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My Fair Lady(1964)
Gloriously witty adaptation of the Broadway musical about Professor Henry Higgins, who takes a bet from Colonel Pickering that he can transform unrefined, dirty Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a lady, and fool everyone into thinking she really is one, too! He does, and thus young aristocrat Freddy Eynsford-Hill falls madly in love with her. But when Higgins takes all the credit and forgets to acknowledge her efforts, Eliza angrily leaves him for Freddy, and suddenly Higgins realizes he's grown accustomed to her face and can't really live without it.
For more about My Fair Lady and the My Fair Lady Blu-ray release, see My Fair Lady Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: George Cukor
Writers: Alan Jay Lerner, George Bernard Shaw
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett
» See full cast & crew
My Fair Lady Blu-ray Review
How does this classic fare on Blu-ray?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 8, 2011
I'l make a queen of that barbarous wretch.
Retrospectively watching 1964's My Fair Lady in 2011 will for even the most casual of mainstream audiences immediately engender comparisons to two more recent films, the multiple Oscar-winning The King's Speech and Pretty Woman, itself a film that could have -- and arguably should have -- walked away with at least a handful of additional 1991 Academy nominations, if not outright wins. Both of those pictures play like they were the result of a down-the-middle split of My Fair Lady, the former taking on all the best parts of the "serious speech impediment drama" angle and the latter capturing the "whimsically magical fairy tale rags-to-riches" story. Unfortunately, My Fair Lady doesn't fare quite as well as either of its more recent "companion" films, despite walking away with its own armload of golden Oscar hardware. Still, it's a wonderful film, if not a bit overly long. It's catchy, joyous, and heartfelt, built around several fine performances, lavish and exemplary production values, and a script that really has it all, so much that, yes, it was more or less divided into two equally good, if not better, movies years after its release, years that have only seen it age like the proverbial fine wine.
Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's) peddles flowers to any and all comers, even the wealthy elite amongst whom she may never truly mingle for her social status and thick Cockney accent, either of which are a hurdle, both of which mean she's in for a hard life of poverty. But as chance would have it, she runs into a professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who is so gifted with a knowledge of patterns of speech that he can pinpoint anyone's place of origin to within a few miles. He's rather stuffy and too self-assured, looking down on those poor souls who "butcher" his language, even if they do so naturally rather than by choice. Eliza overhears him boasting that he can turn any old peasant with a go-nowhere accent into a proper socialite and accepted member of high society in six months. Eliza tracks him down and begs him to improve upon her native tongue so she might land a career in a real flower shop, but there's only one problem: she can't afford to pay the professor his usual wage. As fate would have it, a wealthy nobleman and noted phonetician, Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), makes a wager with Higgins, challenging him to turn Eliza into a first-class fair lady who will be accepted amongst the elite based strictly on her use of the English language. The game is on, the challenge is difficult, and the rewards promise to be many, but what will success really do to someone who's a Cockney peasant flower girl at heart?
Looking at My Fair Lady, one can't help but to immediately wonder how it is that man can so capably and brazenly discriminate on any old thing of his choosing. In Director George Cukor's filmed adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, it's an individual's speech pattern that's at the root of the problem. See, a certain manner of speaking, apparently, implies a particular class; a place of origin; and certain, other general stigmas, all of which of course certainly mean not only diminished chances of success, but no chances at all. Then the film posits the question, "is it better to live as one is, or strive for improvement?" Obviously the answer to that question will lie with the latter for most, but then the question revolves around whether one wishes to improve him or herself for personal gain and satisfaction, or simply to please others, to ascend to a class, a status, a way of life that discriminated so broadly to begin with? Is there room at the top to induce top-down change, going up the ladder only to knock it down? As Audrey Hepburn's character discovers in My Fair Lady, the transformation from one class to another leads to a little bit of both. She must improve her speech and elevate her status if she wants to make it in a world that dictates she must, but she must not do so at the expense of her very essence. Hers becomes a delicate balancing act, and when she sees her success defined as someone else's success rather than her own, it will be then that she will be challenged to find her true place in life.
What's so wonderful about My Fair Lady is the way it tackles such important issues -- discrimination, acceptance, and self-worth -- but does so with with an innate silliness, a buoyant sense of humor, and great ease of storytelling. The movie never feels at all structurally cumbersome or emotionally burdensome. On the contrary, it's wonderfully breezy and loads of fun. The performances are strong, and the music is catchy and uplifting from the first tune to the last. More important, the lyrics never betray the basic story elements and, like the best musicals, they enhance the movie rather than just fill in gaps and try to sell soundtracks. The entire thing is just whimsically fun from beginning to end. My Fair Lady masters the art of combining entertainment-as-diversion and entertainment-as-social-commentary brilliantly. The former is certainly the real star of the show, but never does the latter ever feel lost or secondary underneath the songs and jokes, even when the movie is superficially dominated by them, as it often is.
