Pygmalion: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) has a mastery over language, in all its forms and dialects. He has written books, mastered every accent you could imagine, and he also helps those who need to cure their vocal flaws. He can rid you of a lisp, eliminate an accent, or have you speaking a new one in no time, he’s just that good. But this time, he might have gotten in even over his head, though he would never admit it. You see, Higgins has made a wager with fellow linguist Col. George Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he could teach a young common woman so well, she could be passed off as a member of the upper class. This task is by no means a simple one, as she speaks broken English at best and doesn’t look at all like a proper lady, but Higgins is bound and determined to win the bet. Right now Eliza Dolittle (Wendy Hiller) bares little resemblance to what she must become, but with Higgins on the task, you never know what might happen. In just six months, Higgins has to correct her language flaws, clean her up, get her a new wardrobe, and teach her some manners! Can Higgins change Eliza like he claims and even if he can, will she emerge any better from the journey?

This is disc number eighty-five in The Criterion Collection and both the movie and disc more than live up to the reputation of the series. I am sure some will be upset with the lack of extras, but I am so impressed with this visual transfer, I won’t complain. I knew I was in for a solid transfer, but Criterion has worked some real wonders with this disc, this is easily the best this film has ever looked on home video. Would I have loved some extras? Yes, but with such a terrific presentation of the film itself, I can’t bring myself to complain too much. The film itself is a real treat to watch and though the remake, My Fair Lady seems to be popular, I’ve always preferred this version. I just the way Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller interact and that’s more than enough reason for me to own this film. The writing is brilliant, the direction is solid, and this is just a fun movie to watch. If you hold a prejudice against older films because you think they’re boring, this one will change your tune in a real hurry. Pygmalion is loaded with excellent dialogue and unique, interesting characters and I think any serious film buffs can’t miss this one. I recommend you rent this disc if you’ve never seen the film before, but fans will want to pick this one up on the double.

Talk about a film loaded with immense amounts of talent, Pygmalion boasts a cast and crew filled to the brim! This movie is edited to perfection by David Lean, who keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, but too quick in the end. We all know Lean from such masterpieces as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, but he also brought his skills to this classic film and the results are splendid. Leslie Howard served not only as a lead actor in this movie, but also worked as a codirector along with Anthony Asquith. Of course Howard was better known for his acting, but he proves to be a gifted talent behind the camera as well. Asquith gained much success over his career as a director though, helming such films as The Millionairess, The Runaway Princess, We Dive At Dawn, and The Winslow Boy (1948). This movie is also covered when it comes to acting, lead by Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. The two have excellent chemistry and play off each other well, just as their characters should. Howard (Outward Bound, Of Human Bondage) is picture perfect as Higgins and soaks up his screen time, while Hiller (The Elephant Man, Single Handed) simply radiates charm as the young common girl. The rest of this gifted cast includes Wilfrid Lawson (Tom Jones), Jean Cadell (A Taste Of Honey), Marie Lohr (Little Big Shot), and Scott Sunderland (Goodbye Mr. Chips).

Video: How does it look?

Pygmalion is presented in a full frame transfer, which preserves the original aspect ratio of the film. This film was made in 1938 and as such, is never going to look pristine overall, but Criterion has done a spectacular restoration on this classic. The source print shows some wear and tear at times, but the bulk of dirt and debris has been removed in the restoration process. I am very impressed with this visual presentation and I think this the best transfer by far I’ve seen from this time period. The contrast (this film is black & white) is well balanced throughout and detail is clean and high also. I did notice some small instances of moire patterns, but no serious compression flaws. Kudos to Criterion for rescuing this classic and giving it to the fans in such fine form.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original mono track is used, but it sounds excellent and doesn’t seem dated in the least. Of course the range is limited like all mono tracks, but the clarity is upper tier to be sure. I never cited one instance where I adjust the volume and the elements were always distinct, impressive for a film this old. The dialogue is crisp and sharp at all times, never harsh or overshadowed by the other audio elements. The music sounds incredible, with no signs of distortion in the least and I was stunned at that, to be honest. I expected a terrific audio experience, but this pure audial bliss. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, just in case you need them.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes bonus features, though some interesting liner can be found within the insert booklet. While not a true bonus feature, color bars have been included so you can fine tune your television’s settings.

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