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My Fair Lady Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 18 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted November 10 2011 - 03:39 PM

Stephen Sondheim once said that My Fair Lady was probably the greatest musical comedy ever made for the purposes of sheer entertainment, and I think there are few who would argue with him. Lyrical and literate, My Fair Lady was and is one of the apexes of the American musical theater. Its 1964 film version is a handsome, über-faithful transcription of the theater piece with two of its original cast recreating their roles and a top-flight set of actors filling in the other legendary parts with ease. Directed with controlled finesse and command by the veteran George Cukor, the movie was pretty much everything one who loved the stage version could have hoped for. There may be no surprises or unusual innovations in the movie, but the play’s dramatic, comedic, and musical merits have all been brought forward and play to perfection on the big screen.


 


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My Fair Lady (Blu-ray)
Directed by George Cukor

Studio: CBS/Paramount
Year: 1964



Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec 
Running Time: 172 minutes
Rating: G
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Japanese, Dutch, French, German, many others



Region: no designation


MSRP: $32.99



Release Date: November 15, 2011


Review Date: November 10, 2011


 


 


The Film


4.5/5


 


Linguistics expert Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) places a bet with his follow language expert Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) that he can take a common flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) and mold her into a person who can speak English so perfectly that he can pass her off as an educated, cultured young lady at the annual Embassy Ball. Though she is a slow learner and makes a terrible gaffe at the Ascot Races in a trial effort the teachers use to see how their pupil is progressing, she triumphs so completely at the ball that she actually convinces those present that she is a princess in disguise. The bet is won, but Eliza feels her part in the enterprise has been downplayed and, worse, she is tired of being talked down to and treated thoughtlessly by Higgins despite the differences in their social stations.


 


Though George Cukor was not the first choice to direct the film (Vincente Minnelli had been first considered, but he wouldn’t do it for a flat fee), his vast experience in bringing stage properties to the screen (Dinner at Eight, The Women, The Philadelphia Story, Born Yesterday to name a few) made him an ideal candidate for the job. He has such respect for Alan Jay Lerner’s musical libretto that he films it with a carefully controlled guiding hand. The film is filled with extremely long takes that instill in the viewer the essence of a legitimate play being performed, and yet there are plenty of thoughtfully conceived cinematic flourishes that give the film a grandeur that no stage version could possibly match. The Embassy Ball sequence practically sweeps one off his feet with the lyrical Frederick Loewe music and the swirling dancers sweeping past, and the Ascot Gavotte sequence is highly stylized and altogether hilarious because of it. The play’s most romantic ballad “On the Street Where You Live” is stunningly shot with a telephoto lens that keeps Jeremy Brett as Eliza’s suitor Freddie in focus while the rest of the world fades into insignificance around him, all the better to experience that rapturous song without distraction.


 


But all of the stage numbers are given their due. Eliza’s shiftless father Alfred (Stanley Holloway) gets to perform his two musical showstoppers “A Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” with all of the actor’s music hall know-how to bring down the house as he did in the theater (and the second is done as a superbly conceived pub crawl montage that proves this is a film and not merely photographed theater), and the show’s “The Rain in Spain” breakthrough when Eliza finally masters the King’s English captures their joyous relief in a bracing comic number. There truly is only one place where Cukor might have done better to leave the confines of the soundstage: in Eliza’s rebellious “Just You Wait,” there is a section where she imagines her torturous language master is being ordered by the King to face a firing squad. Instead of setting her dream sequence within the household staircase and entry hall, it might have been funnier and more cinematic to take it to an outside location backdrop with the soldiers firing at Higgins as a real firing squad might do. It’s just a thought, but the way it’s handled in the film with Higgins’ lifeless body on the carpet one moment and then standing erect in real-time the next has always seemed a bit too pat.


 


Rex Harrison had played Higgins over a thousand times in the theater, but his performance in the film is superbly fresh and dynamic. He handles all of his patter songs with his patented talk-sing method that works superbly for his linguistics expert, and his climactic revelation that Eliza is someone who truly matters to him as a person, not just as an experiment, registers distinctly. Audrey Hepburn’s scenes as the guttersnipe Eliza seem a trifle more forced and artificial than her transformed Eliza, but overall her acting performance is lovely. Voice double Marni Nixon, engaged to handle the soprano vocal chores for the alto-voiced Hepburn, was not a felicitous choice. The Hepburn speaking voice and the Nixon singing voice are never convincing as coming from the same person, as fine as the singing is. What a pity that a singing actress possessing an alto chest voice with a soprano extension (say Joan Diener) wasn’t engaged to be Hepburn’s vocal double. Wilfred Hyde-White’s somewhat befuddled but always kind Pickering is a delightful foil for Harrison, and Jeremy Brett’s dumbstruck Freddie is a pleasure as he fumbles his way into romance (Bill Shirley, his voice double, matches Brett’s speaking voice to perfection). In smaller roles, Gladys Cooper is the very essence of the no-nonsense matriarch Mrs. Higgins, and noted character actress Mona Washbourne is full of spit and polish as housekeeper Mrs. Pearce.


