Originally released in 1964, and directed by George Cukor, this was my first visit to the cinematic classic My Fair Lady and it’s easy to understand why it is held at such high esteem with strong lead performances from Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.
An adaptation of the Broadway stage play, My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion and stars Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, a loud, working-class flower-selling girl from the streets of Covent Garden, and Harrison as the upper-class Henry Higgins, a professor in phonetics who makes it his task to turn Eliza into a ‘proper’ lady through tutoring and ‘guidance’. It’s a basic premise which probably wouldn’t get made today, as the central story is a yad dated, but it does remain quite sharp and funny, aided by the inclusion of catchy songs alongside an intelligent balance of lead male/female roles that twist and turn during the nearly 3-hour runtime.
This new release from Paramount Pictures is a stunning 4K UHD transfer, restored from 8K scans from the original 65mm film. For me, this release is a great example of careful restoration, it’s crisp in quality throughout and utterly clear and vibrant. You can see the colours and costumes standing out at all the right points, which are particularly important in certain scenes, with the scene at the races looking particularly modern and stylish.
As this was my first encounter of My Fair Lady, and I’ll be honest to say I do struggle with some musicals, I’m always concerned that the songs might get within the narrative but here they slip in effortlessly, and you can see why it was a huge hit. While Harrison and Hepburn are the lead singing roles, most of Audrey’s songs were dubbed by Marni Nixon – a professional artist who ghost dubbed numerous iconic actresses throughout the 50s and 60s. Harrison isn’t dubbed but interestingly starred in the original Broadway play alongside Julie Andrews as Eliza. While you do wonder why Andrews didn’t move to film, I guess that at the time, she didn’t quite have that huge star power that Hepburn possessed.
That being said, Hepburn doesn’t disappoint in her role, in both comedy and drama, I’m going to slightly forgive the somewhat painful early ‘cockney’ English she takes on, as it grates a little and especially when she’s screaming fairly hysterically from time-to-time. I think that comes down to the era though, rather than anything unique. Harrison also excels as Higgins, while in a modern (or any) sense he comes across as a blatant misogynist and could be easily dislikeable, the film mostly treats both performances with a comic edge, meaning his rants about women and his wicked behaviour towards her at the beginning isn’t as evil as it might be, because many of his tirades reflect himself and the things he doesn’t like about his own life, despite his status, and that’s clear and strangely funny.
For a film of that era, there’s a surprising lack in dance sequences, but I didn’t really miss them as there’s a reasonably progressive narrative, despite the film feeling quite long at nearly three hours. This type of film also reminded me that their used to be an addiction to young women being suggestively involved with older men at that point in time but, again, that’s the era rather than just My Fair Lady, and thankfully roles like this don’t exist quite as regularly these days.
The film also displays impressive technical moments and huge sets that feel genuinely authentic. I loved how it celebrates the working people of the streets of London, never belittling the roles too much and giving them time in their element to let the audience decide. There’s an early sequence where Covent Garden is waking up, we see people enter and then different groups arrive in freeze frame moment-by-moment, it looks glorious and when it comes together is utterly rewarding. This might be a theatre trick in its style, but it makes for real scene-setting.
As well as the lead pair, it’s Stanley Holloway, as Eliza’s father Alfie, who gets some good screen-time as well – and one of the few dance sequences. He’s estranged to his daughter and an alcoholic, but with an odd charm that fills up the screen with his songs and moments along the way. He’s got a character arc as well, from borrowing from his daughter for alcohol, to eventually having money come his way, it’s a great performance. My Fair Lady is also very funny, mainly, there’s a superb comic scene when Eliza is first ‘bathed’ by the housemaids, and her testing out her new-found poshness during the Ascot races sequence is excellent.
My Fair Lady has clever songs, with hints of Sondheim, and some absolute iconic ones that I didn’t even realise were from here. You’ll get the likes of Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak?, With a Little Bit of Luck, Just You Wait, I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, and Get Me to the Church on Time to name a selection, and plenty more, as well as that score in English 7.1 Dolby True HD audio sound that ran perfectly via the surround sound system.
Eliza and Henry are great characters, ridiculous and playful, rude and wrong, smart and sharp, and they’ll both have notable character curves that switch and change from start to finish. While the running time did wear me out a little, you can see why it’s considered a genuine classic, and also part of Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and if you don’t agree? Well, Eliza will do you in!
My Fair Lady 4K UHD and Blu-ray is out now from Paramount Home Entertainment: https://amzn.to/3wty4bv
4K Ultra HD Disc
- Feature film in 4K Ultra HD
DISC 2: Blu-ray Disc™
- Feature film
DISC 3: Blu-ray Disc™ SPECIAL FEATURES
- More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady Then & Now
- 1963 Production Kick-Off Dinner
- Los Angeles Premiere 10/28/1964
- British Premiere
- George Cukor Directs Baroness Bina Rothschild
- Rex Harrison Radio Interview
- Production Tests
- Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals
- Comments On A Lady
- Theatrical Featurettes