My Fair Lady: Special Edition (1964)

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Released 7-Apr-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Gene Allen, Marni Nixon, Robert A. Harris, James C. Katz
Featurette-Making Of-More Loverly Than Ever: My Fair Lady Then And Now (57:50)
Featurette-1963 Production Kickoff Dinner (23:19)
Featurette-Audrey Hepburn Vocals: Wouldn't It Be Loverly? (4:18)
Featurette-Audrey Hepburn Vocals: Show Me (2:39)
Gallery-Sketches, Stills, Documents And Publicity
Featurette-The Fairest Fair Lady (9:33)
Featurette-L.A. Premiere Footage (4:52)
Featurette-Awards Ceremonies (2)
Awards
Featurette-Comments From Martin Scorsese (1:20)
Featurette-Comments From Andrew Lloyd Webber (1:06)
Theatrical Trailer-Original And 1994 Re-Release
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 165:57
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:43)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By George Cukor
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Audrey Hepburn
Rex Harrison
Stanley Holloway
Wilfrid Hyde-White
Gladys Cooper
Jeremy Brett
Theodore Bikel
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $24.95 Music Frederick Loewe


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
German
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Well, at least they fixed the spelling errors on the slick cover...

    If you do not know what I am talking about, then you are certainly no great fan of My Fair Lady, for my review of the original Region 4 release of the film made certain remarks regarding the quality of the proofreading efforts of Warner Home Video. At the time I was probably trying to find at least some negatives to toss into the review after witnessing one of the finest film restorations ever made. Of course, there have been other fine restorations by Robert Harris and James Katz - including the gem of a restoration afforded the superb David Lean film Lawrence Of Arabia. Whilst the latter restoration probably exceeds this effort, at the time all we had of their work on DVD was this most beloved of musicals. It has to be said that it stands up very well indeed even after the passage of four more years of Region 4 DVD. You might also recall that I was nothing if not extremely kind to that original Region 4 release. Nonetheless, with Warner Home Video having turned their attention to offering Special Edition releases in place of a number of earlier Region 4 DVDs, such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, it was privately hoped that similar treatment might be afforded My Fair Lady.

    Hang on a minute, you might be asking yourself - is this not the same person that never ceases to make known his distaste for that genre known as the musical? Well, you are certainly right and I am not denying that basic distaste. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and in the case of musicals, My Fair Lady is that exception. Since I first reviewed the original Region 4 release in January 2000, I have watched the film a couple of times since and have enjoyed it enormously. On top of the forced viewings courtesy of my musical-loving father, the appreciation for this fine film continues to grow. But then again, so does my objection to one of the more controversial aspects of the film - the dubbing of Audrey Hepburn singing, of which more anon.

    Having not that long ago witnessed the Oscars where the bloated haul of Lord Of The Rings: whatever version it was featured, the haul that My Fair Lady walked away with in 1965 remains a fairly impressive achievement: 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, 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, and you could argue the merits of the claims for those quite strongly. It also picked up three Golden Globes and one British Academy Award in the same year. Even by today's bloated standards, that is not a bad little haul at all. It made My Fair Lady one of the most successful films of all time at the time and that has not changed with the passage of nearly forty years.

    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. The story of course goes even further back to Ancient Greece and the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. Interestingly enough, this was by no means the first film to bring the story to the big screen and in 1938 George Bernard Shaw himself won an Oscar for best Screenplay for the effort he wrote for the film Pygmalion starring Leslie Howard.

    For those unfamiliar with the plot, the broad story is that of one Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) and his efforts to turn one Miss Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) from a cockney flower girl into an English lady in time for the Embassy Ball six months hence. All of this intended work was 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 Jack L. Warner himself, no surprise after he forked out $5.5 million dollars in 1962 to acquire the rights to the play. That is a lot of money even today, so back in those days you can well imagine that it was a vast fortune to toss at a play. As a result of that huge spend to get the rights, obviously little or 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 completely inconceivable that the role could have been played by anyone else, so perfect in the role is he. Quite simply put - he is Professor Higgins and always will be. 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). The good money was on Julie Andrews reprising her stage role, very logical since she could both act and sing to a very high standard. In compensation of course, Julie Andrews went off and made Mary Poppins and did walk away with an Oscar for Best Actress. Whilst there are certainly no qualms regarding Audrey Hepburn's acting, her fight to be able to sing "her" songs was ultimately lost. On the evidence presented in the extras, this now seems a most lamentable decision. Whilst not technically a great singer, she was certainly more than capable and the efforts of hers that we can hear certainly indicate that she carried off the songs very well indeed and would have provided a much more natural song style that suited the role much better than the efforts of the far more technically qualified Marni Nixon.

