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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

From stage to screen

May 31, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."

The great historical grouch lives on! George Bernard Shaw, considered the greatest modern author of novels, stage and screen scripts, lives on, particularly with his satirical focus on the battle of the sexes. "My Fair Lady," adapted from "Pygmalion," is still one of his most successful plays from an earlier film of the same title.

The Pygmalion legend goes back 2,000 years to the mythical tale about an artist who creates a statue so lovely he falls in love with it and is then rewarded by the goddess of love by bringing it to life for him.

The Pygmalion and Galatea tale has fascinated Europeans, even been adapted into an opera by Rousseau in the 18th century, and continued to the present with Shaw, who, fascinated with the original story, molded it in 1919 into an endearing comedy for the British stage: About a phonetics expert, Henry Higgins, who takes a gutter-snipe, Eliza, out of her gutter and on a bet transforms her into a lady to be passed off as a beauty of royal birth. The play became a classic.

So it wasn't long before film producers convinced the author to recreate it for the movies. After some feeble attempts to bring the Shavian brilliance to the screen, it took the MGM studios in 1938 with a team of a renowned personnel and, most importantly, the pairing of two of the finest star of the British screen, Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, in the lead - to recover the magic of the original comedy. Of course, without Shaw's masterful wit, there could never have been so memorable a movie - and, later, as memorable a musical.

Fine as the musical still is, lucky are those who have seen modern staging of the original play with Shaw's sharp wit on display, but luckier still is the opportunity to see the 1938 film version - also a rare treat, since, as the author insisted, it has been held absolutely faithful to the original prize-winning play.

Though praised throughout a lifetime for his daring writings, Shaw won his only Oscar for the film "Pygmalion," well-deserved not only for the clever script, but also for being skillfully directed by Anthony Asquith and Mr. Howard, with Howard and an entire cast, including Wendy Hiller, giving inspired performances. It remains British filmmaking at its best.

High on the list for appreciation is the devised method for turning a "cabbage leaf" into a lady. There is, for example, a scene in which Higgins plans a tea party to test his protge for her coming social debut: "In Hampshire, Hereford, and Hartford, hurricanes rarely ever happen," Eliza dutifully says, hitting her "h's" carefully - then thoughtlessly swings into a startling tale about her aunt "who drank gin like mother's milk and was done in by folks at 'ome, she was.'"

Shaw has taught American filmmakers plenty. He showed them how valuable a script can be (unlike the mostly improvised, vulgar material in modern movies), how to treat audiences intelligently and how wise it is never to underestimate the public's appreciation of good, intelligent material. His "Pygmalian" is proof - Shaw, then and now, is at his finest with this, his most extraordinary film.

And now the good news: "Pygmalion" with all its charm and good humor can be seen on Friday the 8th on the big screen at the Calumet Theatre's Club Indigo - at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an Irish buffet from chef Cormac of the Laurium Irish Times. The cost for food and film is $18. The film alone is $5. Children receive a discount for both food and film. A call to the theatre at least a day in advance should be made for the buffet.

"Pygmalion" has been made possible by the sponsorship of The Pines Restaurant and Zik's Bar in Copper Harbor.

Rotten Tomatoes average: "Men in Black III," B+



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