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Movie Review - Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

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The classic movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is famous for several reasons, one being the introduction of the song “Moon River,” by Henri Mancini and Johnny Mercer.   The song won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.  The second reason for its long memorability is the magnificent charm of its main actress Audrey Hepburn who portrays the character Holly Golightly.  The story is taken from a novella with the same name, written by Truman Capote in 1958.


Audrey Hepburn

                                                             Audrey Hepburn - Wikimedia

When the film debuted in 1961, the world view of women was 180 degrees different from what it is today.  The ditsy personality of Holly would not get her far in 2015.  Intelligence and career success is far more acceptable and prevalent now in women than it was fifty years ago.

The film delicately does not overtly state that Holly Golightly is a call girl.  The viewer gradually gleans this from conversations and encounters.  She also has a task which she performs on a weekly basis and which nets her $100 for her efforts.  She must visit a mobster named Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) in Sing Sing prison and make sure she gives him the “weather report.”  Examples are “there is rain in Palermo,” or “it is snowing in New Orleans.”

The opening scene in “Breakfast at Tiffany”s shows Holly Golightly in the dawn light after an evening on the town, looking in Tiffany’s shop window while eating her breakfast pastry.  A later scene features her and a swain inside Tiffany’s looking at the exquisite jewelry.  The shop was gracious enough to allow the cast and crew to invade their premises to achieve reality in the film.


Mickey Rooney

                                                           Mickey Rooney - Wikimedia

Holly has a constant habit of forgetting the keys to her apartment, forcing her to ring the bell of another resident who then opens the downstairs front door for her.  That resident is Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese-American portrayed by Mickey Rooney.  Over the years, the film has been vilified for portraying a foreigner in such a mocking light as the character is fashioned by Mickey Rooney.

Later that morning, Holly is awakened by her doorbell.  A new tenant, Paul Varjak (George Peppard) needs to get into the building and does not have an outside key.  I must comment on George Peppard’s performance, which I thought was a disaster.  Mostly, he stands there with a bland and bored look on his face, having nothing to say for himself.  It may be that his character, Paul, is a writer who has had one book published five years ago and has not been heard of since that time.  One gets the sense though that anyone could have played that character, and much better than George Peppard did. The word on the street is that Director Blake Edwards (Julie Andrews’ husband) wanted Steve McQueen for the part, but Steve was tied up at the time with another venture

We soon learn that Paul has a lady friend, supposedly his apartment decorator, whom he calls “2E” (Patricia Neal) since her name is Emily Eustace.  Implausibly, Holly has used the fire escape outside her window to walk up to Paul’s window upstairs, and spies “2E” just leaving and placing some money on Paul’s night table.


Patricia Neal

                                                              Patricia Neal - Wikimedia

In one of her visits, “2E” informs Paul that she suspects a suspicious character has been following her because he is outside the apartment whenever she arrives.  Paul said he would investigate and followed the man to a nearby park.  The man openly tells Paul that he is Doc Golightly and is Holly’s husband from Texas, and her real name is Lulamae Barnes, whom he married when she was 14.  He wanted to tell her that her brother, Fred, will be getting out of the army soon and Doc does not want to take him in unless Holly comes back to Texas also.  Interestingly, Holly has consistently called Paul by the name Fred because she claimed that he reminded her of her brother Fred.

Paul brings Doc back to Holly’s apartment, and Holly tells him she is no longer Lulamae and cannot go back to Texas with him.  She will take care of Fred in New York instead.  She later tells Paul that her marriage to Doc was annulled and that Doc never accepted it as true.

Another far-fetched episode transpires.  Holly entertains a group of people in her apartment, probably sixty guests in all, and invites Paul to the party.  One wonders, if Holly is low on finances as she claims to be, how can she afford the lavish gala that takes place at this juncture.  It seems contrived to demonstrate café society in New York at that time, with Holly at the center of the action.  We meet at least two serious swains of Holly, and she admits to Paul that she is planning to marry one of these wealthy admirers as part of her plan for her future.

She has settled on Jose (played by an unknown named José Vilallonga), a Brazilian from a prominent family, who is seeking a respectable woman to return to Brazil with him, where he has political ambitions.  Unfortunately, the federal authorities learn that Holly visits Sally Tomato weekly and rightfully suspect that she is a messenger between Sally and his mafia friends.  She is jailed temporarily while the police investigate the situation, and of course Jose decides that he cannot afford to have a woman with such a reputation as his mate.


George Peppard

                                                        George Peppard - Wikimedia

At about this time, Paul learns from his publisher that they have accepted his latest short story, which Paul based on some of the antics that he observed in his friendship with Holly.  His writing skills have returned and his financial picture looks somewhat rosier.  He is able to break off his friendship with “2E” who has suspected all along that Paul is in love with Holly.

Much more happens, and being a romantic comedy, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” ends happily.  I thoroughly enjoyed the wardrobe assigned to Audrey Hepburn, much of which is part of the American scene now, including the “little black dress.”  Miss Hepburn is remembered mostly from this classic film, although I fear that young people today would find this movie to be an anachronism.


Breakfast at Tiffany's (Penguin Essentials)
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Oct 1, 2015 2:27pm
I am probably one of the few people on earth who has never seen this film. I never had an interest, until now. Thank you so much for giving an extremely great insight into the storyline. Nothing is generally said about the story itself which makes those few souls in the world like me (oblivious to the film) know we are missing out on something. This is a wonderful idea and way to open up some of the older classics to a new audience. Thanks for a great piece of work.
Oct 1, 2015 7:26pm
Thank you for stopping by, sm. I love the old classics.
Oct 6, 2015 8:03am
I'm the second to have never seen the film, but I appreciate the review, thanks. Sounds like Audrey Hepburn carried the show, as she did in My Fair Lady.
Dec 29, 2015 9:05pm
I think your view that Holly's ditzy personality and all the events of the story are so terribly unlikely for 2015. I think she is the epitome of a gold-digging, free-spirited Soho socialite. Many famous celeb socialites have made careers out of their ditzy personalities in the last decade or two. If she were blonde and more endowed, you would perhaps have less trouble picturing it. In fact, I think it wouldn't be difficult for this story to be remade and the party in her apartment to be turned into a rave where money is collected at the door, Fred is killed in Iraq, and Paul is actually gay like he is in the book.
Dec 29, 2015 9:06pm
I meant to say I think your view was incorrect...
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