Friday, May 18

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Favorite Movie #38

1961 Comedy-drama
Directed by Blake Edwards
From Paramount Studios

Audrey Hepburn
George Peppard
Patricia Neal
Buddy Ebsen
Mickey Rooney
Martin Balsam

I am guessing there would be little disagreement that this film is a true American classic.  It would be a great study for today's filmmakers (chiefly writers) who churn out these obnoxious, tiresome, humorless romantic comedies starring the same handful of obnoxious, tiresome, humorless actresses and actors whose careers look to be going nowhere.  Take heed.  You want to see a great romantic comedy, check out Breakfast at Tiffany's.  You've seen it?  Then see it again.

I am also thinking there's little disagreement on it being on my 50 top favorites list.  Maybe it would be on yours as well.  Perhaps one of those reasons is the inclusion of one the iconic actresses of her time (and most any other time)... the one that notified Queen Katharine that a new girl was in town and gonna share her last name.

Truman Capote, the writer of the novella from which the film is only sketchily based, had hopes that Marilyn Monroe would play Holly Golightly.  You certainly know this writer would have had no problem with that.  And I think Marilyn would have been sensational as well, but it surely would have been a different film than the one we know and love starring the elegant Audrey Hepburn.

Yeah, about that elegance.  Though it was downplayed in 1961, let's face it, Holly was a hooker.  Okay, maybe you prefer to say she was a call girl, an escort.  Fine, no problemo.  But she accepted $50 to go to the powder room and when she thought about marriage it was only because the man was rich and for no other reason.  Do we think of Hepburn when we think of this kind of woman?

Apparently some were thinking of her and made it known.  What some did not know was that Hepburn herself was thinking about taking on what she knew would be the defining role of her career up to that time.  What she could not have known is that it would be the defining role of her entire career.  The dean of movie websites, imdb, always lists one movie next to the actor's name, and for Audrey, it is, of course, Breakfast at Tiffany's.

So hooker or not, she gave Holly some elegance, some class.  She did it without veering too far away from her usual good girl, patrician sensibilities but she did it.  Her sense of humor was unleashed a bit more, blonde streaks added to her brunette tresses, gowned exquisitely by her pal Givenchy, paired with the then-handsome George Peppard and directed by Blake Edwards who loved having this film on his speckled resumé.

The experience of making Breakfast at Tiffany's was a good experience for Hepburn as well.  She came to completely trust Edwards.  She may not have always seen eye-to-eye with Peppard (but then, who did?) but she was pleased with how well they pulled it off.  She had just come off making John Huston's The Unforgiven where she broke her back in a fall off a stallion.  And she would go on to make The Children's Hour, a dour, far cry from the light and mirthful Tiffany's.

Who could forget the opening?  In the early dawn hours (streetlights are still on) a cab pulls up in front of the famous jewelry store and out alights a heavenly vision in a black dress that would be copied and envied and worn the world over.  She has a cup of coffee, pastry and a desire to gaze in the store's windows while she imagines the life she could have if she could afford to shop there with some abandon.

Holly meets Paul, a young writer who is living off an older woman.  He's a hooker, too, or maybe you'd prefer to call him an escort or maybe a cougar cub.  She's paying the bills and giving him a stiff allowance.  As Paul finds himself falling in love with the kooky Holly, he is not at all resistant to giving up his wanton ways.  Not so Holly.  And here, of course, is where the drama comes into our story, some truths are unleashed, some tears are spilled.  Holly is resistant to belonging to someone.  She has come to think of people as rats and super rats and falling in love sorely tests that thinking.

Holly was once married to Doc, a country guy.  She likes Doc but does not want to live in the hardscrabble way they did.  When he comes calling again, we see Holly between her old and new worlds and her caring for Doc but caring for herself now more.  Hepburn pulled out her goodies bag of acting tricks to pull off the many shadings of Holly Golightly.

The entire cast was superb, and in my opinion, that includes Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's crabby and quite Japanese upstairs neighbor.  I suppose most people think Rooney was wrong for the role because he was playing an Asian character, and rather stereotypically so.  Even Blake Edwards has acknowledged his good work but says in hindsight, he would not have cast him.  But I say, you go Mighty Mick, I thought you were hysterical and spot-on.

Ah yes, and then there's the song.  I thought Audrey actually singing Moon River out on the fire escape was one of the two best moments of the film.  It was the perfect song (thanks Mancini) done up in the perfect way, but astonishing as it may seem now, there were a few who didn't think so after viewing an early preview of the film.  Word got back to Audrey that there was talk of eliminating the song from the release print and Audrey is famously quoted as saying "Over my dead body."  And in 1961 Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn ruled.

My second favorite scene (or scenes) is the ending of the film.  The cab scene was so brilliant... great writing, great emotion, great acting by Hepburn and Peppard.  And then, of course, there is the followup watching them look for the cat that she earlier push out of the cab and into the rain.  My eyes still well up at finding the cat and knowing that Holly and Paul are going to make it.

Oh my God, let me assure you, they just don't make 'em like this anymore.

If you were to name your four favorite Audrey Hepburn movies, what would they be?  Along with Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is my top favorite Hepburn role, there are The Nun's Story, Two for the Road and Robin and Marian.  Love to hear yours.

Here's a song you know the words to:


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