 


 


Video Quality


3/5


 


Though filmed in Super Panavision 70 with a 2.20:1 aspect ratio in 70mm, the aspect ratio here appears to be the more conventional 35mm ratio of 2.35:1 presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. At its best, which includes scenes at Ascot and the Embassy Ball, the image can be splendid with excellent clarity, perfect contrast across the frame, and glorious color. But there are density issues on both sides of the frame which often make the sides appear somewhat washed out and decidedly ill-matched with the image quality of the middle portion of the frame. The opening two songs “Why Can’t the English” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” along with their accompanying street scenes in darkness and a second act scene when Eliza wanders the streets in the early morning hours before meeting up with her father also display the irregularities of the image quality at their worst with sides looking milky and ill-matched with the rest of the image. Overall, flesh tones are nicely consistent and lifelike, and while you’ll note a few dust specks here and there, most of the image is clean and artifact free. The film has been divided into 50 chapters.


 


 


Audio Quality


3.5/5


 


The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix makes the film’s Oscar-winning musical score adaptation sound triumphant from an orchestral standpoint. The music is rich and full in all channels with superb bass extension that gives the entire soundtrack a richness heretofore unrealized on home video. But when the singing starts, those with those back rear surround channels (6.1 and 7.1 set-ups) will hear notable reverb with the voices which is sometimes very distracting. Otherwise, dialogue is beautifully recorded and is always discernible placed as it is in the center channel. Sound effects are also nicely achieved, and when those horses at Ascot run their race, you’ll hear their progress sweep around your home theater environment impressively.


 


 


Special Features


4/5


 


The audio commentary is by Oscar-winning art director Gene Allen and restoration experts Robert Harris and James Katz (along with inserted comments from vocalist Marni Nixon). The trio has a genial conversation about the movie and its restoration filled with interesting information about the original movie and discoveries made in its afterlife. For fans of the film, it’s a fun if very laid back listening experience.


 


Unless otherwise noted, the bonus features are in 480i.


 


“More Loverly Than Ever” is the 58-minute combination making-of documentary and explanation about My Fair Lady’s need for a restoration. Hosted by Jeremy Brett and featuring Robert Harris and James Katz explaining the issues My Fair Lady faced in bringing it back from the brink of extinction, it’s an interesting piece on the film and the need for preservation of our film heritage.


 


There are six vintage featurettes:


 

    [*]
    1963 Kick-off Dinner features remarks from Warner Bros. head Jack Warner and slightly acerbic interviews with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison before the film began production. It runs 23 ¼ minutes.[*]
    “George Cukor Directs the Baroness” is an audio-only 2 ½-minute excerpt with Cukor supervising the looping of Baroness Rothschild’s few lines in the movie.[*]
    The Fairest Fair Lady is a 9 ½-minute behind-the-scenes featurette on the enormous production of the film with a special focus on the wigs, hair, and make-up departments for the vast cast of extras the film used.[*]
    Los Angeles Premiere shows a succession of celebrities arriving for the premiere of the movie on October 28, 1964, in this 4 ¾-minute newsreel-like vignette.[*]
    Rex Harrison/Golden Globes is a ¾-minute filmed speech by Rex Harrison welcoming viewers to the Golden Globes and thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press for his nomination while apologizing for his absence from the ceremony due to filming.[*]
    Academy Award Highlights actually includes only Jack Warner’s acceptance speech after winning Best Picture for the film. It runs ½ minute.


 


Two musical numbers featuring Audrey Hepburn vocals are presented in 1080p. “Show Me” runs 2 ½ minutes while “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” runs 4 ½ minutes.


 


Art galleries for the movie include Cecil Beaton sketches of the principal cast, black and white stills, color production stills, documents and publicity from newspaper and magazines, and poster art and lobby cards which play in montage while a 1-minute radio interview with Rex Harrison is played.


 


“Comments on a Lady feature brief interviews with Andrew Lloyd Webber who speaks of Alan Jay Lerner for 1 ¼ minutes and Martin Scorsese who speaks for 1 ¼ minutes about the need for film preservation.


 


The 1964 theatrical trailer runs 5 minutes. The 1994 re-release trailer runs 3 ¾ minutes.


 


 


In Conclusion


3.5/5 (not an average)


 


My Fair Lady, one of the great screen musicals, gets a less than great high definition treatment with this release. Though at its best it can look and sound splendid, there are enough problems with this release to make it not quite worthy of the work of art it’s representing. Chalk this one up as a missed opportunity.


