My Fair Lady

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Details At A Glance

Category Musical Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1964 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Gene Allen (Art Director), Robert Harris and James Katz (Restoration Team) and Marni Nixon (singing voice of Audrey Hepburn)
Running Time 165:58 minutes Other Extras Featurette - The Fairest Fair Lady (9:34)
Featurette - Audrey Hepburn vocals
Main Menu Audio
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (97:44)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director George Cukor

Warner Home Video
Starring Audrey Hepburn
Rex Harrison
Stanley Holloway
Wilfrid Hyde-White
Gladys Cooper
Jeremy Brett
Theodore Bikel
Case Snapper
RRP $34.95 Music Frederick Loewe

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Best Actor, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Colour), Best Cinematography (Colour), Best Costume Design (Colour), Best Director, Best Music-Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment, Best Picture and Best Sound. Count them - that's eight Oscars garnered in 1965, including three of the four "biggies". It missed out on Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing-Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium. It also picked up three Golden Globes and one British Academy Award in the same year. Not a bad little haul at all really, making My Fair Lady one of the most successful films of all time, even by today's standards. However, it is a musical, and if you have read my previous review of Camelot, you will know my opinion of this genre pretty well indeed.

    Having said that, this is probably one of the best examples of the genre. This is the film adaptation of the musical stage hit formulated by the renowned Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, which itself was based upon the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the broad story is that of Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) and his efforts to turn one Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) from a cockney flower girl into an English lady in time for the Embassy Ball six months hence. All for the sake of a bet with Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) that he could educate any girl sufficiently well enough to be able to pass her off as a respectable English lady to all of respected society - hence the Embassy Ball. Along the way he forgets that he is dealing with a real live person and that such people actually have feelings, including the capacity for love.

    The story forms the basis of one of the great plays of the twentieth century, and the musical stage play was no less successful in that field either. Its transition to the big screen was personally handled by Mr Jack L. Warner himself, and it would appear that nothing was spared in order to ensure its success on the big screen. Rex Harrison reprised his stage role as Professor Henry Higgins, and in many ways it is now inconceivable the the role could be played by anyone else, so perfect in the role is he. Rather surprisingly for a musical, Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza Doolittle - surprising in that whilst she can certainly sing, she simply did not have the voice apparently to carry this role (and hence the reason for the singing dubs by Marni Nixon). Her acting however is beyond reproach and she is marvellous in the role (but I may be biased as I have always enjoyed watching her on film). The support cast was very effective throughout, and it is obvious that some care went into the selection of the cast. All of which would mean nothing unless the story was brought together by some great direction - which was obviously the case with the renowned George Cukor at the helm. Whilst I would not willingly sit down for over two and a half hours to watch a musical, I have to confess that this moves at a very nice pace and keeps the interest level up throughout. He must have done a damn fine job of directing! And thanks to the efforts of the restoration team, we can now sit back and enjoy the film in splendour possibly unexcelled since its premiere way back in 1964.

Transfer Quality


    Well, the film may not be to my taste but one cannot deny that the restoration team have done a damn fine job on the restoration of this film.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. The packaging refers to the transfer as being widescreen 2.21:2 - would someone at Warners please explain what the heck that means? And whilst we are mentioning packaging errors, the Bulgarian and Romanian subtitles are not listed in the special features listing, Robert A. Harris is credited as being Roberta. Harris and Audrey Hepburn's song is shown as Would'nt It Be Loverly. Does anyone actually proof-read the cover slicks before they are printed?

    Overall, the transfer is sharp and very well defined throughout - except for the one intentional sequence done with the old Vaseline on the lens trick. The shadow detail is quite exceptional for a film of this age, which matches the fine detail caught by the camera throughout. There were no problems at all with grain and this in general has come up marvellously clean in the restoration. Just be aware that, as pointed out in the audio commentary, some of the film, most notably the opening credits sequence, has been virtually recomposed as the original had significant degradation for various reasons.

    The colours are beautifully rendered throughout, and consistently so, with some wonderful contrast between the vibrant colours of the society gowns and the muted colours of the flower markets at Covent Garden. Overall, this is a wonderfully vibrant transfer, generally of quite rich tones with no hint of oversaturation at all.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There was a consistent problem with minor film-to-video artefacts, mainly very slight aliasing throughout. Whilst not too noticeable in its own right, the consistent presence of it tended to attract attention. There was some slight jitter in the transfer at 79:24 and a glitch in the video at 132:28, but I suspect these to be inherent problems in the original film rather than DVD mastering problems. For a thirty six year old film, film artefacts were noticeably absent, again indicating some care having been taken in the restoration. Those that were present were never an intrusion.

