‘My Fair Lady’ comes to American Region free Blu-ray with a good but flawed 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
It would have been nice to report that this was a superb transfer – and in some places it is – but for the fact that the image suffers from a fading of density towards the edge of the frame. It looks as if a fog filter has been applied around the edge of the picture and is particularly noticeable on the right hand side of the frame in darker areas. This is a terrible shame as it spoils what would otherwise be a rather nice transfer. ‘My Fair Lady’ was the subject of a restoration back in 1994 and, to all intents, it would appear that a restored print was used for this transfer by CBS – who appear to own the rights to ‘My Fair Lady’. What might have been acceptable on Laserdisc and DVD doesn’t stand up to the more critical eye of High Definition. Blu-ray is supposed to display a movie as ‘the best that it can be’ but some folks, particularly Distributors, seem to be forgetting this.
With a bit more work (and some expense) ‘My Fair Lady’ should have been made to look better by the judicious choice of alternate elements for its Blu-ray release. That edge fogging ought to be non existent. For a film of its stature to be treated in such a careless way is inexcusable. Digital restoration has come on in leaps and bounds since 1994, so to release the film in this form is nothing short of an insult.
Okay, so I’ve got that off my chest. Now, the rest of it isn’t too bad at all. We get a healthy rendering of colour throughout. Rex Harrison’s tanned skin tones stand out against Audrey Hepburn’s pale and dirty complexion as Eliza Doolittle. There’s a bit of variation in the skin tones though as Eliza takes on a greenish tinge in a few scenes. As she blossoms under Higgins tutelage, she takes on a warmer pink hue. The transfer also does justice to Cecil Beaton’s delicate pastel set designs and costumes.
Contrast isn’t all that it could be with many shots looking rather flat, whereas with a tweak to the contrast they could have taken on some punch.
Detail is pretty good as is sharpness – although it’s not bitingly sharp. Film grain is minimal except in the opening title sequence which had to be recreated using still frames of flower displays. The more sharp eyed will notice the odd sparkly and tiny speck of dirt in the picture – which really needn’t be there, given today’s technology.
Yup, this looks like a restored print from a few years back that nobody has cared enough to do some work on for a High Def release. Come on CBS, dig into your pockets and do the job properly!
Thankfully, the audio on ‘My Fair Lady’ isn’t a let down. We get a nice DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix that gives the great musical numbers the room to breathe. In the opening sequence, the rain landing on the cobbled streets is all around. There’s some directionality to the dialogue too, that makes good use of the wide front sound stage. In some scenes there appeared to be extra reverb added to the dialogue that pulled the attention of my ears in its direction. That said, the dialogue is clear as a Bow Bell – even Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Cockernee’ accent (presumably Dick Van Dyke was her voice coach). Indeed, at times it’s as if she’s projecting so that those in the back row of the balcony can hear her.
As Eliza sings ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly’, the other characters in the scene are discretely placed within the sound field, making it a real smiling pleasure to hear.
As with most musicals, there’s an audible change when a song kicks in. Most people nowadays know that Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice was dubbed by the extremely busy Marni Nixon – who supplied the dulcet musical tones for many Hollywood leading ladies in musicals.
There’s no such problem with Rex Harrison as he just talks his way through songs.
There’s a decent amount of ooomph supplied by the subwoofer to beef up the low end in the orchestrations too.
Anyone who wonders if there’s any real benefit to having a 7.1 surround mix needs to listen to the Ascot sequence as the horses race around the listening room. This was a surprisingly effective use of the enveloping 360 degree sound field. The sound here may not be as clear as a brand new movie, but the use of surround does its job nicely.
This is a very good mix that will please lovers of ‘My Fair Lady’ and fans of movie musicals in general.
Audio Commentary - Gene Allen, Marni Nixon, Robert Harris and James Katz get together at Warner Hollywood to provide their own input on their own specialist area. Robert Harris gives us some fascinating technical detail on the restoration.
More Loverly than Ever (SD, 58 mins) - Jeremy Brett links and narrates the story of the making of the movie and of the restoration work carried out on the fading negative. It goes back to George Bernard Shaw writing ‘Pygmalion’ and brings it forward through the stage musical to the movie. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber chips in now and again. It’s a very nice, well made doco.
1963 Production Kick-off Dinner (SD, 23 mins) - Some black-and-white footage of the dinner, followed by interviews with the stars (being asked some pretty dumb questions). Watch out for Aud avoiding answering questions from a pushy interviewer.
George Cukor directs Baroness Bina Rothschild (audio only with stills, 3 mins) - Some quite sharp direction from the director as he tries to get the best out of his cast. A range of stills of him directing various artistes livens up the audio.
The Fairest Fair Lady (SD, 10 mins) - A period promo with Dubbing theatre echo on the Voice Over that takes us behind the scenes. Costume and set design, casting – yup, it’s a bit of P.R. puff.
Los Angeles Premiere 28/10/64 (SD, 5 mins) - Newsreel footage of the stars arriving at the Premiere along with most of Hollywood. It moves on to the post screening party.
Rex Harrison Golden Globe Acceptance Speech (SD, 43s) - Here it is complete with clapperboard as Sexy Rexy apologises for not being there due to work commitments.
Academy Awards Ceremony Highlights 5/4/65 - Jack Warner makes a short but sweet acceptance speech.
Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals - ‘Show Me’ and ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly’ with Aud’s own singing voice instead of Marni Nixon. She’s not that bad, but you feel there’s a bit of polish required. Not quite as rich a voice as Marni.
Show Me Galleries - A whole pile of sketches, B&W stills, colour production stills, documents and publicity material as well as posters and lobby cards together with a Rex Harrison Radio Interview.
Comments on a Lady (SD, 4 mins) - Andrew Lloyd Webber remembers working with Alan Jay Lerner on ‘Phantom’ before he became ill and was forced to withdraw. Martin Scorsese talks about the Film Foundation, set up to help preserve movies.
Trailers - We get the 1964 Theatrical trailer (SD, 5 mins) as well as the 1994 re-release trailer which strangely has somewhat gargly sound (SD, 4 mins).
‘My Fair Lady’ comes to American Region free Blu-ray with a good but flawed 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. A fog effect around the edge of frame, most noticeable on darker shots, spoils an otherwise decent transfer. Good colour and occasionally wimpy contrast as well as a thin veil of film grain coming from a restored print can’t make up for the London fog problem.
Thankfully, the DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround track shines in many places as the musical numbers come to life and dialogue is clear throughout. Surround is particularly impressive on the Ascot race sequence with horses running round the listening area.
A whole wheelbarrow of featurettes, galleries and an interesting commentary make up the extras.
As a film, the classic ‘Pygmalion’ story has some magic – brought to life as 'My Fair Lady' by Cecil Beaton’s costume and set designs as well as by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in the lead roles. CBS should have gone the extra mile to make this a Blu-ray release to be proud of – but sadly, they didn’t.
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