4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Audrey Hepburn plays the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who’s transformed into a duchess.
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“MY FAIR LADY”
4K Ultra HD; 1964, Not Rated; streaming via Amazon Prime Video(4K), Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “More Loverly Than Ever: Then and Now” presents the complete history of the film that received 12 Oscar nominations, winning eight including Best Picture, Director and Actor for Rex Harrison
SEVEN YEARS ago, CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount got it right. They scanned the original worn and tattered, large-format 65mm camera negative of the much-loved musical at an unbelievable 8K resolution (7,680 x 4,320) per frame.
The new master was guaranteed to be future-proof, capturing every single grain within the film emulsion. But, there was a cost since the price tag was over seven figures and that was before the High Dynamic Range grading applied in the last few years. After the 8K scan, it was down-converted to 4K for the actual computer restoration, where more than 12 million imperfections (scratches, marks, and tears) were removed and fixed. It took nearly a year to complete the finished product.
In this latest release, left to right and top to bottom, color balance, and light spectrum (contrast and brightness), “My Fair Lady” is visually perfect. Hollywood restoration expert Robert A. Harris and his crew admit a few frames aren’t quite right, but you’ll never notice. The natural wash of fine film grain holds each frame together. It gives the new physical 4K disc, to be released May 25, a more organic film-like experience with a higher level of clarity over the 4K digital watch, which has been available on digital platforms since November 2020.
(1) “My Fair Lady” premiered on October 21, 1964, in New York City and earned $72 million on its initial release, becoming the studio’s highest-grossing film to that date. (2&3) Rex Harrison plays phonetics professor Henry Higgins, who takes notes of Eliza Doolittle’s speaking accent outside of London’s Covent Garden. (4) Eliza reacts to Prof. Higgins. (5) The chorus freezes.
A restoration side note: Harris took some liberty with the technology. Using the high-resolution scan, they previewed the results on a 25-foot screen where star Audrey Hepburn’s dental fillings stood out like a sore thumb during Eliza’s pronunciation drills. “Everything shows in an 8K scan,” he said during a 2015 interview with the New York Post. “Jack L. Warner [producer] would never have permitted this to be seen, so we digitally removed her fillings.”
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading gives each frame (2.20:1 aspect ratio) an extra level of onscreen pop over the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray (2015) – which at the time was superb. In 4K the blacks are even deeper without blocking up, and the colors are rich without any sign of oversaturation.
This presentation is on par with last year’s 4K wonder “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), also filmed on Super Panavision 70, which we selected as the top 4K release of 2020. Other notable films made in the large-format include “West Side Story” (1961), “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964), “Grand Prix” (1966), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970), “Far and Away” (1992), “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) and the upcoming “Death on the Nile” (2020).
The eight-channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack (96kHz 16-bit) is carried over from the previous Blu-ray, which had a complete overhaul using the best audiotapes available. The process created a more dynamic soundtrack on the highs and fuller bass tones on the lower end. The balance between dialogue and the musical score is more uniform.
There's no need to keep the remote in hand to adjust sound levels between scenes. Favorites such as “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” can be fully enjoyed balanced with dialogue and effects.
(1) Eliza arrives at the home of Prof. Higgins prepared to pay for diction lessons, but Colonel Pickering, left, (Wilfrid Hyde-White) agrees to pay for three months of teaching. (2) Eliza sees a bathtub for the first time. (3) The diction lesson for the letter “H” involved using a flame. Every time she pronounced it correctly the flame would waver. (4) “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” says Eliza. “I think she’s got,” says Prof. Higgins. (5) Eliza sings, “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
Bonus features are found on a separate Blu-ray, where “More Loverly than Ever: Then and Now” provides the best overview of the tale that began as the best stage musical of all time, surpassing Rogers and Hammerstein classics “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I.” Based on George Bernard Shaw’s stage play, “Pygmalion” (1912), Hollywood’s first adaptation starred Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins, the wealthy phonetics professor, and Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl who desperately wants a makeover in order to get a better job. The non-musical was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture in 1938.
In the early 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein tried to create their own musical of the rags-to-riches saga, but after a year said, “It can’t be done.” Then Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (“Brigadoon,” “Gigi” and “Camelot”) took a stab at it, following Shaw’s demand that the majority of the stage dialogue be carried over. That was the challenge, converting words intended for speech into song lyrics.
On March 15, 1956, Lerner and Loewe’s musical creation premiered at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway. Stage and screen actor Rex Harrison took on the role of Professor Henry Higgins, and a charming 20-year-old soprano from England, Julie Andrews, was cast as Eliza Doolittle. “My Fair Lady” was a triumph, winning six Tony’s, including Best Musical, and continued for 2,717 performances. Audiences couldn’t get enough; the Original Cast Recording was the top-selling LP album of 1957 and ‘58.
(1&2) Eliza’s first public appearance at the Ascot horseraces. (3&4) Six weeks later at the season’s biggest social event at the Embassy ball.
Studio tycoon Jack L. Warner was frantic to convert the Broadway smash into a film. He paid $5 million for the movie rights in 1962, while handpicking George Cukor (“The Philadelphia Story,” “A Star is Born,” 1954) to direct. Warner also tried to enlist Cary Grant to play Higgins, but the actor refused, appalled that Warner dismissed Harrison so casually. Grant said he wouldn’t even watch the film unless Harrison was cast. Even so, Warner snubbed Andrews, contracting non-singer Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza even though Andrews had become a huge Broadway star – first as Eliza, then as Queen Guinevere in another Lerner & Loewe musical success, “Camelot.”
MIA from the set is the commentary track featured on the previous Blu-ray in which singer Marni Nixon revealed how the studio had her overdub Hepburn’s vocals. Nixon was sworn to secrecy in ‘64. It wasn’t her first dubbed singing job for the studios; she was the vocalist for Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.”
Most critics at the time felt Hepburn was unconvincing and Nixon’s singing detached. That Andrews won the Oscar for Best Actress as Mary Poppins over Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle was calculated and deliberate.
“My Fair Lady” was about “glamour and style,” says Grace Mirabella, founder of Mirabella magazine. “It made people dream, and it’s about everything that today is not.” Hepburn certainly gives Eliza’s transformation all the bravura it deserves.
The disc includes three featurettes from 1964 covering much of the same ground. There is a deeper look at the Oscar-winning costumes and art direction. Designer Cecil Beaton used a treasure trove of silk and satin, fur, lace and jewels to create the film’s distinctive 1912 look. A still of Hepburn in Eliza’s black and white ensemble remains a Hollywood icon. London streets were re-created on the Warner backlot, along with a splendid embassy ballroom, Higgins’ library, and Mrs. Higgins’ drawing-room. Victorian books, magazines, letters, photographs, sketches, and private collections provided blueprints for the style and décor.
The disc also includes Hepburn’s vocals on two songs “Show Me” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” Photo galleries, the presentation of Rex Harrison’s British Film Institute’s lifetime award, production tests, a new set of trailers, and footage from Oscar Night 1965 are also featured.
The music of “My Fair Lady” is the fabric that holds the Cinderella story together. It’s still a perfect watch for the whole family, and with a run-time of nearly three hours, you can make it a two-night affair. The intermission at the 1 hour and 41-minute mark is a good resting point, or if you’re going straight through, make more popcorn, refill your favorite drink and enjoy the evening.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle played by British actor Stanley Holloway sings “Get Me to the Church on Time.” (2) Eliza sings “Without You.” (3) “I did it, I did it. I said I'd make a woman and indeed I did,” sings Higgins.