THE FAIREST LADY OF ALL – AUDREY HEPBURN IN ONE OF HER MOST DELICIOUS DELIGHTS!
Nowadays, we’re used to debating movies that are accused of whitewashing, the practice where caucasian actors are hired to play people of color. Back in 1961, when Mickey Rooney was hired to play the Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, complete with makeup and prosthetics, few cared much. Instead, critics found the real problem to be that Rooney’s comic antics distracted from the general tone of the film. It wasn’t until many years later that the character became an ugly symbol of racism and ”yellowface”.
In 2008, Rooney himself said he was ”heartbroken” to see what he considered a purely comical performance turned into something that negative. Well, times change. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has its issues, but remains a highly enjoyable, romantic endeavor.
Dating men with money
Writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard) is moving into his new apartment in New York City and immediately runs into one of his most eccentric neighbors, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn). She’s a peculiar girl who spends most nights dating a new man, usually older ones with money, and then fends them off at her doorstep. Holly also has an agreement with a mobster, Sally Tomato (Alan Reed), to come and see him; she is paid $100 a week to deliver ”the weather report”. Paul is fascinated by Holly, maybe because he sees something of her in himself; he’s being financially supported by an older, wealthy woman (Patricia Neal). Holly and Paul embark on a friendship. When he’s invited to one of her parties, Paul meets a Hollywood agent who talks about how Holly has transformed from a country girl to a socialite…
Toning down tragedy
That last part concerns Holly’s mysterious past. Modern audiences may find director Blake Edwards’s treatment of that part of the film too vague and lightweight considering what she was subjected to; it’s hard to find much sympathy for the man who reemerges in her life. Another aspect that hasn’t aged well. The movie toned down the tragedy of the story and added a happy ending. Holly Golightly was created by Truman Capote as a Marilyn Monroe-type of girl and he found Hepburn far too elegant. Still, fans of Blake Edwards probably get a kick out of a few humorous touches, especially the wild party that Holly throws, which eventually becomes so rowdy that police need to intervene; the small details and overall atmosphere of it can be found in subsequent Pink Panther outings and, obviously, The Party (1968).
As a romance, the ingredients are hard to beat, with undeniably lovely New York flavor. Peppard doesn’t make much of an impression, but he’s serviceable opposite Hepburn – who’s irresistibly cute. The star found the restless, hard-partying but unhappy character challenging, but located her inner extrovert and delivers a wonderful performance. Holly has also become quite the fashion icon over the years. Henry Mancini’s music is an example of some of his most beloved work, especially the bittersweet song ”Moon River”, delicately performed by Hepburn.
In other words, a film well worth seeing. Still, I can understand why Capote was unhappy. His story is different from the one envisioned by this filmmaking team and some of his points were lost. Perhaps the time has come for a new take? A darker one? But more politically correct, in other ways.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961-U.S. 115 min. Color. Produced by Martin Jurow, Richard Shepherd. Directed by Blake Edwards. Screenplay: George Axelrod. Novella: Truman Capote. Music, Song: Henry Mancini (”Moon River”). Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Holly Golightly), George Peppard (Paul Varjak), Patricia Neal (Emily Eustace Failenson), Buddy Ebsen, Mickey Rooney, Martin Balsam.
Trivia: Later a stage musical; the novella was also turned into a play.
Oscars: Best Scoring, Original Song.
Last word: “It’s very difficult and I didn’t think I was right for it. I’ve had very little experience, really, and I have no technique for doing things I’m unsuited to. I have to operate entirely on instinct. It was Blake Edwards who finally persuaded me. He, at least, is perfectly cast as a director, and I discovered his approach emphasises the same sort of spontaneity as my own.” (Hepburn, The New York Times)