 


 


Matt Hough


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#2 of 18 OFFLINE   Brian McP

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Posted November 10 2011 - 08:02 PM

Probably they'll get everything right for a 50th anniversary box set....

#3 of 18 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted November 10 2011 - 10:32 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian McP /t/316105/my-fair-lady-blu-ray-review#post_3869358 Probably they'll get everything right for a 50th anniversary box set....
I wouldn't be surprised. WB did a bare-bones DVD in 1998 (the source of the commentary) but did a 40th anniversary DVD in 2004, porting over the LD extras and keeping the commentary but using the same master with superior authoring.

Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then. And while you're at it, PLEASE stop dropping DVD/laserdisc extras from Blu-ray releases of other films.


#4 of 18 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 10 2011 - 11:00 PM

I am rather displeased that a title of this magnitude is getting lackluster reviews on its video quality.  You don't take a title like this and make it look less than perfect.   It's a rather sad state of affairs when My Fair Lady and West Side Story become titles that look as if they need another go-round until they are perfected.

 

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#5 of 18 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 11 2011 - 08:32 AM

I saw Marni Nixon play Eliza Doolittle in a revival of My Fair Lady at the City Center in New York City in the spring of 1964. There was considerable controversy when the studio gave the film role to Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews. Andrews, of course, did Mary Poppins and won the Oscar for Best Actress, and Hepburn wasn't nominated.   I too am disappointed by the tepid reviews of the Blu-ray's picture quality. I will probably pick it up when it goes on sale, though.

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#6 of 18 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted November 11 2011 - 03:13 PM

I have decided to cancel my preorder. The more I read about this disc it makes me even angrier than the West Side Story debacle. I knew it was a bad sign when they decided to release it so soon after Breakfast at Tiffany's and did so with little fanfare. It sounds like they just took the existing transfer and extras and put them together, deciding that a slapdash Blu-Ray was "good enough." Good enough isn't even good enough for bad movies, IMO; for this film, one of the great musicals of Broadway and Hollywood, and with a firm place on my personal Top 10 films of all time list, only the best is "good enough."   Thanks, Matt, for your review.

Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then. And while you're at it, PLEASE stop dropping DVD/laserdisc extras from Blu-ray releases of other films.


#7 of 18 OFFLINE   Gary Miller

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Posted November 28 2011 - 12:29 AM

Very thorough and fair review, Matt. I watched the entire disc this weekend, including the supplements. As Audrey Hepburn confessed in that boorish "kick-off dinner" interview (who was that guy?) she was "not a singer". Still, I don't think the voice matching with Marni Nixon was that bad. In fact, I thought the voices matched up nicely with "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" (and admittedly much less so with "I Could Have Danced All Night"). As for the transfer...The foggy sides are a distraction in several scenes. I watched the disc before coming here and reading your review, as well as the Robert Harris comments, and was relieved to find there wasn't something wrong with my eyes, screen or player.

#8 of 18 OFFLINE   KPmusmag

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Posted March 05 2012 - 03:19 PM

MY FAIR LADY has got to be the worst blu-ray so far. I find it literally unwatchable. While I feel the WEST SIDE STORY situation is inexcusable, at the very least with WSS I can relax into the movie after I cringe at the overture transition. With MY FAIR LADY it is three solid hours of cringing. And it is not just just the terrible video, but the sound has a weird reverb that makes it sound like you are watching it in a huge gymnasium. When you consider that there is a restored, large format source that could have been used, as consumers we should be insulted. If you love this movie, avoid this blu-ray. It should be at the quality level of SOUND OF MUSIC and sadly it is just a squashed cabbage leaf. I realize that there is a difference between CBS and Paramount, nonetheless with the beautiful work they have done with STAR TREK, it is just hard to imagine that this could happen, especially to a Best Picture winner and one of Warner's all-time great efforts.

#9 of 18 OFFLINE   performing arts

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Posted November 11 2012 - 10:24 AM

So disapointing the video restauration quality, true " The sides appear somewhat washed out and decidedly ill-matched with the image quality of the middle portion of the frame. " those foggy sides are annoying , i did not expect such a treatment to aMy fair lady. This musical is part of grand american culture, and Steven Sondheim is right!! Georgr Cukor did a marvelous job (it was wrong not to ask Mrs Andrews for the part) and the film deserved a much better treatment like any peace of art , , I would like to add that actors who appear in musical films today are vocaly very poor , thats why no musical film gets attention and awards (look at poor Sweeney Todd or the phantom , I would not give the actors jobs even in a chorus So sorry for My fair Lady

