|Breakfast at Tiffany's
1961 - unrated - 115 Mins.
|Director: Blake Edwards
|Producer: George Axelrod
|Written By: Toby Jaffe and Neal H. Moritz
|Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Mickey Rooney
|Review by: Bill King
Whatever Holly Golightly's background might have been, Blake Edwards' "Breakfast at Tiffany's" suffers for holding back that information. Truman Capote's novel described Holly as a kept woman who flirted with lesbianism along with mooching off her dates. When the film concept came up, with Audrey Hepburn as the leading candidate for the role, the producers saw it necessary to trim Holly's impurities so that she comes across solely as a high-society party girl. This was done to preserve Hepburn's screen image. That's all fine and dandy, but because of this decision, we never get a clear idea of who Holly Golightly is and why she acts the way she does.
Everyday is Halloween for me.
Of all the films Hepburn worked on, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is her most celebrated. The role presented a character who wore expensive dresses, who wore sparkling jewelry and could afford these luxuries without any indication of a job. Hepburn exemplified those qualities better than anyone else did. Her unique accent made her seem like royalty, and indeed the famed Hubert de Givenchy often furnished her wardrobe in many of her films, giving her a consistent look of chicness throughout her career.
Blake Edwards had no problem getting the most out of his star, but the screenplay downplays Holly's lifestyle so much that her actions go without motivation or reason. Why, exactly, would Holly jump into the bed of man she barely knows? Her new neighbor is novelist Paul Varjak (George Peppard), and before you know it, she's all over him and seeks assurance of their friendship.
Before this man steps into the movie, we've already met one of the most ghastly characters in cinema history. Mr. Yunioshi, as played by Mickey Rooney, is a bumbling Japanese tenant who talks with an abrasive voice and squints his eyes like a grade school kid imitating an Asian person. His inclusion can only be the result of some deep-seeded need on Edwards' part to make fun of Asians. Mr. Yunioshi serves no purpose except to be laughed at. Laughing at characters' actions is a staple of comedies, but when only one character is jeered while everyone else gets off the hook scot-free, then it's only natural to be suspicious.
The movie fails in other ways too. It often introduces new subplots or characters, but leaves them stranded once the script runs out of ideas for them. There are a few scenes that deal with Holly's infatuation with a gangster in Sing Sing prison, but this leads nowhere. There's also a development that comes up over whether Holly will marry a South American playboy and move to Brazil, but again this portion is left forgotten. The only consistency lies with Holly's attraction to Paul, and his feelings for her. Hepburn and Peppard play well off each other and make a good romantic couple, but the movie isn't content to explore their relationship. The story gets sidetracked too many times, resulting in an oddly disjoined narrative. Just when things should be going smoothly, up comes another red herring, or even worse, Mr. Yunioshi.
There are two memorable scenes in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The first is the opening title sequence, which shows Holly window-shopping in front of Tiffany's jewelry store. Holly admires the pristine stones that beckon to her, but after a long night of activity (she's wearing a dress and a tiara, and arrived in a taxi), she's too worn out to stay long. Her visit to the store acts as a cleansing experience. Perhaps she's not too proud of the previous night's activities, so this little excursion reminds her of an ideal existence. One could come to this conclusion only with the foreknowledge of Holly's background (from reading Capote's book, or from the various biographies written about Audrey Hepburn). Without this information, you'd be hard-pressed to deduce Holly's intentions in this early scene.
The same goes for the other memorable moment, when Holly sings "Moon River" on the windowsill. Pay close attention to the lyrics and you'll gain a slightly better understanding of her background, but again the movie strips Holly of any questionable activities so that a definite conclusion about her personality can't be drawn.
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" isn't one of Hepburn finest achievements, and in fact it's not even one of her most romantic films. She and George Peppard do a commendable job, but they have few scenes that indicate chemistry. Compare what they do together with the scene in "Roman Holiday," when Hepburn and Gregory Peck share a moment after escaping from Her Country's agents, or when she runs alongside Gary Cooper's train in "Love in the Afternoon." There's no comparison. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is watchable, but not rewatchable.