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Majestic classic screen musical comes to 4K in a masterful transfer. 4.5 Stars

George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, one of the great screen musicals, gets an ultra high definition release that should likely be the last word for this screen version of the show on home video.

My Fair Lady (1964)
Released: 25 Dec 1964
Rated: G
Runtime: 170 min
Director: George Cukor
Genre: Drama, Family, Musical, Romance
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Writer(s): Alan Jay Lerner (book), George Bernard Shaw (from a play by), Alan Jay Lerner (screenplay)
Plot: Snobbish phonetics Professor Henry Higgins agrees to a wager that he can make flower girl Eliza Doolittle presentable in high society.
IMDB rating: 7.8
MetaScore: 95

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
Audio: English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 1.0 DD (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Other
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: keep case in a cardboard sleeve
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 05/25/2021
MSRP: $25.99

The Production: 4.5/5

Stephen Sondheim once said that My Fair Lady was probably the greatest musical comedy ever fashioned in terms of sheer entertainment, and there are probably 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 members 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 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. After receiving a masterful restoration and a subsequent Blu-ray release in 2015, My Fair Lady has now been prepared by Paramount for its ultimate home video presentation: a 4K ultra high definition transfer offering at last the definitive copy of the film for all to see and enjoy.

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 initially 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 but 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 and overly confined.

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 particularly felicitous choice for doubling Hepburn. The Hepburn speaking voice and the Nixon singing voice are never quite 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. Though Hepburn never claimed to be a soprano (she said as much in many interviews), the transition from speaking to singing would have been more seamless with a better vocal match. 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 vocal 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: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The Super Panavision 70 theatrical aspect ratio of 2.20:1 appears to be present in this 2160p transfer using the HEVC codec and abetted with thoughtfully applied (but not overly enunciated) Dolby Vision. The spotless transfer is sharp but never edgy and is very detailed, all the better to observe facial features and the intricacies in the hair designs and the astounding wardrobe creations and sets. While color throughout is true and solid, the color is more resolved and tame rather than blazing from the screen and thus seems more realistic. Bright colors such as reds and purples are wonderfully under control while still offering impressive saturation levels. Contrast has been consistently maintained, and black levels are wonderfully rich and deep. There are many scenes set in Higgins’ study where it seems one could simply walk into the picture so clear and real is the image. The movie has been divided into 50 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound mix, ported over from the previous 2015 Blu-ray release, offers the best-ever presentation of the Oscar-winning sound design for the film. There is wonderful spread of the music in all available channels with instrumentation divided obviously in various channels. There is some directional dialogue, too, though most of it has been placed in the center channel. There is a healthy amount of bass present in the mix though it is not accentuated to the distraction of the other channels. The annoying and frustrating reverb from the first inadequate Blu-ray release is not present here though Rex Harrison’s live recordings of his vocals still sound just the tiniest bit arid and electronic especially in “I’m an Ordinary Man” and bits of “You Did It!” Split atmospheric effects aren’t frequent, but when they do occur (the horses galloping at Ascot, for example), you’ll know it.

Special Features: 4.5/5

There are no bonus features on the UHD disc. The enclosed Blu-ray disc does not contain a 1080p version of the movie. Instead, it is just the bonus features from the previous 2015 release.

More Loverly Than Ever (57:58, HD): the 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.

1963 Kick-off Dinner (23:20, HD):  features remarks from Warner Bros. head Jack Warner and slightly acerbic interviews with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison before the film began production.

Los Angeles Premiere (4:53, SD): many Hollywood celebrities turn out for the premiere but few actors from the film itself are present.

British Premiere (2:17, HD): Stanley Holloway, Cecil Beaton, Jack Warner, Jeremy Brett, Rex Harrison, and Audrey Hepburn attend.

George Cukor Directs the Baroness (2:39): an audio-only excerpt with Cukor supervising the looping of Baroness Bina Rothschild’s few lines in the movie.

Rex Harrison Radio Interview (1:06): excerpts from a specially prepared radio interview with the film’s star.

