Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has his 5:00a coffee and pastries outside Barnes & Noble.
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: Anniversary Edition (published January 30th, 2006) are also available.
"I've heard that people in New York never get to know their neighbors."
George Peppard's line from Breakfast at Tiffany's may be true in most cases, but there are extraordinary people you can't help getting to know—people like Holly Golightly. Readers got to know the New York party girl in Breakfast at Tiffany's, a 1958 Esquire novella by Truman Capote. In 1961, Audrey Hepburn brought the character to the big screen, with Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) directing.
DVD collectors get the chance to meet Holly Golightly in their own homes with Breakfast at Tiffany's: Centennial Collection, a two-disc release of the classic movie.
Facts of the Case
Paul Varjek (George Peppard, The A-Team) gets to know Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday) very quickly when he moves in upstairs. When he stops in and asks to use the phone, which she keeps in a suitcase because "it kind of muffles the sound," he hears about her moods: "The mean reds are terrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?" Holly cures those mean reds with visits to Tiffany's.
Paul also learns that Tiffany's isn't the only place Holly visits. She makes regular trips to Sing-Sing to chat with and get the "weather report" from Sally Tomato (Alan Reed, The Flintstones), a mobster imprisoned on tax charges. Holly gives the messages to Sally's lawyer and gets $100 a week.
Paul, it turns out, is a writer who's kept in style by the married woman he's sleeping with. He doesn't even have a ribbon in his typewriter. The first time Holly drops in—by fire escape to flee an annoying suitor—she figures Paul out quickly. What she can't get the hang of is his name; she keeps calling him Fred, after her brother in the Army.
When Paul's lover (Patricia Neal, The Day The Earth Stood Still) spots a man watching the building during one of their liaisons, Paul leads the man (Buddy Ebsen, The Beverly Hillbillies) on a merry chase, and then confronts him. This gives Paul a new impression of Holly, since she's really Lulamae Barnes and the man turns out to be the husband she fled.
Truman Capote reportedly wasn't happy with Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. Throughout the features, you'll be reminded that he pictured Marilyn Monroe in the role. I can see his point, having listened to the novella as a BBC reading. His original take was one of bemused admiration for a unique "wild thing." While both versions feature a Holly who runs deeper than the surface, the movie becomes a romantic comedy, with the last reel giving her a change of heart as she falls for Varjek and sees the folly of her wild ways.
George Peppard's character of Varjek, who funds his writing with an affair in much the same way Holly gets fifty bucks from her suitors to go to the powder room, was expanded from the narrator in the novella, building a parallel structure ideal for life lessons. Since it's Hepburn's movie, there are still times when Peppard doesn't get much more to do than observe—and sulk—but Peppard makes the most of it as both the dissolute author and the voice of conscience.
While the conventional woman waiting to emerge from the free spirit is always there in Hepburn's portrait of Holly, she brings the party girl alive through her stream-of-consciousness conversations with Paul. Even before viewers learn of her underage marriage, it's clear that splashing waters run deep. It's also clear that she's a delight to be around, even when she's just toying with and manipulating the "rats," er, men, in her life. Hepburn does a lot with small details, such as the phone in the suitcase or her "no name" cat; just watching Holly get up from her mid-morning slumber to answer the door brings the character home. Hepburn even makes Holly's inevitable transformation into something more than a Hollywood cliche. However, Hepburn's character comes across as an innocent, even as she's plotting to marry rich men, while the original Holly was more of a wounded survivor.
The romantic comedy vibe comes through in a segment in which Holly and Paul take on the city, doing things they've never done before. It echoes Hepburn's tour of Rome with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, although it reveals the Tiffany's couple as an unsavory pair. Complete with bouncy 1960s music, it's one of those scenes that must have been strikingly original at the time, but seems like a joke today.
