Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Film Review

breakfast at tiffany'sA brand spanking new year and the end of the month (and Superbowl) is here. Almost. The (nearly) last day in January means it’s time once more to restart the parallel post series. If you’re new to this, that’s when the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I take on a pair of literary and cinema works that share an interconnection. Traditionally my colleague Rachel will examine and review the text of a book later adapted to film, which I will critique.

As well, we’re kicking off with one of the two reader selections for this series determined last month.

Today the wordy one peruses 1958’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s by the famed American author, screenwriter, playwright, actor Truman Capote and his best known creation. Holly Golightly, one of the “…unattached, unconventional wanderers, dreamers in pursuit of some ideal of happiness.”, as Capote’s aunt Marie Rudisill once noted. The source novella the basis for the 1961 film adaptation I’m commenting on. Rachel’s book review can be found here:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

A brief synopsis of the film: Struggling writer (what else is there?) Paul Varjak moves into a New York City apartment building. Because he has the wrong key, he rings by chance the living quarters of the pretty, quirky, and future neighbor, Holly Golightly, to be let in. At once, Paul becomes intrigued by the young woman’s shall we say unique lifestyle, which confuses and fascinates the scribe. Everyone who enters her sphere of influence discovers she flits her way through various parties and engagements with a titillating self-reliant sophistication. In private, though, when alone with Paul, Holly’s gold digger personality ebbs and her background story begins to emerge. Her vulnerability and their meeting is the crux of the story.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]

“I’m like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.”

Without a doubt, growing up in the ’60s made an impression. No less so because Breakfast at Tiffany‘s was one of the films that cemented my love for my all-time favorite Hepburn. Audrey. Catching it on the small screen one evening on grandma’s old Admiral TV set that decade set the hook ever deeper for the rail-thin beauty and future humanitarian. Watching it once more for this review, my son joined in and it was good to see it had the same effect.

He, too, became confused and instantly smitten with you-know-who.

breakfast-at-tiffanys

Originally, Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the lead role for Holly. She was cast, but her acting coach Lee Strasberg talked her out of it. Ultimately, the author was disappointed with this film adaptation of his story.

It’s easy to see why the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s was preserved as part of the U.S. National Film Registry a couple of years back. Like the character of Holly Golightly, the film has an affect with those who come into contact with it. With her, too. The free-spirit party girl dependent on men to get by, with an incurable romantic streak. Loosely based on the Capote novella, it’s a surprising mix of lighthearted comedy and romantic drama.

holly golightlyHolly simultaneously a showstopper and head-scratcher, at least for the men in the same room with her. Those falling for the “real” fake as they gandered at the big or little screen, as well. The character an amalgam of some actual friends among the rich and social elite the author came to know in his extensive travels. Though the film’s script, in George Axelrod‘s screenplay treatment, put aside aspects that would have been taboo1 in the early ’60s.

Still, the film remains a marvelous vehicle for Audrey’s onscreen allure. Someone who held your attention without the need of more blatant sexuality, à la Marilyn, but with near-level attraction. Hard to imagine, till you see Audrey on celluloid, that is. Could almost be said of its New York City setting, as well. Manhattan’s Swinging Sixties era captured through Franz Planer‘s stellar cinematography (with help by Philip H. Lathrop) in a manner that could only be described as iconic.

Gotham a cinematic barometer for the country in many ways2.

“It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I’ll give you two.”

Blake EdwardsThe entire package director Blake Edwards put together thoroughly engaging, with a caveat. Breakfast at Tiffany’s became the unexpected touchstone film3 for the period. Yet, it’s no surprise for this filmmaker. The versatile Edwards made a name delivering on romantic, comical fare to this point (Operation Petticoat in 1959 and High Time a year later had already proved). My stipulation being the “elephant in the room” whenever viewers catch it for the first time, which the director-producer-writer addressed a few years back:

In the 2006 short documentary Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Making of a Classic (2006), Blake Edwards said that when the movie was made, he didn’t think about the implications of casting a white actor, Mickey Rooney, in a role as a Japanese person, but “looking back, I wish I had never done it… and I would give anything to be able to recast it.” ~ IMDB

That aside, it could be said this film set the stage for the dramatic pivot his next two films — 1962’s Experiment in Terror and The Days of Wine and Roses — provided his burgeoning career.

Even the one detail that had no part of the original story came off more respectable than moviegoers would have imagined. Paul Varjak (an impossibly young-looking George Peppard) a writer earning his living through a wealthy socialite, Patricia Neal (captivating as ever), as her “kept” man. An appealing foil, and gender comparison, to Holly’s perhaps more looked-down (hey, it was the ’60s) métier. People gotta eat so keep your judgments to yourself.

Certainly made his character falling for Holly compelling, and perhaps more sympathetic toward her methods at securing a stable future than older audiences would have done. One of the reasons college-age viewers then connected with Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and confused inexperienced preteens like myself). A subplot clearly meant to establish Paul’s heterosexual credentials that also gave the two an initial comradeship each saw in the other.

breakfast-at-tiffany-s-cast-breakfast-at-tiffanys-23180004-1280-720

It’s why this incongruous match-up works onscreen — maybe not in real-life as Capote’s tale made crystal clear, but who the Hell cares to point that one out. Not me. Why Paul’s anguished philippic in the lovers finale, a stark appraisal of Holly’s plight that’s falling down around her, along with his feelings for the former “Lula Mae”, still registers:

“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

Perhaps it comes off as the type of love that’s feels oppressive, maybe even dangerous, but was honest in the way those living through the craziness of love relate. Balanced on the edge, just hoping it doesn’t all tip over. For both involved. Years later, I was reminded of that, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, on a date with my future bride as we watched Moonstruck together. Its scene with Nic Cage expressing his love to Cher harkened me back to this. Still rings true, too.

Why either movie works for some us, I guess.

moon river and audreyFilled with memorable scenes that included the opening with our Audrey in front of Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, and one of the coolest parties ever recorded on film (the cocktail party scene likely influenced Blake Edwards’ The Party a few years later, no doubt), the film continues to stand out. Even Audrey singing (in her own voice) “Moon River”4, and that rain-soaked final scene (though it’s likely nowhere near the cat’s favorite) still gets to me.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s a classic in that it broke with many of the romantic comedies of the age with some challenging ideas the ’60s would become known for. Today’s younger audiences may not relate to the film, finding it quaint, or sexist or racist for that matter. Like it or not, it’s also Audrey at her best in a signature role. And gives the Mad Men period of New York City another stylish close-up. The times, too, whether it was truly like that or not away from Madison Avenue. Once more glimpsing young people throwing their lives and emotions at the wall, and seeing what sticks.


Parallel Post Series

  1. Things like miscarriage, allusion to various character’s sexuality, and Holly’s sexual activity were not mentioned in the script. 
  2. You’d only look at the city the next decade over via film to judge what happened to the country after Viet Nam and Watergate came to pass. Believe me. 
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s one of the most popular films for either the director and leading-lady. Even its graphic was voted among The 100 Best Movie Posters of the Past 100 Years
  4. “Henry Mancini wrote “Moon River” specifically for Audrey Hepburn. He later said that while many version of the song have been done, he feels that Audrey’s was the best.” ~ IMDB 
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39 Responses to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s Film Review”

  1. Colin

    A great favorite of mine too, Michael. and you’ve done it justice here in this piece. I’ve heard various criticisms of it over the years but I don’t care really – it has a charm and magic of its own that overrides all that.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Yes, indeed. “…a charm and magic of its own that overrides all that.” I appreciate the kind words very much. Thank you, Colin.

      Like

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  2. Nostra

    Saw it for the first time last year and honestly don’t understand why it is considered a classic. Hepburn is amazing on screen, but her character horrible and the story itself never really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Thank you very much, Mark. Perhaps you’ll get a chance this year to take in all in. Especially for an Audrey Hepburn fan, this one is not to be missed. Thanks, my friend.

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  3. Rachel

    Lovely review to kick off the new year (and I was right, this will be moving us into our sixth year!!! time flies!) Firstly, it must be said that it’s a terrible adaptation. 😉 I can see why Capote would not have liked it as it really does very little to capture the novella’s spirit. I think the only thing they have in common is creating a compelling character in Holly Golightly, even though she’s not exactly the same character in each of the pieces.

    I thought it was a cool thing to introduce another character that uses sex for support but, in the end, Varjak leaves me cold. It’s a little bit his character and it’s a lot that he is completely overshadowed by Hepburn’s Golightly. I can never be satisfied at the end because I wish she had just got on that plane (sans abandoning the cat of course).

    I’m disappointed the director was only regretful of the casting, even if a Japanese actor (or actor of Japanese descent) had been cast, the portrayal of the neighbor would still have been vilely racist. But he’s right in that it would be great to time travel and change such a devastating decision. I practically joke on my own bile whenever those scenes play out. It is just awful.

    I’ve never paid any attention to whether or not Audrey Hepburn is in any other movies adapted from books but if so we should add them in the future. She is mesmerizing to watch! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Kinda unbelievable we’re on to our sixth year. Wow. Well, back to the film. Yeah, every character in the film pales next to Ms. Golightly. I liked Peppard and his role. Even Patricia Neal in her small bit. But Audrey truly dazzles.

      Agreed, those scenes with Mickey Rooney are cringeworthy today. I remember when my aunts talked about this film among themselves back in ’61, noting how strange it was to see the actor in this role. The attempt to fit a “name” in this supporting bit stands out, and not in a good way.

      I know you read the novella before ever seeing the film, me the opposite. It’s interesting how they changed the story to make it for a more general audience, and to lighten it up some. Would have been something else altogether, if they stayed truer to Capote’s cast of characters. I enjoyed that they moved it to the 60s instead of the mid-war 40s.

      I’ll look to see if Audrey was in something that we can take in for a duo post in the future. Always happy to have this Hepburn on any screening schedule. Thanks so much, Rachel! 😀

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  4. ruth

    Hi Michael! I love the NYC setting and the fashion but for some reason the story didn’t really make an impression to me. Still it’s amusing to see George Peppard in a romantic role as I’m so used to seeing him in the A-Team 😉 Audrey is always so fashionably gorgeous and that black dress is so iconic.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      I understand. BaT does offer a distinct snapshot of New York City of the time and the fashion through the ever gorgeous entity that was Audrey. Many thanks for the read, comment, and share, Ruth.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      • ruth

        Audrey is truly out of this world isn’t she? She made the film for me, as she did w/ My Fair Lady, too.

        Btw, hope you’ll join Five for the Fifth this week Michael 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Excellent review!

    I saw my first Audrey Hepburn film in the late 1990s, fell in love with her screen presence, and proceeded to see every film that I could find that she was in. “Some of my favorite Hepburn films are “Two for the Road” and “How to Steal a Million.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Two very fine films, indeed! Yes, Audrey was someone quite special. Never tire of watching her in whatever film I see her in. Many thanks for the read and comment. 🙂

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  6. robbinsrealm

    Excellent review!

    I saw my first Audrey Hepburn film in the late 1990s, fell in love with her screen presence, and proceeded to see every film that I could find that she was in. “Some of my favorite Hepburn films are “Two for the Road” and “How to Steal a Million.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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