Lastly, and probably most readily evident, is the grace with which the movie plays. From the top down, there's never a moment where the movie exudes anything less than the pleasantly spectacular. It's a real show, a movie that certainly offers its audience its money's worth and then some: there are no corners cut, no performance left unmastered, no scene halfheartedly directed, no song less than perfectly executed. The picture's production values are exquisite. Set design is relatively simple and there aren't all that many different locations in the movie. It plays with something of a stage production feel, which doesn't betray the story's roots but doesn't hinder its success as a motion picture, either. Costumes are brilliant, lavish and exciting, and every fine detail is so perfectly in place that there just had to be a science behind the making of this movie. Director George Cukor rightly seems content to simply allow the movie to make itself through song, sets, and performances. The cast is nearly faultless, with headliner Audrey Hepburn delivering a polished and wonderfully complex performance, playing a character on two drastically different ends of the human spectrum, each with a grace, wit, and charm that's evident no matter her costume, cleanliness, speech patterns, or physical interaction with other characters and set pieces.
My Fair Lady Blu-ray, Video Quality
My Fair Lady's extravagant sets and costumes often sparkle on Blu-ray. Colors are quite gorgeous and stand out as the transfer's best asset. From the opening shot of well-dressed socialites leaving the opera forward, the transfer yields sparkling hues, generally well-balanced and harmonious, looking as exquisitely natural as ever. Even the bright white social circle scenes and the very warm interior of Higgins' office offer stability and evenness. Black levels are strong throughout, even as dark suits and black carriages bump up against shadowy backgrounds at film's open. Fine detail is strong, but not perfect. Faces and clothes, of course mainstays of Blu-ray visual efficiency, look quite good, but so too do everything from Eliza's wicker flower basket to brick fašades, wooden textures, and even dirt on the ground, all of which are presented with a natural, almost tactile appearance. Clarity is strong, but the image does appear to drift into softness and edge murkiness every now and again. It's also dotted by occasional speckles, but the print appears to be in otherwise fine shape. This isn't the snazziest looking catalogue title on Blu-ray, but Paramount's 1080p release is solid all around and should please longtime fans looking to enjoy the boost in resolution and stability the format offers.
My Fair Lady Blu-ray, Audio Quality
My Fair Lady graces Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack. The track presents a big and spacious sensation from the opening titles forward. It makes fine use of the many surround speakers, allowing music to settle in and play complimentary to the primary fronts. It's an enveloping, often exhilarating and satisfying presentation, which holds true throughout the film beyond the opening titles. The low end is hefty but not overbearing, making for a good support element to give body to the film's music. Atmospherics aren't always dominant or even prominent. Heavy rain at film's start plays rather small, and seems lost under the thunderous music. Additional ambiance plays lightly, too, but often a bit more effectively. Dialogue is, of course, focused in the front center channel. It's adequately clear and effective, and the track does well to bounce the dialogue gently across the front when words echo around the sets. This is a big, wide, energetic track. It's fun and effective, but not necessarily perfect.
My Fair Lady Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
My Fair Lady graces Blu-ray with a nice assortment of extra content, including several featuettes, an audio commentary track, trailers, and still galleries.
My Fair Lady Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
My Fair Lady is a definition of classic cinema. It's big, lavish, populated by several great stars, and most importantly, is simply unforgettable. The music is wonderful, the production values faultless, and the story endlessly entertaining while also surprisingly deep and meaningful, too. The movie may be enjoyed as a thinking man's musical or as a whimsically light good time at the movies. Is it the best of its kind? Probably not; nothing beats The Sound of Music in the Musical category, but place My Fair Lady right up there with the best of the best. Paramount's Blu-ray release of My Fair Lady offers handsome picture quality, a sound 7.1 lossless audio track, and a nice array of classic supplements. Recommended.
My Fair Lady: Other Editions
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My Fair Lady Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Making of My Fair Lady - November 15, 2011
In 1964, Jack Warner paid a record $5 million dollars for the screen rights to Broadway's most popular musical. It would become his personal project. Two years were spent from pen to screen. The glory of the movie version of My Fair Lady involved hundreds of experts ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: November 15-21 - November 14, 2011
If all gangs were as passive aggressive as the Sharks and the Jets, what a wonderful world this could be. While today's Blu-ray release of West Side Story is laughable in comparison to the violent reality of gang life today, it does represent one of the most memorable ...
• My Fair Lady and Little Big Man Heading to Blu-ray (Updated) - August 14, 2011
In an early announcement to retailers, Paramount Pictures has revealed that it will release on Blu-ray George Cukor's My Fair Lady (1964), starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, and Stanley Holloway, and Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970), starring Dustin Hoffman, ...
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