Monday, 11 April 2011

Best Actor 1938: Leslie Howard in Pygmalion

Leslie Howard received his second and final Oscar nomination for portraying Henry Higgins in Pygmalion.

Pygmalion is the story of Professor Henry Higgins, and his attempt to turn a lower class flower girl Eliza Doolittle and turn her into a proper lady.

This is the first of the two times someone was nominated for portraying the phonetics professor Henry Higgins.  The second time being of course Rex Harrison in the musical My Fair Lady. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences between these two performances. At the beginning of the film they both begin as the rather pompous Henry Higgins, as he declares his abilities in front of everyone around.

It is interesting to see how they convey this flamboyant pompousness demeanor in rather different fashions. Where Harrison portrays Higgins in a completely outwardly and perhaps more obvious fashion, after all he is in a musical, Howard portrays Higgins in a far more restrained and realistic fashion. His more restrained approach is quite interesting because he is still portrays the pompous nature of the character quite well suggesting more of the internal pathos of Higgins, but still in rather entertaining way.

Howard's portrayal of Higgins' teaching of Eliza manners and diction is rather interesting, because in this version he basically pounds the change into her, rather waiting for it to come as in My Fair Lady. Howard is properly domineering actually as he drills her, to mold, and create her into a proper lady. Howard puts the right gusto into as well, making Higgins both articulate, and energetic in his command of Eliza.

Howard continues to be strong when Henry takes Eliza and presents her to many various well to do people. Howard is quite strong in these scenes because he is always perfectly apt at showing Henry's complete enjoyment of knowing he knows more than anyone else in the room. His reactions to every step of the deception are properly amusing, and effective because of the sheer fun he shows that Henry has with his whole project.

The greatest moments of his performance though are after his project is done and his relationship changes with Eliza. Howard here shows that his pompous exterior does indeed hide what is in some ways a cold and very complicated man. Higgins does not want Eliza to marry someone else, yet he refuses to show that he has an actual care for her.

Howard shows the various emotions of Henry especially well. He conveys his want to control Eliza, as well as a hint of a very much hidden love for her, as well as a facade of his usual uncaring all at once, showing that Henry is not the simple yet articulate pompous professor he claims to be. It is terrific because Howard never lets one side of Henry take over and mixes all facets of his character together creating the complete portrait of a man. His final reaction I think shows this the best which could not be better where he shows a surprise and his joy in seeing Eliza, but his change back to his pompous fashion in an instance, an incredible final moment to this strong performance.


dinasztie said...

Wow, this race has become very interesting.

Fritz said...

I really disliked this version. I thought My Fair Lady and its two leading performers were much better.

Sage Slowdive said...

I would probably vote for him.

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dshultz said...

I knew that Cagney and Donat would be fighting each other for the win, but I had no idea Mr. Howard here would be this good. Looks like a three way race!