    This is a RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at the intermission at 97:44. This is an extremely logical place to incorporate the layer change, and did not detract from nor interrupt the film in any way. A nice repeat of the effort with Camelot.


    If a fine job has been done on the video restoration, then perhaps the same restoration team should have handled the audio remastering with the same aplomb.

    There are four soundtracks on the DVD: the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0. I listened to the English soundtrack and the English Audio Commentary.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout, as was the singing.

    Audio sync does not appear to be a problem with the transfer.

    The score comprises original compositions from Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) which is of course what the film is all about. Lerner and Loewe did this sort of stuff better than most, and this is probably one of their best efforts, with some wonderfully memorable tunes.

    This is something of a problematic soundtrack, not for any reason other than the fact that apart from three short passages, it does not sound at all like a 5.1 soundtrack. Apart from those three passages (two at the horse races and the other the song Get Me To The Church On Time), there is no evidence of any action through the rear surround channels and the bass channel at all. Indeed, for much of the film, it does not seem as if there is too much action through any of the surround channels: this really sounds like a good stereo recording and not a 5.1 soundtrack. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong per se with what is on offer, it just does not sound like a 5.1 soundtrack. It is the lack of rear channel detail especially that is missed, especially during the scenes such as those at the ball room where background noise would be evident. Apart from this quibble, this is a very good, clean, crisp soundtrack.


    Unlike the lack of extras on Camelot we appear to have gotten the full deal here.


    Presented in full screen format, but with 16x9 enhancement, this is not too bad except that the colours seem very washed out in comparison to the film.

Audio Commentary - Gene Allen (Art Director), Robert Harris (Restoration Team), James Katz (Restoration Team) and Marni Nixon (singing voice for Audrey Hepburn)

    Not the best sounding commentary (in Dolby Digital 2.0) I have heard, with Gene Allen and James Katz quite recessed in the mix and at times just a little difficult to hear. However, what they all have to say is actually quite interesting. Whilst it seems to mainly concern the restoration of the film at times, some of the input from Gene Allen and Marni Nixon is most valuable. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for both musicals and commentaries, I found myself enjoying this quite a bit.

Featurette - The Fairest Fair Lady (9:34)

    Actually this is not so much a featurette as a very long theatrical promo trailer. Indeed it is really just the trailer with about five minutes of behind the scenes footage added to it, all with a grandiose commentary across it, sounding very much mono. This is presented in full frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Still, an interesting enough addition to the package, even though it does display some MPEG compression artefacts, some fairly obvious film artefacts and one brief instance of sound distortion.

Featurette - Audrey Hepburn vocals "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" (4:20) and "Show Me" (2:41)

    Now this is the gem of the package in my view. It is well known that Audrey Hepburn was dubbed for the singing in the film, but what was less well known is that she actually gave all the singing a fair go. What the restoration team have assembled here, apparently painstakingly from the various outtakes of Audrey Hepburn's attempts at the songs, is two almost complete takes of songs from the film with her own voice. And to be honest, whilst she has not got the best range on earth, I prefer her renditions of these two songs. They have a nice, earthier feel to them that much better suits the Eliza Doolittle role than the very much more technically correct voice of Marni Nixon - which at times I felt to be very false in the context of the film. Still, that's my view and many (including Robert Harris) will not and do not share it. The film excerpts are presented in proper widescreen format but are not 16x9 enhanced; the sound is Dolby Digital 2.0.

Theatrical Trailer (4:53)

    This is the longest theatrical trailer I have ever seen, as well as being one of the more unusual. This is not so much a trailer as a short promotional film, perhaps reflecting the time, effort and money that Warners spent on putting the film together. They obviously cranked up the promotional side of things to make sure that they had not produced a dud with the cinema-going public. This is quite an amazingly clean trailer for a film of this vintage.

R4 vs R1

   Apart from a few additional trailers for other films on the Region 1 release, there appears to be no significant difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases, making Region 4 the choice owing to the inherent superiority of the PAL system.


    Currently hovering around the lower echelons of the Internet Movie Database's Top 250, My Fair Lady is definitely not my type of film. However, one has to again admire the work of Lerner and Loewe, the effort expended by Warners on the film originally and the quality of the restoration of the film. Fans of the film or the genre should not hesitate in the slightest, but for everyone else, if you need a musical to add to your collection, this would be it (at least until we see The Sound of Music on DVD).

    The overall video quality is very good.

    The overall audio quality is acceptable.

    The extras package is nice.

    One quibble though, that indicates why I hate the snapper cases used by Warners: this one arrived a little distorted, improperly glued so that the cardboard slick is askew and fits far too tight in the plastic snapper case. Also the glue is starting to loose effectiveness, so that the cover is starting to come apart. Warners - can you please change to something better than this?

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
3rd January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL