On Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The first time I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I fell in love. Maybe it was Hepburn, or maybe it was Capote, but that doesn’t matter. It is a wonderful film. According to The New York Times review:

A VIEWER is always aware that he is intermittently guffawing and constantly being amazed by a succession of surprises in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which, gleaming like a $50,000 bauble from that haughty institution, landed at the Music Hall yesterday. And, like that storied novella by Truman Capote from which it stems, it is a completely unbelievable but wholly captivating flight into fancy composed of unequal dollops of comedy, romance, poignancy, funny colloquialisms and Manhattan’s swankiest East Side areas captured in the loveliest of colors.

Above all, it has the overpowering attribute known as Audrey Hepburn, who, despite her normal, startled fawn exterior, now is displaying a fey, comic talent that should enchant Mr. Capote, who created the amoral pixie she portrays, as well as moviegoers meeting her for the first time in the guise of Holly Golightly.

But comparisons between the book and the script cannot be avoided and, while scenarist George Axelrod and the producers cleaved fairly closely to the pages of Mr. Capote’s work, they erred, it appears to an observer who has read the original, in changing the character of Paul Varjac, Holly’s writer-neighbor.

In transforming him from a dispassionate admirer, as amoral as Holly, into a gent being subsidized, for purely romantic purposes, by a rich, comely woman, the character loses conviction. Why, one wonders, should he give up a good thing, especially if Holly doesn’t seem to be interested in love for love’s sake. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” loses momentum as it heads toward that happy ending, and that ending is not patterned after Mr. Capote’s design. But it may be allowed. It seems downright ungentlemanly to short-change as resolutely cheerful a sprite as Holly, who deserves a handsome husband after being cheated out of the Brazilian millionaire for whom she has set her cap.

Does a combination of a Brazilian millionaire, Holly Golightly and Paul Varjac sound confusing? Mr. Axelrod, as noted, generally follows Mr. Capote’s wistful memoir. Characters have been dropped, some have been added (like Mr. Varjac’s benefactress) but his wacky, weird tale retains most of the staccato and, we repeat, quality of the book plus a good deal of its pungent chit-chat and comically racy dialogue.

Holly Golightly, nee Lulamae Barnes in Tulip, Tex., is as far removed from rural origins as El Morocco. And we meet her, as Mr. Capote has it, suddenly as she disrupts the sleep of the residents of her East Seventies brownstone with nocturnal bell ringing. The unruffled lady, as usual, has forgotten her keys and projects Mr. Yunioshi, the Japanese photographer, into near apoplexy.

She also runs into the new tenant, Mr. Varjac, who is constantly startled thereafter by her parties, her phalanx of boy friends, her mysterious visits to Sing Sing and her strange benefactor, the incarcerated gangster chief, Sally Tomato. We are exposed to her ability to pick up from willing swains $50 for each visit to nightclub powder rooms, her penchant for foot-long cigarette holders, her amazingly half-furnished apartment, complete with a bathtub-like sofa, and striped alley cat.

Miss Golightly, is, as her one-time Hollywood agent declares, “a phony, but a real phony, understand Fred, baby?” Miss Golightly also explains that if she could find “a place that makes me feel like Tiffany’s, I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.” She is, in short, “a wild thing.” All the quick-silverish explanations still leave the character as implausable as ever. But in the person of Miss Hepburn, she is a genuinely charming, elfin waif who will be believed and adored when seen.

George Peppard is casual and, for the most part, a subdued citizen who seems to like observing better than participating in the proceedings. Martin Balsam makes a properly brash, snappy Hollywood agent. Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic. Patricia Neal is simply cool and brisk in her few appearances as Mr. Peppard’s sponsor and Vilallonga, is properly suave and Continental as Miss Hepburn’s Brazilian, while Buddy Ebsen has a brief poignant moment as Miss Hepburn’s husband.

A word must be said for the wild party thrown by Miss Hepburn and her visit to Tiffany’s in which John McGiver, as a terrifyingly restrained clerk, solicitously sells a trinket for under $10: Both scenes are gems of invention. If all of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” doesn’t measure up to these high standards, there are always Miss Hepburn and enough other ingredients to make it a pleasantly memorable entertainment.

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One thought on “On Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  1. Pingback: On My Fair Lady | The Progressive Democrat

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