Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

2009-10-23 13:19

Breakfast at Tiffany's isn't a perfect movie - there are awkward moments, scenes that feel very staged by today's slick standards, and one character portrayed with such gawky racism that trying to crawl out of your own skin distracts you from switching off. And then there's that awful scene where Audrey Hepburn sings the theme song. But the groundbreaking moments and the talent behind Breakfast at Tiffany's far outweigh its belly flops.

It's 1961, practically still the 50s . Every woman is meant to want a husband, a washing machine, and some kind of Hoover-type device. And then a movie comes along that's unlike anything cinema audiences are used to, with a heroine who's neither a sex kitten, nor a wife.

The movie is such an instant classic that it defines the careers of many who're involved.

It's based on a book by the then already-famous Truman Capote (who luckily didn't get his wish to have Marilyn Monroe in the lead role), with Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a socialite who relies so heavily on fleecing the men she dates that her actions verge on - well - hooking.

This was Hepburn's defining role, starring opposite George Peppard, who's also taking money for his companionship. Breakfast at Tiffany's is directed by Blake Edwards, who went on to make dozens of other (mainly) comedies, including the Pink Panther series. Henry Mancini does the soundtrack. Child star Mickey Rooney's also there, in an early role as a Japanese guy, shoving the butt of 60s racist humour in your face.

In some ways, the movie made them. In others, they made the movie. Either way, it's stands as a great deal of phenomenal talent coming together.

Breakfast at Tiffany's opens with a lone, partied-out Holly being dropped off by a black cab in the empty, early morning street outside Tiffany's, a jewellery store, where she eats her breakfast while staring into the window. The first impression of her, as a dreamer and romantic, changes when she wanders back to her New York brownstone, where a jilted lover waits in the car for her, and she wakes a neighbour to be let in, flirting her way past his annoyance as you are pretty sure she does every single night, and will keep doing.

That morning, half-clothed and wearing eye-patches to dodge the morning sun, she meets a new resident in the block - an aspiring but inactive writer named Paul Varjak (Peppard) - whose lifestyle is also sponsored by a lover he isn't in love with. They immediately begin to develop a platonic intimacy that promises more, but which both of them are too afraid to really explore, at first.

Through fascinating action and intriguing revelations, Holly and Paul's relationship grows in unpredictable ways, as secrets are revealed, and through innovative sequences like the famous, pretty much improvised party scene (watch a snippet here). There's also an incredible performance by a ginger cat (no, really) called Orangey, named simply "Cat". Cat is the creature Holly is closest to, though it's careless naming is also a symbol of her life - on the run from life.

Central to Breakfast at Tiffany's enduring charm is the character of Holly Golightly. Her irresponsible, extroverted, breezy, party-girl mystique - though hilarious, admirable and probably the role model for the unlucky-in-love female characters we see in romantic comedies today - is also just a mask shielding a damaged little girl who has learned to fear love, and to be afraid of pursuing her dreams.

Watching the final scene - the depravity of Holly's life, and the impossible choice between freedom and bondage that drives so many women to live like this - is heartbreaking. Few, if any, mainstream movies from this time bothered to depict a woman with a character all her own, instead of an adopted caricature. And few movies possess the power, as this does in its final scene, to make you scream at the screen, "Don't do it, don't be so bloody stupid!"

Yes, Breakfast at Tiffany's is comedic, and even trades in slapstick. But at heart it's a story of true romance, the ridiculous things we do, and the way life has that way of surprising you with almost anything, at almost any moment.

- Jean Barker

Breakfast at Tiffany'sTrivia:

- Director Blake Edwards also made the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers, and was married to Sound of Music actress Julie Andrews.

- The male lead, George Peppard, starred in the 80s TV series The A-Team as the cigar-chomping John "Hannibal" Smith.

- Kim Novak, who starred in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) turned down the role of Holly for fear, ironically, of being stereotyped as a sex kitten. Meouw!

- Capote's novel was adapted extensively by screenwriter Axelrod for film. Changes included the addition and removal of characters, toning down the landing, and altering the ambiguous original ending to make it more "Hollywood".

- The opening scene outside Tiffany's was the hardest to film because Hepburn hated pastries, and was required to eat them in every take.

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You haven’t seen it? What?! This oddball romantic movie classic isn’t perfect, but the key scenes are so funny, touching, and utterly heart-wrenching that you’ll never forget it.

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