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Movie Review: “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (1961)

In film on September 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

I have a confession to make. Until this afternoon I had never seen more than random snippets of Breakfast At Tiffany’s — but I have just watched the last hour and a half of it on the MGM Classic channel. I’m hoping the original novel by Truman Capote was better. I might be missing something with this one — which I keep thinking must be considered a classic for a reason — but I’ve never been a fan of glossy Blake Edwards movies, even the massively popular Peter Sellers ones (to my mind nowhere near as good as his earlier British-made comedies). This comes across like it’s trying to be a sophisticated comedy but falls way short of those in the Thirties-Forties, and even Pretty Woman, the closest I can draw as a modern equivalent.

There are several glaring shortcomings for viewers attuned to modern sensibilities, the most well-known one today probably being Mickey Rooney’s inexplicable portrayal of a Japanese tenant as a four-foot-something, conspicuously buck-toothed, four-eyed geek — presumably intended to be a comic turn but just highly embarrassing. Another is a scene where Holly describes herself as “fat as a pig” — when you can practically see her skeleton through her dress, every bit of 90 to 100 pounds hanging on her 5ft-8 frame. Yet another huge allowance has to be made for Belgian-born Audrey Hepburn, 32, playing a 20-year-old backwoods Southerner while coming across as a refined Englishwoman, as she did in all her films. George Peppard, quite a sought-after leading man in the Sixties and then not again till The A Team on tv, is Holly’s suitor. An impoverished “rider” (writer) who dresses in a conventional suit like a prep school debutant, he is supported financially by Patricia Neal as his cougar until he decides to “help” Holly to change from a self-defined wild child every bit as revolting as Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) in that film and become herself. Buddy Ebsen is Holly’s much older ex-husband, showing up to embarrass Holly in that character’s only genuine moment in her New York City incarnation. Patricia (soon award-winning in Hud) and Buddy (seamlessly wedging this role inbetween Davy Crockett’s buddy George and The Beverly Hillbillies‘ Jed Clampett) give the best performances, in fact the only two bright spots in the whole thing as far as I could see — at least character-focused and moving, while the two central characters fail to demonstrate clear motives or even generate sympathy.

Audrey_Hepburn_Tiffany's

It was a struggle to get through what I did see, partly because so slow moving — but mainly because I found the dominant character of Holly Golightly/Lula-Mae (Audrey Hepburn) insufferable. She was selfish, shallow and a materialistic social-climber. The last straw was when she dumps her cat in a strange area of New York City, in the rain — leaving her dumped boyfriend Paul (whom she calls Fred) to look for him. Far from the “sweet bundle of neuroses” one reviewer describes her as, I would place her at least two steps worse off into the destructive manic-depressive category, with narcissistic tendencies and violent impulses. It didn’t help my perception that the character reminds me very much of a woman I’ve known — who didn’t miraculously turn herself around on the spot as Holly does at the end of the movie, but is still basically the same person in her mid fifties, still clueless about how to behave with simple consideration for others.

Enough to say that the Moon River refrain running through the film is the highlight, not Audrey’s pedestrian, unmusical, unexpressive rendition of it. By the way, West Side Story is another all-time great from 1961 (and coincidentally similarly set in The Big Apple) I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch: yet another of those examples where the music is better than the movie, as was so often the case in the Sixties, when screen composers of evocative themes were admittedly at a towering peak of quality.

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