PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Breakfast At Tiffany's: Paramount Centennial Collection

Terrence Butcher

In many respects, this is a love letter to a tony, cosmopolitan New York which perhaps never existed, a Big Apple devoid of muggings, racial strife, or transit strikes.


Breakfast at Tiffany's: Paramount Centennial Collection

Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Mickey Rooney
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1961
US DVD Release Date: 2009-01-13

Audrey Hepburn was among Hollywood’s top box office attractions during that uncertain period – roughly 1948 to 1968 – between the glittery studio era and the brash New Hollywood period, when scruffy, Brandoesque young bucks took center stage. In Hepburn’s day, women reigned alongside men as ticket-buying draws, but that era seems a quaint memory now, as does Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a charming confection from the jet set JFK-era America. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has now been released in a deluxe two-disc package, as part of Paramount Pictures’ “Centennial Collection”, and fans can start drooling now.

Hepburn’s provocatively named character, Holly Golightly says early in the film, “I’m crazy about Tiffany’s”, but we know this already from the opening scene, when the creamy-complexioned Holly, in a gorgeously slinky black evening dress, steps from a taxi, then prowls longingly outside the window of the fabled Manhattan jewelry emporium Tiffany & Co., coveting the priceless baubles inside, or so we think. The scene brings to mind How to Marry a Millionaire or the late Eartha Kitt’s sultry “Santa Baby”, suggesting that our heroine is no more than a kraven golddigger, hoping to hook a big fish.

Soon after, Holly, a failed actress, meets with the appropriately Waspy Paul Varjak (played by future A-Team head honcho George Peppard), a fiction writer with a discreet ‘arrangement’ with an heiress, the impeccably coutured Patricia Neal. Peppard’s Paul, as Holly’s new neighbor, quickly becomes enmeshed in Miss Golightly’s fizzy, effervescent life, and learns more about her delicate situation. Holly is what may be politely termed, a “party girl”. Don’t say hooker…shhh…although some will argue just that.

She’s dependent on the favors of wealthy gentlemen, who may slip her 50 bucks – not exactly pocket change in the early ‘60s – “to go to the powder room”. She lives modestly, but has a chic wardrobe, and is always glamorous on her evening jaunts. She flits from soiree to soiree, dines at “21”, and imagines her beloved Tiffany’s as an enchanted place where nothing bad ever happens. Still, she’s no demure shrinking violet, but more of an impish free spirit, the Pippi Longstocking of the Upper East Side, if you will.

Her relentless sociality may endear her to most men, but it drives her landlord, Mr. Yunioshi, to utter distraction. For the unaware, the Japanese-born Yunioshi is played by Hollywood perennial Mickey Rooney. I’m tempted to avoid any conversation of this performance, but it remains a stupefying caricature that utilizes admittedly brilliant physical humor to present an archaic Hollywood stereotype of the goofy, high-strung Asiatic, screeching at all passerby through buck teeth. Rooney’s antics recall the broad Asian archetypes depicted in Disney classics such as The Ugly Dachshund and The Aristocats, two films ‘Ol Walt himself had a hand in.

Director Blake Edwards confesses to great regret over this casting in a making of featurette, though also musing that perhaps a Japanese actor should have been cast, and that would have eliminated the issue. No, Blake, the entire part should have been re-worked. Sad that it should end up one of Rooney’s most memorable roles, if only in infamy.

As one might expect, Breakfast at Tiffany’s inevitably becomes a “boy-meets-girl, boy loses girl, how does boy win her back”? romantic comedy, but there’s a definite pathos beneath all the frivolity, more than you’d ever find in the Hudson-Day pairings of the same period. Holly suffers personal losses in the story, all the while trying to avoid genuine emotional attachment. This is hardly a novel device for this genre nowadays, but perhaps it seemed fresher in 1961. And not surprisingly, the film sidesteps the fact that Holly surely sleeps with some of her well-heeled benefactors. Does Holly find true love? Do Holly and Paul get together? Must you even ask?

In many respects, the film is a love letter to a tony, cosmopolitan New York which perhaps never existed, a Big Apple devoid of muggings, racial strife, or transit strikes. One can almost picture Eva Gabor swooning from her penthouse terrace, as Holly pursues her champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Hepburn pulls it off beautifully, radiating a sort of feline grace, which in real life made her a darling of the apparel industry and its assorted fashionistas. Before this film, screen sirens tended to be full-figured, all hips and chest, sporting elaborate coiffure. I won’t say that Hepburn started the slight, waifish look, but Holly Golightly definitely helped popularize it, for better or worse.

Besides Hepburn and Peppard, Martin Balsam is amusing as Holly’s neurotic agent O.J., Patricia Neal’s manipulative society matron looks good enough to frame, and Buddy Ebsen, seemingly prepping for his role as Jed Clampett in the soon-to-be-filming The Beverly Hillbillies, whose appearance reveals more details of Holly’s past.

“Baubles, bangles, and beads”, Sinatra crooned in a gentle bossa nova tune, and that’s what you’ll find on Disc 2 of this special release, more bling than Tiffany’s at Xmas. Among the trinkets: a reunion gathering of extras from the film’s raucous party sequence, including comments from noted film historian A. Ashley Hoff, a discussion – featuring Asian-American actors – of the Yunioshi character, an examination of Hepburn’s aforementioned influence on the rag trade, and, oddly, a backlot tour of Paramount Pictures, an incongruous and unnecessary feature.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s, with Mancini’s lush, melancholy “Moon River”, urbane luxe stylishness, and calculated evasion of any dark currents bubbling in postwar America, is undeniably an artifact from a more innocent time. It may seem a fluffy frivolity when compared to the meatier stories which would supplant it in theaters at the end of the ‘60s, but there’s nothing wispy about Audrey Hepburn’s mesmerizing, kittenish performance, which dominates every scene she’s in. The girl – can I still say that? – had the goods, and one need not be a bored housewife, a ‘gay drama queen’, or the late Bosley Crowther to appreciate that. Think of it as a dance. Just let her lead and you’ll go…lightly.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.