Production Tests (7:04, HD): Alex Hyde-White, son of the film’s Colonel Pickering, hosts this selection of five brief production tests: lighting the sets, a Wilfred Hyde-White make-up test with the actor trying a toupee, rain on the Covent Garden set, Covent Garden lighting test, and a screen test for John Williams auditioning to play Colonel Pickering. (Ben Wright plays Higgins in the test.)

Audrey Hepburn Vocals (HD): the footage from the film featuring the star’s reasonably successful vocals for “Show Me” (2:48) and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” (4:32).

Galleries: step-through galleries of sketches and photographs for Cecil Beaton’s character and costume sketches, black and white stills of the production and wardrobe, color production stills, and documents and publicity materials.

Comments on a Lady (SD): brief comments from Andrew Lloyd Webber (1:04) about missing the opportunity of working with Alan Jay Lerner on The Phantom of the Opera and Martin Scorsese (1:19) on the necessity of film preservation.

Trailers (HD): teaser with seven city tags (1:13), With Pride trailer (1:11), Awards Won trailer (1:04), Reissue Trailer with poster illustration (0:58), Reissue Trailer with Reserved Seat Notification (1:25), Reissue Trailer with Awards Won (1:25), Theatrical Reissue Trailer (3:48)

Story of a Lady Featurette (5:05, HD): show the Broadway show came to Warner Bros. to be filmed.

Design for a Lady (8:22, HD): Cecil Beaton displays and explains his set and costume ideas for the film.

The Fairest Fair Lady (9:31, HD): a 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 for its two big production numbers: Ascot and the Embassy Ball.

Rex Harrison BFI Honor (2:08, HD): the actor introduces a series of films he starred in during his career.

Rex Harrison Golden Globe Speech (0:47, HD): 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 Awards Highlights 4/5/65 (2:09, SD): the brief acceptance speeches for George Cukor, Jack Warner, and Rex Harrison from the night they each won for My Fair Lady.

Digital Copy: code sheet enclosed in the case.

Overall: 4.5/5

My Fair Lady, one of the great screen musicals, gets an ultra high definition release that should likely be the last word for this screen version of the show on home video. While one might have liked a new restoration featurette or an authoritative audio commentary on the film’s legendary status, the film in pristine condition is the main thing, and with this 4K UHD release, there are no complaints at all. Highly recommended!

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Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

View thread (15 replies)

roxy1927

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vincent parisi
I just watched the production design Oscar win on youtube. Does Gene Allen accept Beaton's Oscar without mentioning him? Did he call him? Did he send it to him? Did Beaton tell him to accept it for him?
What a night for Beaton not to attend the Oscars. I wonder if there is a story behind it considering the enormous friction between Cecil and just about everyone else involved with the film.
CCC according to George.
 

AnthonyClarke

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It's a brave man who says this is its ultimate home video presentation. Same was said about audio when the switch was made from wax to shellac, and from acoustic to electrical recording, from shellac to LP etc etc. And same was said when switching from video to laser disc, to dvd, to conventional blu ray etc. I'd say 'the best thus far'.
But anyway, a great review, whetting the appetite. Can't wait to fire up my wind-up Columbia gramophone, insert a new steel needle and give the 4k disc a whirl. I just hope it's a compatible system.
 

titch

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Kevin Oppegaard
It's a brave man who says this is its ultimate home video presentation. Same was said about audio when the switch was made from wax to shellac, and from acoustic to electrical recording, from shellac to LP etc etc. And same was said when switching from video to laser disc, to dvd, to conventional blu ray etc. I'd say 'the best thus far'.
But anyway, a great review, whetting the appetite. Can't wait to fire up my wind-up Columbia gramophone, insert a new steel needle and give the 4k disc a whirl. I just hope it's a compatible system.
Yes - don't even have to go back any further than, say ten years, to see the blu-rays on my shelf from various companies touting "The Ultimate Hi-Def Experience", quite a few of them slathered in DNR and all. Recently, some have been released in 4K UHD (for "The Ultimate Ultimate Ultimate Hi-Def Experience"?).

