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With any movie musical, it’s necessary to “suspend disbelief”: to accept that in the midst of the realistic story that’s being told, the characters are going to periodically break into song and dance, something that one experiences rarely, if ever, in real life. Some musicals balance the realistic and the musical elements better than others, and My Fair Lady definitely falls onto the side of handling the mix very well indeed.

My Fair Lady
To begin with, the songs are wonderful. If you don’t end up whistling, singing, or humming some of these tunes after you’ve finished watching the film, then you must have been asleep during the song and dance numbers! But more than that, the songs are skillfully incorporated into the fabric of the film itself; the songs develop naturally from the scene, and continue to develop the storyline.

Part of the reason that the songs fit so well into the structure of the film is that the film itself has a very “stage-y” feel to it, which is not surprising, considering its origins as a play. This is by no means a criticism of the film, however: far from it, in fact. Director George Cukor has made this aspect of the material into a positive element, by setting up many of the scenes as tableaux and deliberately playing on the idea of a scene as being “staged.” The “Ascot Gavotte” is a particularly good example of how this works, with the flamboyant high-society ladies posed, frozen, in the beginning of the scene at the racetrack, then breaking into life simultaneously a moment later to begin a carefully choreographed, stylized dance that perfectly conveys the manners and affectations of the upper class.

Not everything is perfectly arranged in My Fair Lady; the pacing isn’t quite strong enough to sustain the movie’s almost three-hour running time. The first half of the film is without a doubt the best and most memorable part of the movie; after that, it moves into more well-trodden ground of romance, and loses some of the sparkle of the enchanting first half. Some of the pacing problem comes, I think, from the handling of the character of Eliza’s father (Stanley Holloway). As a minor character in the first half, he’s amusing and adds charm to the film; in the second half, he gets a rather drawn-out musical piece all to himself, which slows down the pace of the film considerably and doesn’t really contribute anything to the story.

The central actors in My Fair Lady are simply “loverly,” bringing the script’s well-drawn, funny characters to life. Audrey Hepburn brings a nice spark to the character of Eliza, but it’s Rex Harrison who really steals the show as the self-centered Professor Henry Higgins, earning himself a richly-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor.

My Fair Lady
I’m sorry to say that someone at Warner dropped the ball on the DVD edition of My Fair Lady. It’s evident that the film was painstakingly restored... but then it was badly degraded by the use of heavy, completely unnecessary edge enhancement, which is noticeable and distracting throughout the film. The distortion caused by the edge enhancement reduces the level of detail visible in the image; for example, in the Embassy Ball sequence, the guests across the room ought to be perfectly clear, but the edge enhancement blurs and distorts their faces.

Apart from the edge enhancement, My Fair Lady is an example of a excellent restoration and transfer. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen image at the original aspect ratio of 2.20:1. I couldn’t see any noise or film grain at all in the image, and the contrast is great. The colors are sometimes a bit muted, but I suspect that this is because of the nature of the original image, not of the transfer. I periodically spotted a few print flaws, such as scratches and flecks, but they’re nothing serious.

The audio track was also remastered for the DVD edition, to a creditable Dolby 5.1. As a musical, My Fair Lady puts its soundtrack to a pretty stiff test: in order to fully enjoy the songs of the film, the sound must be of quite good quality, and I’m pleased to report that it is. The songs come through with a clean, clear sound, with the singing voices and music kept well in balance.

The remastering makes use of the surround channels to present an immersive experience. In many scenes, such as one that takes place in a crowded bar, the sound appears to be coming from all sides. The only slight flaw in the sound, overall, is a slight hint of distortion on a few occasions, but overall the quality is quite high.

My Fair Lady comes with a solid selection of extras, considering that it was an early DVD release. The audio commentary track features art director Gene Allen, singer Marne Nixon, and restorers Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. A ten-minute promotional featurette from 1964, titled “The Fairest Fair Lady,” takes an interesting look behind the scenes at what was evidently a very large and complicated production.

Interestingly, the singing voice of the character of Eliza Doolittle was supplied not by Audrey Hepburn but by singer Marne Nixon; the DVD includes the original versions with Hepburn’s vocals for two of the songs.

Finally, the special features section includes production notes, and trailers for My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Camelot, and Gigi.

My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady is lighthearted, fun, and entertaining; I only wish that Warner hadn’t muddied the waters with edge enhancement! But with an anamorphic transfer and a reasonable number of extras in its current release, My Fair Lady is unlikely to appear any time soon in a new version. With that in mind, and considering the very inexpensive retail price, it’s a DVD that’s well worth picking up right away, both for lovers of the film and for those who haven’t seen it yet.