Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 1961 – dir. Blake Edwards

It is hard to believe that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is celebrating its 50th birthday this year!

Equally hard to believe is the fact that author, Truman Capote, did not want Audrey Hepburn playing Holly Golightly in the film adaptation of his 1958 novella and kept insisting that director, Blake Edwards, hire Marilyn Monroe for the role.  He thought Hepburn was a wonderful actress, and wide-eyed and fawn-in-the-woods enough to portray Holly’s sensitive, vulnerable side, but felt she lacked the edge to play a savvy Park Avenue call girl. Edwards won out and Hepburn turned out to be perfect in the part.

Born in Bruxelles, Belgium, Audrey Hepburn (who, by the way, was no relation to American actress, Katharine Hepburn; her real last name was Ruston) became one of the world’s biggest stars after an Oscar-winning debut opposite Gregory Peck in William Wyler’s Roman Holiday.

Hepburn brought many talents with her to Hollywood, the best of which might well have been her voice. One cannot think of any movie actress’ voice that even comes close to hers. Sounding like a combination of Belgium, Dutch, Swiss, British and French, its tones, every consonant and vowel she utters, lend it a deliciousness that is nonesuch. It is as rich as Godiva candy. Whoever gets tired of listening to Hepburn, or of looking at her? A fashion designer’s dream, she had a body made to be draped in elegance. Her silver-dollar-sized eyes are capable of conveying wonder, hurt, delight, longing, probably any emotion you can name. You are dared to think of anyone in filmdom like her. She was the one and only Audrey Hepburn and no one comes close to standing beside her.

It is not easy to carry a movie nearly singlehandedly but in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn does so handily. If one word comes to mind describing Hepburn, that word has to be “class”. She had it in spades, the real deal, and she uses it in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to great effect, especially when playing the Upper East Side scenes. Yes, Holly, a simple country farm girl at heart, knows she is in way over her head but she holds that head up high and never gives up hope that her dreams will some day take her beyond her life as a call girl.  She makes Holly Golightly her own, a characterization to match any one of her other memorable movie roles, including those in The Children’s Hour, Roman Holiday, Wait Until Dark, Charade, “The Nun’s Story”, many more.

The movie was made in 1961 when censorship still reigned surpreme. So be aware that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is sanitized. Blake Edwards has made here a very fine and lasting film but he was restricted by the mores of the times to tone the movie’s storyline down to the degree that people either did not know or weren’t entirely sure that Holly wasn’t just a good ol’ girl having a lot of fun with a lot of guys. Holly, after all, is a hooker, a high-priced one but a hooker nevertheless. In Capote’s highly acclaimed novel, this is made much clearer and this is the only gripe he had with Edwards in his final cut of the production.

The movie is, for a long time, absolute fun, light as air, as is Hepburn’s performance. You feel for the girl and hope she finds her lost self before it is too late and the story ends. Hepburn’s is a winning interpretation of sense versus sensibility and she more than scores.  And if you don’t find yourself crying your eyes out over the scene where Holly searches in vain for her lost cat, “Cat” to the strains of the Academy Award-winning “Moon River”, well, you should lie down because trust me — you are dead.

If any performance threatens to petrify the proceedings, it is George Peppard’s as Paul Varjak. Handsome eye candy, he demanded that Blake Edwards let him play the part as a matinee idol type and that was not the way the character, as written by Capote, is supposed to go. Peppard’s turn is static, even wooden but again, he is so damned good-looking, who cares?

The casting of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is just sad. Rooney is a xenophobic horror show and though he manages to bring some funny to the part (because he is such a gifted comedian), the actor, himself, admits his shame at ever accepting such a role.

The always great Patricia Neal portrays yet another of her lovely, lonely, husky-voiced losers. She was aces playing this sort of woman who works like the dickens to land her man but never does, or does so at great cost to herself. (See her also in Hud and A Face in the Crowd)

Much is being made nowadays of the apartment party scene, praising it as a true representation of what a swinging New York City soiree was like in the 1960s. It is not that; Martin Balsam, a fine actor, is hardly what can be called a party animal, and the scene and its background talents (extras) strain hard to be madcap, maybe too hard. Still, the scene has its delights:  the kooky costumes, the crazy hats, the fauz intellectual party banter, the foot long cigarette holder, the big pearls, the little black cocktail dress that is still a staple of haute couture. Oh! And the woman laughing at her own image in the mirror. Is she high on maybe benzedrine?

And a word must be said about Blake Edwards, the brilliant, American film director who died last month at the age of 88.  In countless films, some starring his wife, Julie Andrews (S.O.B, 10, Darling Lili and the amazing, gender-busting Victor/Victoria), also t.v.’s “Peter Gunn”, the “Pink Panther” series” and the Academy Award-winning classic, “Days of Wine and Roses”, Edwards braved a path many have copied but few have been able to duplicate, and his two “Pink Panther” films, absurdist joys that take anarchy to “a level of enter- tainment never seen in cinema before” are “two of the best comedies an American has ever made” So he will be missed…

Audrey Hepburn is the reason to go see Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her entire ethos was made for the movies: the camera absolutely adores her peaches-and-cream complexion, her eyes as wide as a surprise, her neck as sexy as any swan’s. The Universe gave us a glorious gift when It put Audrey Hepburn up on a movie screen. She remains truly one of the most beautiful actresses of all time. She died much too young but has left behind a treasure chest of memorable performances and fine, fine films. Long may she be remembered and may she always be blessed…

Leo Racicot Written by: