Valentine’s 2014. Movie #89: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Director: Blake Edwards

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Jose Luis de Villalonga, John McGiver, Alan Reed, and Mickey Rooney

Academy Awards (1962):

Best Music, Original Song: Henry Mancini (music), Johnny Mercer (lyrics) for the song ‘Moon River’

Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Henry Mancini

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Audrey Hepburn

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour: Hal Pereira, Roland Anderson, Sam Comer, Ray Moyer

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: George Axelrod

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“I’ll tell you one thing, Fred, darling… I’d marry you for your money in a minute. Would you marry me for my money?”

“In a minute.”

“I guess it’s pretty lucky neither of us is rich, huh?”

Holly Golightly (Hepburn) is a young woman from Texas living a lifestyle in New York City in large part from the generosity of men.  When Paul Varjak (Peppard) moves into her apartment building, the two fall in love, though Holly wouldn’t admit it, preferring to get involved with men for their money.  Paul, a struggling writer, is also supported by another person, Emily Eustace Failenson or 2E (Neal).

Audrey Hepburn, in probably her most famous and influential acting role, almost didn’t get the part of Holly Golightly.  Truman Capote, author of the book Breakfast at Tiffany’s, prefered Marilyn Monroe for the part.  Luckily for Hepburn, Monroe was in the process of changing her image, and her playing the role of a call girl wasn’t in the cards.

The opening scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where Holly stands in front of Tiffany’s eating a pastry and drinking her coffee, was a brilliant scene.  The simplicity and calmness in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the United States, balanced with the instrumental track for “Moon River,” I think, is one of the best scenes in the film.  I would imagine, though, that it was a pain to shoot given the fact that it’s a busy part of a very busy town.

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There is a good balance of acting in this film.  Paul’s down-to-earth approach is a good balance for Holly’s more free-spirited ways.  In a bit of gender role reversal, he provides more emotion while she’s more pragmatic and suppresses her emotions.  While Holly asserts that she doesn’t get too close to anyone, she definitely seems torn when Doc Golightly (Ebsen) leaves to go back to Texas without her.

Though a small role, Buddy Ebsen makes great use of his screen time and does a lot to humanize Holly.

Though a small role, Buddy Ebsen makes great use of his screen time and does a lot to humanize Holly.

The set pieces throughout the film were very well done in my opinion.  There’s a good cross-section of the world Holly and Paul lived it, and it just seems like classic New York City.  The scene where the two are in Tiffany’s getting Paul’s Cracker Jack prize ring was entertaining to say the least.  I liked how the clerk stayed classy and professional despite the clearly limited budget of his clients.  I also liked the integration of ‘Moon River’ throughout the film.  It’s sprinkled, either an instrumental track or with singing, throughout the film at just the right times.

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I don’t know what to think of Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi.  I know it was probably in large part a comic relief role, but to a certain degree it seems unnecessary.  His scenes are funny to a degree and over-the-top, and Blake Edwards directed a lot of comedy films.  Still, the argument that this character was a bit offensive has some validity if you ask me.  Plus, if you’re going to have an Asian character, it’d be smart to have an Asian actor, but that may just be me.

As I watched this film, I went back and forth with whether this role was right for Hepburn.  As an introvert, playing an extreme extrovert like Holly Golightly must have been a major challenge for Hepburn.  As with many of the other films I’ve seen of hers, she seems more in her element in dignified and classy roles.  The fashion elements of Holly’s character seemed more suited to Hepburn, but I just don’t know about Holly Golightly the person matched up with Hepburn’s acting talents.  On the other hand, I can’t think of anyone who probably could have done the part better, perhaps Monroe.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s has some of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic images.  Could you imagine anyone else wearing the Givenchy dress with pearls and huge sunglasses, complemented by the oversized cigarette holder?  Of course not.  Though the love story in this seems a bit predictable, it was still engaging enough for me to enjoy.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s is entertaining, and I could probably watch it now and again, but it’s probably not one that I’d go out of my way to see.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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