..

MY FAIR LADY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison
Director:  George Cukor
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.20:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  173 Minutes
Release Date:  December 8, 1998

Film ***

For fans of the movie, there has never been a better way to experience it than this Premiere Collection DVD from Warner.  Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, who also restored the classic Vertigo, did an extraordinary job on this film as well.  This has to be one of the most beautiful color films ever shot, and now it's more bright, lively and vibrant than ever before.

The story is simple enough.  A pompous speech professor, Henry Higgins (Harrison), bets that he can turn a foul mouthed, brash, cockney girl Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) into a proper lady so that not even the circles of most high society can tell the difference.  Much of the film's comedy comes from their frustrating relationship, and his attempts to teach her.

Of course, being a famed Lerner and Lowe musical, there are some great and memorable songs along the way to punctuate the experience, including "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face", "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", "I Could Have Danced All Night", and my personal favorite, "With a Little Bit of Luck".  The dance numbers that accompany some of these songs are not as lively and spectacular as say, the most famous MGM musicals, but the songs are nice enough and the cast charming enough to make them work.

Harrison is reprising his role in the Broadway play, and earned an Oscar for his role.  Ironically, because Jack Warner wanted star power in this film, the coveted role of Eliza went to the lovely and fetching Miss Hepburn over Julie Andrews, who had originated the role opposite Harrison on stage.  I say ironic because it freed Miss Andrews to play Mary Poppins for Walt Disney, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar, whilst Miss Hepburn surprisingly failed to garner even a nomination for herself.

I really only have one complaint about this film: it's too long.  Some films can be 3 or more hours in length and you hardly notice.  This one hits a few too many slow patches.  The problem is, the story is a far too simple one to stretch out to nearly 3 hours. The characters, though winning, are basically two dimensional, and not really strong enough to hold our attention for so long.  It seems that director Cukor and producer Warner fell just a little too much in love with their amazing sets, art design, and costumes (and they are stunning), but it seemed to slow the picture down a little too much.

But, the complaint is a minor one.  Undoubtedly, this is one of the most popular musicals of all time, and it hits most of the right notes.  It's certainly one that can be enjoyed time and time again.

Video ****

Warner, as always, delivers high quality goods at a fair price, and this is no exception.  The anamorphic widescreen transfer is stellar, bright, and beautiful, with vibrant rich colors and no evidence of compression.  I’ll easily wager that this movie has never looked this good on home video before.  As mentioned, the restoration work is breathtaking; well worth the time and money spent.  And the fact that all of this, plus the features, fit on a single sided, dual-layered DVD is remarkable. Oh, and widescreen, too. Glorious!

Audio ***1/2

The soundtrack is enhanced and remastered for 5.1, and demonstrates once again the quality of the restoration work involved.  The songs sound especially good.  This is not the kind of surround track that will make much use of your rear stage apart from orchestral enhancement, but still, those who've endured previous home video versions of this film will once again notice a remarkable difference.

Features ****

Some good extras in this department.  My favorites are the two scenes from the movie shown with Audrey Hepburn singing, prior to being dubbed by Marni Nixon.  Miss Hepburn seemed to have a good enough voice, but I guess with the money Warner spent on this movie, they wanted everything to be the best that it could possibly be.  There is also a trailer for this and three other Lerner and Lowe musicals, a promotional featurette on the film, cast and crew info, and a commentary track with the restorers, Ms. Nixon, and others.

Summary:

This is the epitome of what DVD is all about for me:  the ability to collect and watch classic, beloved films in a way that looks and sounds better than was ever possible before.  My Fair Lady is a beautiful, shining example of film restoration done right, with great care and attention to detail, and the result is a terrific movie that has never looked so…well, loverly.