    The support cast was very effective throughout, especially with Stanley Holloway reprising his stage role of Alfred P. Doolittle and the always competent Wilfrid Hyde-White providing a very effective Colonel Pickering to counterpoint the performance of Rex Harrison. Just as it was throughout the film, 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 d*** fine job of directing! And as for the efforts of the restoration team...

    The original Region 4 release was always one of the best musicals to have graced the release schedule and was highly recommendable in its own right. This new Special Edition takes all that was good about that original release, adds a pile more extras and lops $10.00 off the retail price indicator in the process. As nothing more than a DVD, this is immediately added to that list of DVDs that must be in every collection. The price alone makes that position even more obvious. A glorious bargain in every way.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    One surprising thing about the transfer is that it is a new remaster and not just a recycle of the previous release with a second, extras, disc added to the package. We know this as several extras have moved from the feature disc to the extras disc, a couple of subtitle options have been lopped from the disc and the layer change point has changed. Since this is a remaster, the lack of care in the process is a little surprising, as evidence by the staggering presence of aliasing throughout the transfer.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is slightly different to the theatrical ratio but not drastically so.

    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 real 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. In comparison to the earlier release, which I admit was reviewed on a different player and viewed on a different television, this effort is much more obviously blighted with film-to-video artefacts. Aliasing is by far the most obvious problem, and whilst mainly tending towards minor most of the time there are certainly plenty of obvious and nasty looking efforts. Furniture creates most of the problems and you will be hard-pressed to ignore the issue at times. Examples may be found in the architrave at 3:25, the basket at 14:44, the timber panelling at 25:15, the furniture at 30:00, the ink rack at 40:02 and so on and so on. Frankly it got to the stage where I found the problem very tiresome as you simply reach the stage where it cannot be ignored. Added into the mix is some minor cross colouration (such as at 10:46 in the hat and at 56:14 in the jacket) as well as some moiré artefacting in the jacket at 53:14 and 56:14. Whilst the restoration certainly cleaned the film up very well in general, there are still film artefacts floating around, mainly of the small white speck variety. However, at 10:41 you will note a whopping great film artefact that looks like it might be an adhesive tag presumably taping together two pieces of film. If this was in the original release (which I confess to not having had the time to check yet), I am staggered that I missed it.

    This is a RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming during a black scene change at 77:43. The layer change used to be in the obvious place - the intermission - but this new position is certainly no worse and you would be hard-pressed to note where it was during playback of the film.

    There are ten subtitle choices on the DVD, of which I naturally stuck with the two English options. Whilst not exactly perfect - and at least one spelling error was noted - they certainly don't lose an awful lot of the dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   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. There did not appear to be any significant problems with audio sync although the ADR work with the singing is not always absolutely spot on..

    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 at all and very little if anything in the bass channel. 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. It is a pity that a cleaned up version of the original soundtrack was not included for comparison purposes though.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Take all the good stuff from the original release, add a whole bunch more stuff and whack a Special Edition banner on the cover. Simple really.

Disc One:

Menu

    After a main menu introduction, these present quite well indeed and the main menu comes with some reasonable audio and animation enhancement.

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.

Disc Two:

    Note that unless otherwise stated all the extras are presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced and come with English Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are seventeen subtitle options selectable for most of the extras, the choices being: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Hebrew and Arabic.

Menu

    Whilst lacking the animation enhancement of the main menu on Disc One, the audio enhancement remains acceptable.

Featurette - More Loverly Than Ever: The Making Of My Fair Lady Then And Now (57:50)

    Hosted by Jeremy Brett, this retrospective look at the making of the film includes interviews from various points of view - Grace Mirabella (founder of Mirabella magazine), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Julian Holloway (son of Stanley Holloway) and Martin Scorsese amongst them - plenty of excerpts from the film, a delving into various aspects of the restoration and assorted other stuff in a quite interesting and fascinating look at the film. It was made in 1994 to chronicle the restoration of the film for its thirtieth anniversary, hence the reason why there might seem to be some bias towards the restoration. There is a bit of aliasing going on at times, and the film excerpts for some reason seem to be a bit hissy, but otherwise the technical side of things is pretty good indeed.