#10 of 18 OFFLINE   GMpasqua

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Posted November 12 2012 - 04:41 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by performing arts /t/316105/my-fair-lady-blu-ray-review#post_4000130 So disapointing the video restauration quality, true " The sides appear somewhat washed out and decidedly ill-matched with the image quality of the middle portion of the frame. " those foggy sides are annoying , i did not expect such a treatment to aMy fair lady. This musical is part of grand american culture, and Steven Sondheim is right!! Georgr Cukor did a marvelous job (it was wrong not to ask Mrs Andrews for the part) and the film deserved a much better treatment like any peace of art , , I would like to add that actors who appear in musical films today are vocaly very poor , thats why no musical film gets attention and awards (look at poor Sweeney Todd or the phantom , I would not give the actors jobs even in a chorus So sorry for My fair Lady
  Julie Andrews did win the Academy Award for playing Eliza Dolittle in the film "Mary Poppins"

#11 of 18 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 12 2012 - 05:15 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by GMpasqua /t/316105/my-fair-lady-blu-ray-review#post_4000620   Julie Andrews did win the Academy Award for playing Eliza Dolittle in the film "Mary Poppins"
  Y'know, I'm getting old and feeble-brained, but I'm pretty sure Andrews played Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, not Eliza Doolittle...
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#12 of 18 OFFLINE   Tom Blizzard

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Posted November 12 2012 - 05:23 PM

Y'know, I'm getting old and feeble-brained, but I'm pretty sure Andrews played Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, not Eliza Doolittle...
Me too..... sounds like something I would say....:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:
Still A LD and Vinyl FAN !!

#13 of 18 OFFLINE   Mark-P

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Posted November 12 2012 - 08:12 PM

Y'know, I'm getting old and feeble-brained, but I'm pretty sure Andrews played Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, not Eliza Doolittle...
Me too..... sounds like something I would say....:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:
You sillies. Greg's comment was of course correct. Julie has often said herself that she was never sure if she actually won for her performance or if it was due to sentiment for having been passed over for My Fair Lady.

#14 of 18 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 13 2012 - 08:54 PM

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Originally Posted by Mark-P /t/316105/my-fair-lady-blu-ray-review#post_4000720 You sillies. Greg's comment was of course correct. Julie has often said herself that she was never sure if she actually won for her performance or if it was due to sentiment for having been passed over for My Fair Lady.
  Not what he said.  He said she won for PLAYING Eliza Doolittle in the film "Mary Poppins".   And even if Andrews said it, I think it's kooky to believe that she won an award just because people felt bad she didn't get a certain part.  Yes, the Academy does give out so-called "make-up awards" whereby someone who got screwed one year gets rewarded another, but that happens when a great PERFORMANCE is overlooked, not when someone simply doesn't get a role!
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#15 of 18 OFFLINE   Mark-P

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Posted November 14 2012 - 02:16 AM

Not what he said.  He said she won for PLAYING Eliza Doolittle in the film "Mary Poppins".
And the point is he was making a joke - that she was given the award for the role she should have had rather than the one she played. And don't forget that when Julie won the Golden Globe for "Mary Poppins" she thanked "the man who made it all possible, Mr. Jack Warner!" There were definitely politics at the Oscars that year involving the fact the she didn't get the role.

#16 of 18 OFFLINE   lukejosephchung

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Posted November 14 2012 - 11:51 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by GMpasqua /t/316105/my-fair-lady-blu-ray-review#post_4000620   Julie Andrews did win the Academy Award for playing Eliza Dolittle in the film "Mary Poppins"
Funny...I didn't hear a trace of Cockney English in Julie's performance in that film...

#17 of 18 OFFLINE   GMpasqua

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Posted November 14 2012 - 12:46 PM

Really, there are soooo many similarities between the two roles:   Both set in England in 1910-1912  (The original Mary Poppins was set in the 1940's not 1910)   Both leading actresses dance with cockeys while her face is covered in soot Both go to the races (Mary wins) dressed in white and red Both enter into a new bedroom where they will be staying for the course of the film Both have a Leading man  (Harrison, Tomlison) who talks sings his songs while reprimanding his leading lady Both are musical If you see Julie's MFL clips on the Ed Sullivan show even some her dancing gestures are the same as in MP   Isn't Julie really playing Eliza in Mary Poppins with a proper british accent throughout? She sure as hec ain't playing Fanny Brice

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   Rick Thompson

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Posted November 15 2012 - 06:47 AM

I saw Marni Nixon play Eliza Doolittle in a revival of My Fair Lady at the City Center in New York City in the spring of 1964. There was considerable controversy when the studio gave the film role to Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews. Andrews, of course, did Mary Poppins and won the Oscar for Best Actress, and Hepburn wasn't nominated.
And leave it to Rex Harrison, when accepting his Oscar for playing Higgins, to be ever the gentleman in finishing with thanks "to BOTH of my fair ladies." That we've lost that type of style and grace is a shame.





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