Saturday, September 16, 2017

Movie Reviews: Breakfast At Tiffany's

Breakfast At Tiffany's
directed by Blake Edwards
Based on a book by Truman Capote, this 1961 film made some big changes from the novel in order to get a heterosexual mainstream audience. It succeeded at that, becoming a very well known romantic comedy. It is probably equally as well known today for launching actress Audrey Hepburn into the stratosphere as a style icon of coolness AND for featuring noted actor Mickey Rooney in yellowface and buckteeth, playing a racist caricature of a Japanese man. Even for 1961 this sort of thing was becoming passe but it is what it is. Thankfully Rooney's role is small. But it's like eating a salad and finding a half-eaten rat turd on your fork. Completely takes you out of the enjoyment. Rooney and Edwards always said that no offense was intended and that they would have changed it if they could. Whatever. The thin waifish leggy gamine look which defined Hepburn and her role in this film was ironically something that may have been forced upon her by her horrific experiences and near starvation while working in the Dutch resistance during the WW2 German occupation of the Netherlands. 

This movie is all about cool. Everyone (with the notable exception of Rooney) is cooler than the other side of the pillow. Although the movie makes its implications pretty strong it still keeps plausible deniability as to the activities of one of the main characters. I think this was because in the 1960's people didn't want to spell everything out. That was considered crass. But this movie is a forerunner to such films as Pretty Woman but also movies like Car Wash in which the impoverished man seeks the woman. And obviously this film hearkens back to stories like Cinderella.

Romantic comedies pretty much always end the same way. What makes this one a little different is the status of the lead characters. Holly Golightly (Hepburn) is a klutzy zany extroverted call girl. Well, she's not strictly speaking a call girl. Sex is not necessarily a given. But she does go out on dates with well off businessmen. And if they are so kind as to give her jewelry or furs or cash ($50 for the powder room) she's not going to say no. She also is paid to deliver messages to incarcerated mobster Sally Tomato (Alan Reed). In brief moments of candor Holly is prone to rants against the rats (men) she spends time with. But only rarely. Holly is an excitable woman who will not stop talking. She has a cat named Cat. And the only man she seems to trust is her absent brother Fred.

One man who finds all of this intriguing is Holly's new neighbor Paul Varjak (George Peppard-Hannibal from The A-Team) Paul is a writer who's fallen on hard times, so much so that it's a fair bet as to whether he can even truthfully call himself a writer any more. What he is now is a kept man. An older married woman (Patricia Neal) pays for Paul's apartment, his time and his, well you know. Paul's not crazy about this turn of events but a man's gotta eat. 

Over time Paul and Holly spend time together--unpaid time- and find that they like each other's company. They have a lot of silly adventures, some of which I think must have inspired some similar events in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Holly likes Paul, She calls him "Fred" because he reminds her of her brother, high praise indeed from Holly. Although Holly likes Paul, Paul is falling in love with Holly. But Holly's not sure that she loves Paul or that she can settle down with anyone who doesn't have money. And if there's one thing Paul doesn't have it's money. Holly has reinvented herself as a Manhattan socialite. She's moving in circles with very rich men, men who might be willing to marry her. And she doesn't need Paul messing that up. Or does she? Hepburn shines in this movie. Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part. Hepburn's Holly combines innocence, vulnerability and selfishness without ever coming across as malevolent. She's cynical and romantic at the same time, often in the same scene. Hepburn was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for this role. She didn't win, but the song she sang, Moon River, which has since become a standard, did win an Oscar for Best Original Song. This film is also a love letter to Manhattan. This is not the city of Taxi Driver or Mean Streets but a New York City that is clean, busy and full of possibilities. If you're looking for a light hearted movie where there's no violence or harsh language this might be a good film to check out, if you can tolerate/ignore the Rooney character. The music fits the movie like a glove. I'm not really one for romantic comedies but this one is good. Hopefully no one ever remakes this and messes it up.
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