In the supporting cast, Buddy Ebsen makes Doc, who took Holly in and fell for her, into a sympathetic character. Patricia Neal makes a tough, cold figure as 2-E, the woman who keeps Paul. Alan Reed seems almost paternal as mobster Sally Tomato. Even the man who waits on Holly and Paul during a visit to Tiffany's has impeccable timing. Not impressive is Mickey Rooney as a ranting Japanese neighbor, in a shrill stereotypical performance.
Blake Edwards, perhaps best known today for The Pink Panther and its sequels, mostly restrains his directorial hand, but he shows off with a party scene that took eight days to shoot. Much of it, as "A Golightly Gathering" reveals, was made up as Edwards and company went along. He uses New York locations memorably, so much so that I didn't realize how much was done on the backlot and in the studio until I heard the commentary.
"Moon River," by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, winds its way through Breakfast at Tiffany's a lot, its melody grabbing a place in the back of listeners' heads before Audrey Hepburn sings the lyrics on the fire escape and we learn the story it tells, in much the same way Holly Golightly commands our attention even before we learn who she really is. Throughout the movie, Mancini uses "Moon River" every which way to reveal character and mood. When we hear the lyrics as Holly sings on the fire escape, the story of "two drifters off to see the world" turns out to be the story of Holly and Paul. The music sounds great here, and you won't lose any of Hepburn's stream-of-consciousness dialogue either.
I noticed some flaring here and there—a screen in Paul's apartment, for example, has an odd effect—but the picture is otherwise excellently preserved.
The commentary by Producer Richard Shepherd isn't bad, and it includes some good Hollywood stories—including one about Dean Martin calling the cops on his own parties so he could send the guests home. His insights into the movie include the possibility that John Frankenheimer could have directed. Still, you might have a wistful pang, wishing Hepburn and Peppard were still around to tell their stories about the shoot.
With just over a hundred minutes of short features, there's plenty to keep fanatics occupied. "A Golightly Gathering" tops the list, sending extras from the party scene to a cocktail party today so they can reminisce about the movie; it also tells how cocktail parties evolved from Prohibition-era underground drinking. The wife and children of Henry Mancini talk about his musical legacy in "Henry Mancini: More Than Music." Asian-Americans discuss "that element that wasn't great" about Breakfast at Tiffany's in "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective," a well-done documentary that looks at Asian characters in film, then and now. "Brilliance in a Blue Box" takes a brief look at the history of Tiffany's. "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany" tells of the actress' contribution to the Tiffany's 150th anniversary book. There's an original theatrical trailer that makes the movie look like complete fluff.
Less interesting among the featurettes are "The Making of a Classic," a bland short of stories about the filming; "It's So Audrey: A Style Icon," which tells us, basically, that Hepburn is beautiful and stylish, in case you somehow didn't notice; and "Behind the Gates: The Tour," which shows stuff like the six blocks of fake New York at Paramount Studios, but all too briefly.
If you want stills, three galleries have plenty as they cover the film and its publicity campaign.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Would Breakfast at Tiffany's even have been released in 1961 without Audrey Hepburn's more sympathetic take on Holly Golightly and an upbeat ending? If it had, would the character be a part of our culture or an obscure footnote? Breakfast at Tiffany's keeps most of Holly's personal arc from the novella and made sure an unforgettable character got to the big screen. Remember, this was an earlier, more innocent era where moviegoers might not have taken to Holly's antics otherwise.
If the special features don't appeal to you, I noticed a lower-priced earlier DVD release of Breakfast at Tiffany's with fewer extras at Amazon.com.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is a delightful movie that I enjoyed a lot. Like the melodic "Moon River," this tale of two drifters will stick in my head for a long time. While Audrey Hepburn isn't quite Truman Capote's Holly Golightly, she makes a strong impression. George Peppard brings off the character of Paul Varjek smoothly enough to make his added importance pay off. What doesn't sit right after listening to Capote's original, though, is the Hollywood ending. I can't help thinking that his ending would have made for something haunting and unforgettable.
Not guilty. While hindsight compels me to reprimand Blake Edwards for missing a few opportunities, Breakfast at Tiffany's is still a movie you ought to see.
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