First released on Blu-ray in 2011, most agreed that My Fair Lady neither looked nor sounded as good as it could have. Many (including myself), hoped that a remaster would come out in celebration of the films 50th anniversary. It may be slightly late, but we got our wish! CBS/Paramount has re-released My Fair Lady with a spectacular remastered video transfer and a newly restored Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack from the original elements, both by acclaimed Film Historian and Preservationist Robert A. Harris. It’s such a step up in quality, that I have no problem recommending a double dip to fans that own the previous Blu-ray.
[Note: Some of the information below came from my review of the previous Blu-ray release.]
The origin of the 1964 film My Fair Lady goes back to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912) which was subsequently adapted into a Broadway musical by the successful team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe (Gigi, Camelot). The play debuted in 1956. It wasn’t until seven years later that the movie, produced by Jack Warner, and directed by George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story, Let’s Make Love) began filming. There had been controversy even before the first shot was committed to celluloid. While Rex Harrison was quickly brought on board to recreate the role of Professor Henry Higgins, Jack Warner was concerned that Stanley Holloway, 73 at the time, was too old, and not a big enough star to reprise his role as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Holloway was cast only after James Cagney declined the role. The biggest controversy involved the casting of Eliza Doolittle. Played in the Broadway production by a then little-known Julie Andrews, the part was given to movie star Audrey Hepburn.
Professor Henry Higgins (Harrison), a linguistic expert and insufferable know-it-all, makes a bet with his colleague Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), that he can take a lowly cockney flower girl and turn her into a Duchess within six months. Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is a tough flower seller from the slums with a thick cockney accent. Determined to rid her of the accent, Higgins puts her on a rigorous course of practicing her vowels. Higgins wants to prove that proper language is the key to smart society; any woman who has proper command of language can be accepted anywhere, even Buckingham Palace. Needless to say, Eliza winds up teaching Professor Higgins as much about life and about himself as he teaches her about how to be a proper lady.
Rex Harrison is so convincing in the role one would think he were the Professor in real life. In Shaw’s play, the final status of the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle is left ambiguous. However, the musical is more romantic and hints at a more serious relationship. Though Harrison was twenty-one-years older than Hepburn, the energy with which he plays the role makes that easy to forget. Higgins’ most notable songs are “Why Can’t the English?,” “I’m an Ordinary Man,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Ms. Hepburn’s portrayal of Eliza is simply charming. In spite of her insistence that she do her own singing, Hepburn’s voice was dubbed over by uncredited singer Marni Nixon, who had previously done the singing dubs in the movie versions of West Side Story and The King and I. I have read that Audrey remained somewhat bitter about that decision for years. I will admit that as much as I love Ms. Hepburn, every time I watch My Fair Lady, I can’t help but wonder what the film would have been like with Julie Andrews in the lead.
Stanley Holloway nearly steals the show with his two cockney music hall numbers, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” In other notable parts, fans of English television’s Sherlock Holmes will be pleased to see Jeremy Brett playing Eliza’s young, lovesick, high-society admirer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and singing “On the Street Where You Live” (uncredited singing voice courtesy of Bill Shirley). Gladys Cooper plays the Professor’s mother; and Theodore Bikel plays the sycophantic Zoltan Karpathy.
Simply put, the songs, cast, dialogue (script), direction, costumes, and set design combine to make My Fair Lady one of the all-time great movie musicals in Hollywood history.
Robert A. Harris has done a spectacular job on the transfer. The 2.20:1-framed image (as opposed to the 2011 release’s 2.39:1 framing) is striking. As I told someone the other day, “It was as if I was watching the movie for the first time.” There’s a wonderful grain structure throughout and colors are lush and detail astounding, allowing viewers to really see the full beauty of Cecil Beaton’s costumes and set design. You may also observe facial features, intricacies in hair design and small details that weren’t apparent before. Colors are perfectly saturated throughout, contrast is consistent and black levels are deep and inky. With no issues at all, this is everything you want a transfer to be.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack is a revelation. Music has been spread evenly throughout all channels. While most of the dialogue is clear and placed in the center channel, there is some directionality at times. There’s a full range of clarity throughout that makes the orchestral score sound better than it ever has and the feeling of immersiveness is impossible to ignore. There’s also a nice amount of bass that hadn’t been present before. Wonderful stuff.
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are included.
This Blu-ray release of My Fair Lady does not contain the audio commentary from the previous release but does have the rest of the extras from the previous release along with several new ones, as noted. All the extras are available on a second Blu-ray disc. A DVD copy of the film is also included in the fold-open Neo-Pack packaging.
- More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady Then & Now (SD, 57:53) Jeremy Brett leads a look back at the movie’s classic moments and music, its reception and acceptance, the history of its story and production, leading all the way through to its restoration by Robert A. Harris and James Katz.
- 1963 Production Kick-Off Dinner (HD, 23:19) Vintage black-and-white footage features cast and crew interviews and speeches.
- Los Angeles Premiere 10/28/1964 (SD, 4:51) Inside access to the films glamorous premiere for a look at the arriving stars.
- NEW: British Premiere (HD, 2:17) An introduction to the stars and a look at the red carpet during the films British premiere.
- George Cukor Directs Baroness Bina Rothschild (SD, 2:36) The My Fair Lady director improves a performance.
- NEW: Rex Harrison Radio Interview (HD, 1:06) The actor briefly discusses the filmmaking process.
- NEW: Production Tests (1080p) Alex Hyde-White shares several tests from 65mm film from the Warner Brothers archive. Included are Lighting (0:57), Wilfred Hyde-White Make-Up (0:47), Rain/Set (0:49), Covent Garden Lighting Test (0:44), and Higgins/Pickering Screen Test (3:48).
- Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals (HD) Show Me (2:48) and Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (4:26). Note that these appear from restored elements.
- Comments on a Lady (SD) Andrew Lloyd Webber (1:04) on missing the opportunity to work with Alan Jay Lerner on The Phantom of the Opera and Martin Scorsese (1:19) on the importance of film preservation.
- Galleries (HD) Sketches (1:12), B&W Stills (1:02:43), Color Production Stills (6:56), Documents and Publicity (5:20)
- NEW: Trailers (0:39 each) Teaser Trailer with City Tags includes Hollywood, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. Also included are With Pride Trailer (1:11), Awards Trailer (1:04), Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration (0:58), Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Reserved Seats Trailer (1:25), Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Awards (1:25), and Theatrical Reissue (3:48).
- NEW: The Story of a Lady (HD, 5:05): A look at the play’s worldwide success, Warner Brothers’ purchase of the film rights, casting and film production details.
- NEW: Design For a Lady (HD, 8:22): A look at the production design, from research to construction and implementation. Includes a discussion with Academy Award-winning Costume Designer Cecil Beaton.
- The Fairest Fair Lady (HD, 9:33) This vintage color piece breezes through the basics of the production.
- NEW: Rex Harrison BFI Honor (HD, 2:08) While on set, the actor reflects on his career.
- Rex Harrison Golden Globe Acceptance Speech (HD, 0:43) The actor delivers a prerecorded speech from Europe.
- Academy Awards Ceremony Highlights 4/5/65 (SD, 0:25) A single clip from the big event.