My Fair Lady (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: May 14, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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My Fair Lady (4K UHD Review)

Director

George Cukor

Release Date(s)

1964 (May 25, 2021)

Studio(s)

Warner Bros./ViacomCBS (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

My Fair Lady (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

While on his way to meet Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) in London’s Covent Garden district one evening, the famed phonetics expert and professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) encounters a brash young flower girl named Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), who scolds him in her thick Cockney accent. Higgins proceeds to reprimand the girl, then boasts to Pickering that his new method of teaching language and diction is so good, he could pass her off as a duchess in mere months. Realizing her low station in society, Eliza decides to call on Higgins at his home the next day, where Pickering is staying, and offers to pay the professor for lessons. Intrigued, Pickering encourages Higgins to take up the challenge, offering to cover the cost of the entire experiment if he succeeds. So Eliza moves into Higgins’ home, and her relentless, day-and-night regimen of training begins. Just when it seems the project is hopeless, Eliza begins to rise to Higgins’ challenge. And before he realizes it, she grows in his affections too.

Based on the popular 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical of the same name, director George Cukor’s film adaptation of My Fair Lady took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1965, and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood musicals of all time. It features Harrison at the height of his career, just having finished Cleopatra and three years prior to his role in Doctor Dolittle. Though he appeared in over a hundred and sixty films in his career, Wilfrid Hyde-White shines here in his most popular and recognizable role (though sci-fi fans may still know him better for his appearance in the original Battlestar Galactica pilot film). Stanley Holloway does his best to steal the show as Eliza’s working class father. And though it’s not the film that made her famous (that was Roman Holiday in 1953), nor is it her most critically well-regarded work (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, and Charade are often ranked higher), Audrey Hepburn’s comic and musical performance here is completely charming, and it certainly cemented her place in the hearts of movie fans the world over. Of course, it helps that the film’s musical numbers are so memorable, among them “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” My Fair Lady is also a marvel of costuming and production design, and certainly inspired the careers of many a fashion designer and artist working in those fields today.

My Fair Lady was shot on 65 mm Eastman Kodak film using the Super Panavision-70 camera with Panavision lenses, and was finished on film at the 2.20:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For the film’s 50th anniversary in 2015, a new 4K restoration was commissioned by CBS and supervised by Robert A. Harris using 8K scans of the original 5-perf negative (as well as 65 mm black and white separation masters in order to restore select bits of OCN that no longer survive). That 4K source is the basis for Paramount’s new Ultra HD release, complete with color grading for high dynamic range by Fotokem colorist Mark Griffith (who also graded the 2015 restoration and a recent 8K restoration as well). The result is an absolute marvel. Every bit of detail preserved in the negative is visible on screen—so much more than was apparent on the 2015 Blu-ray, which was itself impressive—and all of it is clean and tightly refined. You can see the subtle weave of Higgins’ herringbone suit, the pattern in his tweed hat, the extraordinary Morris-style wallpapers that decorate his home. Skin textures, fabrics, the dirty columns in the film’s Covent Garden opening, all of this detail is present and more. You can practically read the newsprint on Hoxton’s package of chips as Higgins tells him where he was raised. Later, when Higgins and Pickering receive Eliza in the library, the etchings on the desk lamp stand out, as does the wood grain on the spiral staircase. Photochemical grain is light but intact, and always organic. The HDR grade (compatible with Dolby Vision as well as HDR10) is very restrained, preserving the overall look of the 2015 Blu-ray, but the larger 10 and 12-bit space allows for much greater nuance in the colors and shadings. The flower market sequence exhibits this difference nicely. Just look at Eliza’s extraordinary feathered hat a short time later, practically bursting with pink and orange hues! The brass lamp gleams brightly and the stained glass windows of Higgins’ entryway are luminous. The darkest areas of the frame are inky-black, yet a bit more detail in those shadows is now visible than was apparent on the Blu-ray, while the brightest areas of the frame are more naturally brilliant and exhibit greater detail too. For my money, My Fair Lady has not only never looked better than it does here, this is absolutely a reference-grade image for such a large-format catalog film in 4K.

