Paramount // 1961 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 19th, 2011
The craziest heroine who ever crept between the pages of a best-selling novel!
"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."
Paul Varjak (George Peppard, The A-Team) is a struggling writer currently being "sponsored" by the wealthy Emily Eustace Failenson, who has just moved Paul into a New York City apartment. Paul isn't exactly proud of the arrangement he has with Mrs. Failenson (he provides her with certain "services" in exchange for her financing), but it's an easy way to get by. Shortly after moving into his new apartment building, Paul meets Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, Charade), an eccentric socialite unlike any other woman Paul has ever met. She's charming, loopy, and entirely unpredictable; a bewildering delight Paul quickly develops feelings for. However, Holly has a whole lot of unpleasant secrets lying beneath her radiant exterior. Will these two troubled souls ever find a way to rid themselves of their personal baggage?
Though Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly is one of cinema's most iconic characters, you can see why Truman Capote (author of the novella upon which the film is based) initially wanted Marilyn Monroe in the role. Holly is a delightful, beautiful, beloved ingenue working hard to mask deep inner pain, a character who certainly reflected the real-life Monroe. Ironically, Monroe wound up playing a very similar role in The Misfits the same year Breakfast at Tiffany's was released, and her performance was remarkable. However, there was an unmistakable sadness in Monroe's eyes that gave her away; a broken spirit that any attentive person could detect. It would have been there no matter what sort of character she was playing, as that sadness seemed to be omnipresent during the later years of Monroe's life.
Hepburn, on the other hand, doesn't initially appear to be masking anything. Her joy seems so genuine; her eyes sparkle with enthusiasm as she breathlessly addresses one subject or another. Her smile is one of the most enchanting sights in the movies; an infectious grin guaranteed to make anyone feel just a little bit better. People fall in love with her, but they are usually ill-equipped to deal with the troubles that will inevitably surface if they dig deep enough. Like the "Moon River" of the film's theme song, she inspires dreams and breaks hearts. As the film slowly reveals the truth about Holly's past, Hepburn subtly allows the overwhelming sadness to creep in. It's a beautiful performance, slipping from radiance to overwhelming fearfulness (or "the reds," as Holly so memorably suggests) in a heartbreakingly graceful manner. Has there ever been another actress capable of capturing our hearts with such disarming ease?
Though Holly persists in measuring a man's value by the size of his bank account, it's Paul who seems to have a chance at generating something lasting with her. Like Holly, he's a seemingly distinguished member of society held captive by unacknowledged secrets. They both yearn to break free, but doing so would require each of them to take significant risks and confront serious personal issues. Paul doesn't make as much of an impression, largely because Peppard's performance is fairly bland and the actor isn't too good at conveying his own internal conflict, but the screenplay does a nice job of quietly accentuating the similarities between these two drifters after the same rainbow's end.
For the most part, director Blake Edwards is attentive to the emotional needs of the story, allowing his direction to tighten or loosen as required. The opening sequence is such a beautifully relaxed piece of filmmaking, as an elegant-dressed Holly enjoys a croissant in front of Tiffany's. Edwards keeps things bustling and energetic during the early party sequence, and allows the pace to turn appreciably languid during the unexpectedly lovely sequence featuring Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) as Holly's former husband. The film owes so much of its emotional pull to Henry Mancini's score, as his variations on "Moon River" are consistently powerful enough to overwhelm us with their aching simplicity. The film's famous closing sequence is strong stuff (yes, a violation of Capote's novel and pure Hollywood fantasy, but strong stuff regardless), and it owes so much its power to the depth of feeling in Mancini's music.
Breakfast at Tiffany's strolls on to Blu-ray sporting a somewhat problematic 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The good news? The film looks better than it ever has on home video. The bad news? This release is plagued by a good deal of digital noise reduction (DNR), which seems to have been applied inconsistently throughout the film. Select moments will look warm, natural and gorgeous, while others have that distinctively waxy, overscrubbed look. Detail suffers on occasion, but again, it's very inconsistent. The film is almost entirely free of scratches and flecks, flesh tones are warm and natural and blacks are impressively deep, but the DNR is going to prove rather troublesome for many cinephiles. Audio is a good deal better, with clean dialogue and a very rich-sounding musical track. Mancini's score has never sounded stronger, and the busier scenes do a nice job of fusing sound design with dialogue and incidental music (speaking of which, that cha-cha version of "Moon River" is kind of amusing). Supplements have been ported over from the previous DVD release: a commentary with Richard Shepherd, a generous supply of featurettes ("A Golightly Gathering," "Henry Mancini: More Than Music," "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective," "The Making of a Classic," "It's So Audrey: A Style Icon," "Behind the Gates: The Tour," "Brilliance in a Blue Box" and "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany"), some galleries and a trailer.
Do I even have to say it? Mickey Rooney's performance as Mr. Yunioshi has long been an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise lovely film. Rooney certainly wasn't the only Caucasian actor of his era to play an Asian character, but his cartoonish performance makes Marlon Brando's turn in The Teahouse of the August Moon look like the epitome of tastefulness. Regardless of whether or not it's racist, the character is completely out of synch with the rest of the film. The majority of the comedy in Breakfast at Tiffany's is witty, sophisticated stuff; Mr. Yunioshi spends his scenes screaming at the top of his lungs and running into things. Imagine The Three Stooges popping up to perform a quick slapstick routine every fifteen minutes or so during Casablanca and you'll have an idea of the effect Rooney's character has on Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Mickey Rooney's ill-advised antics aside, Breakfast at Tiffany's remains a touching, absorbing film that spotlights Ms. Hepburn at her very finest. This Blu-ray release isn't as strong as it ought to be, but it represents a good excuse to revisit a classic.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Video: Julie Andrews Q&A from 50th Anniversary Screening