources include Anatole de Grunwald in the scenario credits, and Anthony Quayle and Leo Genn in the cast. Modern sources also state that Shaw told director Anthony Asquith that he thought Leslie Howard was miscast in the roll of Higgins, as the playwright's first choice for the film was Charles Laughton. They also report that the film was the top moneymaker in England in 1939, and that the film was reissued in England in 1944, 1949, and 1953. In 1976, the film became involved in a copyright debate between Janus Films and Budget Film, Inc. Budget claimed the film was a public domain title, as its copyright was not renewed in 1966; Janus had just purchased the film rights for $35,000. In 1980, the courts ruled in Janus' favor, as the play's copyright had been renewed correctly. Shaw's play was first filmed in 1937 by Filmex of Amsterdam, a Dutch production, starring Matthiew von Eysden and Lily Bouwmeester, and produced by Dr. Ludwig Berger. Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine appeared on a radio broadcast version of the play and a television version was made by NBC in 1963 as part of The Hallmark Hall of Fame series, with Julie Harris, James Donald and John Williams in the lead roles, and George Schaefer as producer-director. In 1956, the material was adapted into a Broadway muscial titled My Fair Lady, which in 1964 was made into a Warner Bros. film of the same title, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, and directed by George Cukor (AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.3368.)