Breakfast at Tiffany's (Anniversary Edition) (1961)

Roger Holland

I suppose we should just count ourselves fortunate Capote didn't write any Indian characters into Breakfast at Tiffany's, otherwise Blake Edwards might have asked Peter Sellers to break out the boot polish.

Breakfast At Tiffany's (anniversary Edition)

Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Paramount
First date: 1961
US DVD Release Date: 2006-02-07
Amazon affiliate
You can always tell what kind of a person a man really thinks you are by the earrings he gives you.
-- Ms. Holly Golightly

Somehow much more than the sum of its parts, Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of those flawed masterpieces that almost everybody loves. The question is, why?

The story of a call girl, a kept man, and the redeeming power of love, Breakfast at Tiffany's is hardly a thrill-a-minute ride of plot twists and turns. In fact, it's at least half an hour too long for its story and its characters, and its interminably choreographed party scene has aged about as well as a cheap wine with a cracked cork. Moreover, George Axelrod's screenplay, which bowdlerises the darker realities out of Truman Capote's original novella, substitutes subterfuge for prostitution, creates a spurious romance for his heroine, and contrives a typically Hollywood happy ending -- with George Peppard's Fred, the novelist with no ribbon in his typewriter -- rather than allowing Ms. Holiday Golightly to slip away to Rio, Buenos Aires, Africa, and parts unknown like the true wild spirit she was.

As if this weren't enough, director Blake Edwards makes the unfathomable decision to cast his friend Mickey Rooney as Japanese photographer Yunioshi, whom he plays as the worst kind of racial caricature. If this choice is "ethnically inappropriate," as producer Richard Shepherd suggests on the Breakfast at Tiffany's (Anniversary Edition) DVD, Edwards himself allows that he wishes now he could change what he did then, but his regrets sound unconvincing (this in the DVD's documentary, "The Making of a Classic"). I suppose we should just count ourselves fortunate Capote didn't write any Indian characters into Breakfast at Tiffany's, otherwise Edwards might have asked Peter Sellers to break out the boot polish.

However, quite the worst thing about Breakfast at Tiffany's is that it didn't star Marilyn Monroe.

As Audrey Hepburn's longtime companion, Robert Wolders explains, "Truman Capote had originally visualised Monroe in the part, and she probably would've been allowed to play the character as he had created her in the book, but they unfortunately wouldn't let Audrey do that." Wolders regrets that Hepburn was not able to show the earthy side of herself that he obviously remembers fondly, but for me, the disappointment is not seeing Monroe in the part that would certainly have won her an Oscar.

It's unclear from the additional materials here or elsewhere exactly why Monroe didn't play Holly Golightly. Edwards implies he didn't want her, but I've also heard she was advised to turn the part down for "image" reasons. In any case, once you begin to imagine Monroe's breathy comic sexiness oozing around Capote's dialogue, and her special vein of self-knowing sadness catching the camera unawares, it's hard not to regret her absence.

That said, quite the best thing about Breakfast at Tiffany's is that it did star Audrey Hepburn.

As Hepburn's son, Sean Ferrer, quite rightly explains, "She took something which was one way, and turned it completely into something else... up to the point where people forget what the film was really about. She was scared and happy and funny and delightful and spunky and emotional and..." Indeed she was. She may not have been Holiday Golightly as Capote saw her, but Hepburn creates a terrific Holly Golightly. A combination of chic beauty, quick wit, and couldn't-care-less confidence, leavened with just the right amount of underlying vulnerability, Hepburn's Holly Golightly has become an icon who approaches Monroe's own legend.

Of course, much of the credit for her achievement must still go to Capote, for his syllable-perfect dialogue makes up huge swathes of Axelrod's screenplay, and therefore Hepburn's characterisation. Her look contributes to the delight as well, her little black dresses and capri pants, her adorable hair, even her bathtub-turned-couch. And that blink-and-you-miss-it moment when she briefly dons a Huckleberry Hound mask at the five and dime in silent tribute, I assume, to Henry Mancini's "Moon River".

But the moment that brings it home is the look of sheer anguish on her face just before she pours herself into that famous rain-swept final kiss. That look alone is enough to make you want to believe in happy endings. True to the book, and life, or not.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.