Sound on the 4K disc is available in the same lossless English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD (96kHz, 16-bit) mix that was found on the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray. The original 6-track full coats were digitized and digitally cleaned by Nicholas Bergh (of Endpoint Audio Labs) and John Polito (of Audio Mechanics) for the 2015 restoration, resulting in a mix that preserves the vintage 70 mm theatrical sound experience. The soundstage is big and wide across the front, with the surrounds used primarily for light ambience and to extend the stage for greater immersion. The film’s overture bursts with clarity and rich musical tones, exhibiting a level of fidelity that should please the most picky cinephiles. Dialogue is wonderfully clear sounding, positioned naturally across the front center of the stage. Age-related defects—think pops, crackles, and warble—have all been carefully removed, leaving just an occasional bit of light analog hiss audible in select dialogue moments. Bass is light but pleasing. This mix obviously isn’t going to put your sound system through its paces, but it’s not meant to. Rather, it’s intended to present the sonic experience of this film accurately, in best-ever quality, and that’s exactly what it does. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include Dolby Digital 2.0 mono in German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese, with subtitles available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish.

There are no extras on Paramount’s actual 4K disc, nor is the film included in this package in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. However, you do get a Blu-ray bonus disc (the same one from the 2015 release), which adds the following special features:

  • More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady Then & Now (SD – 57:58)
  • 1963 Production Kick-Off Dinner (HD – 23:20)
  • Los Angeles Premiere 10/28/1964 (SD – 4:53)
  • British Premiere (HD – 2:17)
  • George Cukor Directs Baroness Bina Rothschild (SD – audio feature – 2:39)
  • Rex Harrison Radio Interview (HD – audio feature – 1:06)
  • Production Tests: Lighting (HD – :57)
  • Production Tests: Wilfrid Hyde-White Make-Up (HD – :47)
  • Production Tests: Rain/Set (HD – :49)
  • Production Tests: Covent Garden Lighting Test (HD – :44)
  • Production Tests: Alt. Higgins/Pickering Screen Text (HD – 3:48)
  • Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals: Show Me (HD – 2:48)
  • Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals: Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (HD – 4:32)
  • Comments On a Lady: Andrew Lloyd Weber (SD – 1:04)
  • Comments On a Lady: Martin Scorsese (SD – 1:19)
  • Galleries: Cecil Beaton Sketches (HD – 2 galleries)
  • Galleries: B&W Stills (HD – 2 galleries)
  • Galleries: Color Production Stills (HD – 1 gallery)
  • Galleries: Documents and Publicity (HD – 1 gallery)
  • Teaser Trailer with City Tags (HD – 7 trailers – 1:13 in all)
  • With Pride Trailer (HD – 1:11)
  • Awards Trailer (HD – 1:04)
  • Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Trailer (HD – :58)
  • Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Reserved Seats Trailer (HD – 1:25)
  • Theatrical Reissue: Poster Illustration Awards Trailer (HD – 1:25)
  • Theatrical Reissue Trailer (HD – 3:48)
  • The Story of a Lady (HD – 5:05)
  • Design for a Lady (HD – 8:22)
  • The Fairest Fair Lady (HD – 9:31)
  • Rex Harrison BFI Honor (HD – 2:08)
  • Rex Harrison Golden Globe Acceptance Speech (HD – :47)
  • Academy Awards Ceremony Highlights 4/5/65 (SD – 2:09)

All of these extras, which are comprehensive, are carried over from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film, in particular the 2015 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which was widely regarded as definitive at the time. The only thing that’s missing here is the excellent audio commentary by Gene Allen, Marni Nixon, Robert A. Harris, and James C. Katz that was available on Warner’s 1998 and 2004 DVD releases (as well as the first Paramount Blu-ray back in 2011). So you might wish to hang onto one of those discs if you still have it. Note that you do at least get a Digital copy code on a paper insert.

Fifty-seven years after it first wowed moviegoers, My Fair Lady remains a jewel of classic, large-format Hollywood filmmaking. CBS’ 2015 restoration resulted in a superlative viewing experience on Blu-ray Disc, and I’m thrilled to report that the experience has only gotten better on Ultra HD. Paramount’s new 4K edition is truly a must-have release for any serious cinephile or fan of the format. Don’t miss it.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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