The magnificent My Fair Lady laserdisc box was sold merely as the "30th Anniversary Edition". No "ultimates" there - although they could have called it an "Ultimate Collector's Edition", without being accused of wild hyperbole.
 

noel aguirre

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Thank you Matt. Looking for to this release in 4K and hopefully the other big format musicals are around the corner especially South Pacific to perhaps see those images fully realized burned into those color filtered frames.
But MFL will always remain for me a pinnacle of sorts as the first roadshow film I ever saw at age 8 in downtown Baltimore on a gigantic screen with a scrim those rose vertically before the film began. And then again in the early nineties at the Ziegfeld here in NYC restored so beautifully by RAH- while watching I welled up in tears in some sequences that’s how visceral to me they are. I can never thank RAH enough for this one- as many of us remember how terrible it looked on the old CBS laser disc.
And especially I’d like to mention an artist who’s rarely mentioned whenever MFL is reviewed or discussed and that is Harry Stradling who’s work here is astonishing- capturing that early 20-30’s film look in the opening Covent Garden scene that RAH has mentioned previously w the bloomin whites in the shirts against the black tuxedos and it doesn’t stop after that- a visually stunning film on top of everything else.
I cannot wait to receive this baby!!
 

Robert Harris

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Thank you Matt. Looking for to this release in 4K and hopefully the other big format musicals are around the corner especially South Pacific to perhaps see those images fully realized burned into those color filtered frames.
But MFL will always remain for me a pinnacle of sorts as the first roadshow film I ever saw at age 8 in downtown Baltimore on a gigantic screen with a scrim those rose vertically before the film began. And then again in the early nineties at the Ziegfeld here in NYC restored so beautifully by RAH- while watching I welled up in tears in some sequences that’s how visceral to me they are. I can never thank RAH enough for this one- as many of us remember how terrible it looked on the old CBS laser disc.
And especially I’d like to mention an artist who’s rarely mentioned whenever MFL is reviewed or discussed and that is Harry Stradling who’s work here is astonishing- capturing that early 20-30’s film look in the opening Covent Garden scene that RAH has mentioned previously w the bloomin whites in the shirts against the black tuxedos and it doesn’t stop after that- a visually stunning film on top of everything else.
I cannot wait to receive this baby!!
Mr. Stradling was an irreplaceable genius. There was a moment when i was trying to figure out how to properly replicate some of his soft filtered shots, and Gordon Willis had the answer and how to handle it. Apparently, Mr. Stradling had purchased a roll of extremely fine black silk in Paris, and used it as a softening filter on Miss Hepburn.

There is never anything better than having people around that know far more than you do.
 

Drew Salzan

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Slightly off topic, but I finally had to replace my old Yamaha blu ray player with a Panasonic 4K one. I have not yet upgraded my Samsung 60” 1080p monitor, but my blu rays look great and play perfectly well. I am considering purchasing the My Fair Lady 4K disk with the intention of eventually upgrading my television to 4K. I know my television can only display up to 1080p, but was wondering whether the disc will play and look at least as good as the regular blu ray?
 

roxy1927

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I think my TV only displays up to 1080p. It looks better than the bluray. Which in some ways as I have noted is not a good thing. But overall you get used to it and stop noticing things you shouldn't and it is a wonder.
 

uncledougie

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Doug
Slightly off topic, but I finally had to replace my old Yamaha blu ray player with a Panasonic 4K one. I have not yet upgraded my Samsung 60” 1080p monitor, but my blu rays look great and play perfectly well. I am considering purchasing the My Fair Lady 4K disk with the intention of eventually upgrading my television to 4K. I know my television can only display up to 1080p, but was wondering whether the disc will play and look at least as good as the regular blu ray?
A quick online bit of research indicates some sources say that a downscaled 4K disc, having started with the extra resolution embedded on the UHD disc itself, will reveal a more detailed, better picture than the same film’s Blu-ray counterpart. However, one caveat is that certain “older displays” may have trouble and falter in this regard. So it may depend on the player/display interface, though if it’s working properly otherwise one would assume it’ll be fine. But personally I can only say that the My Fair Lady 4K disc is absolutely as good as or better than any 4K disc I’ve experienced on my home theater setup, with a stunningly beautiful, richly detailed picture and crystal clear sound. When you eventually do upgrade your television monitor, this is a title you’ll want in your collection without reservation.