The Production:

Featurette - 1963 Production Kickoff Dinner (23:19)

    Perhaps calling this a featurette is a bit over-stating the mark, for this is not really a coherent presentation at all and features much of the same stuff filmed from different angles. The first ninety seconds is without any audio whatsoever, and there is a section around 16:20 for about twenty seconds that is also without audio. This appears to be a publicity, meet the press type affair where predominantly Jack L. Warner spouts and everyone listens. There are some press interviews with Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and Jack L. Warner, of which Audrey Hepburn's is a hoot as the persistent interviewer keeps asking questions she really cannot answer, so she runs verbal rings around him instead. Also blatantly sexist as during the interview, we get a pan down from her head to her ankles and back up again in a lingering manner. The whole thing really is too bitty and choppy to have any great value and technically is very ropey at times.

Featurette - Audrey Hepburn vocals: Wouldn't It Be Loverly (4:18)
Featurette - Audrey Hepburn vocals: Show Me (2:39)

    A carryover from the original release, these were the gems of that original 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, 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. As indicated before, whilst she does not have 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.

Show Me Gallery - Sketches (1:12)

    Self running and showing nine design sketches for various characters.

Show Me Gallery - Black And White Production Stills (62:48)

    Self running and showing 481 (!) photographs from the production, both in front and behind the camera. None of them are annotated, which greatly diminishes the interest level here.

Show Me Gallery - Color Production Stills (6:56)

    Self running and showing fifty two colour photographs from the production, both in front and behind the camera. None of them are annotated. The Americanised spelling is deplorable in the extreme.

Show Me Gallery - Documents And Publicity (5:20)

    Self running and showing forty designs and final products relating to the promotion of the film.

Featurette - The Fairest Fair Lady (9:33)

    Another carry over from the original Region 4 release and, as stated before, 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 over the top, sounding very much semi-strident mono. There is a bit of aliasing going one here and film artefacts aplenty. Nowadays we call this sort of stuff an EPK presentation. Reasonably interesting in its own little way I suppose.

Featurette - L.A. Premiere Footage (4:52)

    Rather annoyingly this has time code information running over the top of the video, which really is terrible. The footage itself is of varying quality and at its worst is indistinct rubbish, but at its best really captures the glitz and glamour of the occasion very well. Stargazers will be thrilled by this. The black and white tones are very much in accordance with the quality of the video.

The Awards:

Featurette - Rex Harrison's Golden Globe Acceptance Speech (0:46)

    Not so much an acceptance speech but an apology for not being at the presentation. Again the video very annoyingly has time code information playing over the top of it. Of decent quality otherwise.

Featurette - 37th Academy Awards (0:25)

    Let me see - eight Oscars won, only one acceptance speech. Something is not quite right there. This is just Jack L. Warner's acceptance speech for the Best Picture Oscar presumably. Where are the other seven? Arrrggggghhh, that time code information is playing over the video again. The sound is pretty ropey, the picture not so ropey.

Awards

    Three pages listing out the awards the film won.

The Comments:

Featurette - Martin Scorsese (1:20)

    Martin Scorsese actually talks about the Film Foundation and its aims. Of peripheral interest to the film itself. The quality would have been fine but for that d*** time code information playing over the video yet again.

Featurette - Andrew Lloyd Webber (1:06)

    Andrew Lloyd Webber actually talks about the fact that he was going to write Phantom Of The Opera with Alan Jay Lerner - until the latter had to pull out due to ill-health. The relevance to the film is at best tenuous. Guess what? We get the accursed time code information playing over the video again.

Theatrical Trailers:

1964 Theatrical Trailer (4:52)

    Another carry over from the original release and still one of the longest theatrical trailers 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 Warner Bros 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. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced, but the subtitles are lost.

1994 Re-release Trailer (3:31)

    The subtitles also go walkabout in this effort, which is vastly different in style and approach to the original theatrical trailer. It is a tad dark so detail does go for the proverbial walkabout too at times.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    From what I can determine, aside from some differences in soundtrack and subtitle options, the main difference between the Region 1 release and the Region 4 (and thus presumably the Region 2 release) is that the Region 1 version has a radio interview with Rex Harrison that does not appear on the Region 4 release. It would also seem that the 37th Academy Awards footage is truncated on the Region 4 release, as are the comments from Martin Scorsese and Andrew Lloyd Webber, whilst the Region 1 release also has a few trailers for other Lerner and Loewe films. The differences might be small but they do make the Region 1 version the preferred one by a smallish margin.

Summary

    No need to beat around the bush here: My Fair Lady is one of the great musicals of all time, and has been afforded an excellent restoration in nearly all respects. Whilst there might be quibbles about certain aspects of the audio transfer, and the technical quality of some of the extras (well, big quibbles actually), there is nothing to dissuade me from affording this the highest recommendation. This must be in every DVD collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
So which release to go for ? - Bran (my bio, or something very like it) REPLY POSTED
All I needed to know ! - Bran (my bio, or something very like it) REPLY POSTED