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Our reviews of Breakfast At Tiffany's (published January 21st, 2000), Breakfast at Tiffany's (Blu-ray) 50th Anniversary Edition (published September 19th, 2011), and Breakfast At Tiffany's: Centennial Collection (published January 13th, 2009) are also available.
Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Or at least that's how this review could have started if Audrey Hepburn (Funny Face) hadn't shocked the studio by accepting the role of a $50-1-night call girl. She demanded a more familiar director, so Blake Edwards (10) was brought in. Obviously, Steve McQueen passed on the film; instead, George Peppard (The A Team) was cast as a "kept" young writer enamored with Hepburn's character. Breakfast at Tiffany's is an iconic film that has burned in the pop culture canon ever since its premiere. It's one of my all-time favorite movies. Not because it's traditionally great in terms of cinematic techniques or innovation, but because it's like a fabulous dessert. There is so much joy in every bite of this sweet and charming film. Previously released on a bare-bones DVD, we now have Breakfast at Tiffany's: Anniversary Edition to bring it up to the current "star treatment" level for classic films on the format. So let's join "two drifters off to see the world," and have breakfast in front of everyone's favorite jewelry store at 57th Street and 5th Avenue.
Facts of the Case
Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a gold-digging playgirl who is paid to "escort" men to fabulous parties around Manhattan. Peppard is Paul Varjak, a young "sponsored" writer who has the full financial support of an older female fan (Patricia Neal, Cookie's Fortune). They end up living in the same building. Soon the two friends begin to fall for each other. But how can two free spirits learn to trust each other when they're both hustling the world and unsure of who they are? Sounds heavy, but it's all done with a light and nimble romantic comedy touch. You'd hardly recognize it as the novella written by Truman Capote, although quite surprisingly most of the dialogue is lifted straight off the printed page. The largest departures are the Hollywood ending, and the whole romance between the two leads.
Since this disc is being released in the year of Capote, I ought to start off with its literary origins. The original short story, written by Truman Capote, was published in a collection in 1958. It was Capote's first-person recollection of his first New York apartment, but centered on the mythical Holly Golightly. She was one of the most colorful characters he wrote about during his time in World War II-era Manhattan. The story and its lead character are often accused of being nothing more than a thinly-veiled steal of Christopher Isherwood's I Am a Camera, featuring Sally Bowles (later turned in to a movie of its own as well, as the musical and movie Cabaret). In the printed version, Holly's brother Fred is in the war (which makes more sense), and our heroine is even more eccentric than her film incarnation, sporting a boyish "streaked with every color" haircut. She does play guitar and has an unnamed cat, but she also has a foul mouth and a sexually forward nature, including being bisexual. There is no big romance set to swelling strings, but rather humorous stories of a little fey homosexual Southern author hanging out with a hooker in seedy bars around 71st Street. In the end, Holly simply disappears one day, and is believed to have ended up in a an African jungle with a woodcarver.
Capote has said he pictured Marilyn Monroe as Holly—but what would Breakfast at Tiffany's be without Audrey Hepburn? She was Paramount's first choice for the part, but it was thought that she would pass on the role even though she was under contract to them. Luckily, at the time Hepburn was looking to branch out into more serious adult roles. She brought along Edith Head and Givenchy to personally dress her, as they did on all her big movies, and Hepburn's style became copied around the world. Everyone wanted to dress like Holly despite her "profession." Audrey made Holly's character conform to her persona. She was a hustler, but she had a feminine style and grace that was undeniably charming, all due to the actress playing the role. At the time, she was the second-highest-paid actress in Hollywood (behind only Elizabeth Taylor), and she knew exactly how to make Breakfast at Tiffany's sing with her trademarks. "Moon River" (which won an Oscar that year for best song) was written for Audrey by the legendary Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer—but was almost cut from the film by a nervous studio executive who feared the simple one-octave song wasn't flashy enough. Rumor has it Hepburn retorted with, "Over my dead body!" when the edit was suggested. Still, she had reservations and fears. She claimed she was miscast in the role, but Holly Golightly would ultimately become her signature performance.
George Peppard , Patricia Neal, and Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) all appear in the movie. Peppard's romance with Holly is sweet and simple. He's a boy in a similar position as our heroine. He's being financially funded by Neal's domineering characters. Both Peppard and Neal were Method actors, and their styles conflicted with Hepburn's acting approach on the set. Yet somehow we believe all of their scenes, because the movie is tailored to the star, while everyone else adapts. Ebsen comes in as Holly's countrified first husband who wants to take her back; a welcome surprise. All three thespians acquit themselves well in Blake Edwards' breezy cosmopolitan tone. About the only misstep in the movie, when looking at it through modern eyes, is the stunt casting of Mickey Rooney (The Hardys Ride High) as the Japanese photographer.
Romance seems to seep right out of the frame, from the first lonely shot of Holly eating a danish while standing outside of Tiffany's in a simple black dress and pearls. It captures everything people love about New York, a city where dreaming to the strains of "Moon River" in front of store you could never afford in last night's clothes as the sun comes up is perfectly acceptable. Forty-five years after the film premiered, it's hard to see the Big Apple as such an innocent place. The magic is palpable, and Breakfast at Tiffany's keeps transcending your expectations up until the rainy climax, with a wet cat and a girl in an alley. It's hardly ever real, but would we want anything but fantasy when we are given a lush two-hour dream? The movie might be too sweet to fairly represent Capote's real-life literary work, but you won't mind a bit.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This Anniversary Edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's is an improvement over the last bare-bones release—but not as much of an improvement as I had hoped for. The transfer seems to be upgraded only slightly, with a little more punch to some of the colors, but you'll hardly notice. The sound is a nicely done surround mix, but it still isn't much better than the original mono. New to this edition is a commentary from the producer, Richard Shepherd. It's a dry affair, where he recounts the same three stories over and over again, often falls silent, and announces he is giving up before the movie climaxes. The "making of" feature shows many of the aging supporting stars and extras, but, alas, no archival footage of Hepburn or Peppard. It feels like a B-list affair for an "A" movie. The featurette on Audrey's style spans her entire career, and offers only a glimpse of why she was a fashion icon. It covers too much territory in too short a time. Then there are the featurettes that revolve around Tiffany's. You get some fairly interesting trivia, but I found it odd that this is where the DVD gives the most insight. The retailer is an American tradition, but not what I've been aching to hear about all these years. Recent years have seen definitive editions of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, but Breakfast at Tiffany's may have to wait five more years to get its true due on a home video format. I'm being a touch harsh, because this is a fine, handsome package. I was simply hoping for a little more out of it. I'd say hold off if this is a double dip for your collection, because certainly another release is inevitable down the line.
I remember the first time I ever saw this movie on the big screen. The entire opening sequence made me tear up, and I realized how magic movies could be. Truth is Breakfast at Tiffany's is a sublime romantic comedy that seems to have appeal across decades and beyond genders. Guys seem to enjoy it as much as girls do, and that's the real testament to it's allure after all these years. Anyone remember the group Deep Blue Something, and their one hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's"? That's how cool this movie is. Rock bands can make careers out of it.
Guilty of being the perfect romantic comedy forty-five years later, Breakfast at Tiffany's is the only Audrey Hepburn movie you'll ever need. If you didn't buy the previous edition, this court strongly advises you own this one.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Producer Richard Shepherd
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