MY FAIR LADY
When MY FAIR LADY ($25) received its restoration and theatrical re-issue in 1994, I was fortunate enough to see the film projected at New York's Ziegfield theater. MY FAIR LADY never looked better than it did on that huge screen, however I have to admit that Warner Home Video's DVD release of the film runs a very close second.
MY FAIR LADY is one of those rare films that turns out to be utter perfection in every way. In fact, MY FAIR LADY earned eight Academy Awards in 1964 including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Sound. For those unfamiliar with MY FAIR LADY, the film is the big screen adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe stage musical, which is in itself a reworking of George Bernard Shaw's PYGMALION.
As a musical, MY FAIR LADY features a fabulous score with such well known songs as Wouldn't It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck, I Could Have Danced All Night, On The Street Where You Live, Show Me, Get Me To The Church On Time and I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face. The plot concerns Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), phoeneticist who bets that he can take a cockney flower girl and teach her to speak English so well that she will be able to pass as a duchess at the upcoming Embassy Ball. The day after Higgins makes his boastful wager, Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) shows up on his doorstep wanting to learn how to speak like a lady so Eliza can better her position in life.
Both Harrison and Hepburn are utterly marvelous in their roles and the fawn-like beauty of Audrey Hepburn was never better showcased than in period costumes of Cecil Beaton. Not only do the two leads shine in MY FAIR LADY, the film is filled with wonderful supporting performances. Stanley Holloway is an absolute delight as Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle. Wilfrid Hyde-White is a comic gem as Colonel Pickering, as is Gladys Cooper as Henry Higgins mother. Jeremy Brett who went on to portray the definitive Sherlock Holmes for British television is charming as Freddie Eynsford-Hill. Finally, there is Theodore Bikel who makes the most of the brief role of Zoltan Karpathy.
Warner Home Video has done a tremendous job bringing MY FAIR LADY to DVD. Not only has the films extended running time been handled by dual layer technology, Warner has lavished tender loving care on the restored film elements to produce an utterly pristine Letterboxed presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions. MY FAIR LADY is framed close to the film's original 2.20:1 theatrical aspect ratio, with no discernable compromises to the edges of the frame. The image is super sharp and finely detailed, while the colors are remarkably reminiscent of IB Technicolor. There wasnt a trace of chroma noise or distortion on the DVD. Digital compression artifacts were well disguised by excellent DVD authoring.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack sounded just loverly. The restoration and re-mixing of the Academy Award winning soundtrack into Dolby Digital has given the music a wide soundstage, which served to enhance all of the musical numbers. MY FAIR LADY was originally recorded in six channel stereo and the new mix takes advantage of that fact. Look for a great example of split surrounds during the Ascot Gavette. A French monaural soundtrack has also been encoded into the DVD. Subtitles are available in English and French.
The interactive menus contain a bit of animation and music and allow access to the DVDs nice array of supplemental features. First and foremost amongst the supplements is an audio commentary featuring the restoration team leaders Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, art director Gene Allen and singer Marni Nixon who was the singing voice of Eliza Doolittle. The commentary chronicles the difficulties of film restoration, in addition to the production and restoration of MY FAIR LADY. Additional supplements include a behind-the-scenes documentary, plus Audrey Hepburns vocal performances for Wouldn't It Be Loverly and Show Me reintegrated back into the musical numbers. Audrey Hepburn brings a warmth to Wouldn't It Be Loverly that Marni Nixon cannot equal. However, Ms. Hepburn was not up to the vocal challenges of Show Me. Cast and crew biographies, plus four theatrical trailers for Lerner and Loewe musicals fill out the DVDs supplements.
MY FAIR LADY is a one of a kind movie treat that deserves a place of honor in just about every DVD collection. Additionally, Warner Home Video deserves high praise for their marvelous DVD release. Absolutely recommended.
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