Movie Review #748
Directed by Blake Edwards. Screenplay by George Axelrod. (Based on the novel by Truman Capote.) Produced by Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd – A Jurow-Shepherd Production. Starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, John McGiver, and Mickey Rooney. A Paramount Picture, distributed in New York City, New York on October 5, 1961. Approved by the PCA – certificate #19835. Currently not rated. Runs 115 minutes.
Truman Capote is without a doubt one of the greatest writers of the 20th century–or any century. He’s got a mind and voice for every one of his narrators; two eyes for his every character. The first time I ever read Capote was about a year ago, when I read In Cold Blood. Quite a page-turner, but his 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s was what really brought me to this author and his craft. It’s a short but unforgettable little book, concerning a man who discovers the aptly named Holly Golightly and is introduced to her carefree, fun-loving lifestyle. He thinks he has fallen in love with her, and seemingly, that’s just what makes the tale so stunningly bleak.
The characters and plot may match up fine, but even so, Blake Edwards’s 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” feels catastrophically unlike the 1958 novella. Where the book was a sardonic, heartbreaking read, the film is often as silly as Edwards’s “The Pink Panther”, and hardly the heartfelt flick it deserves to be.
It’s also way too Hollywooden. That ending wasn’t exactly a happy ending in Capote’s original vision of the story. Who am I kidding, it was not a happy ending, at all. You can tell the producers, Mr. Martin Jurow and Mr. Richard Shepherd, were interfering with the finale. It starts out appropriately melancholy, with George Peppard delivering a speech that is shocking, touching, and just plain beautiful. But lo and behold, ever so suddenly, there’s a shift to a very happy ending. The big “Huh?” moment that kills all the passion we felt in Peppard’s emphatic speech. Might I add that the finale isn’t even believable, and if you truly enjoyed the finale, then you would probably enjoy the equally spontaneous ending to “The Fly”. That script, too, was changed upon producers’ demands.
Audrey Hepburn is the one absolute spectacle of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. She is the movie, standing out above all the excess glamor. Her character is the lovable oddball that was in the book, almost as if she was meant to play the character. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe in this role, and I just can’t imagine it working. But enough with my comparisons to the novella, because frankly, Hepburn delivers the personality as something of its very own. We’re smiling from ear to ear from the moment this lady opens her mouth all the way up to the moment she shuts up.
Hepburn sort of downplays the glamor. And then again, she sort of doesn’t, because glamor in every corner of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Despite the fact that the story is glamorous to no end, the glamor in the movie itself draws back from what starts off as a wildly entertaining movie. You know that camera effect where the cinematographer puts a white sheet in front of the screen and it creates a glowing, angelic effect? It’s been a common camera trick since the 1920’s, and it’s most famously been used in “The Third Man” and “Blade Runner”. Anyway, it only works when used sparingly, but cinematographer Franz F. Planer uses the technique pretty much any time Audrey Hepburn comes on camera. We get it, she’s angelic. We get that without the glowing effect, which gets annoying rather quickly.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” has some greatness, for sure. “Moon River”, of course, is a beautiful song. It’s not convincing when Audrey starts singing it with a guitar on her lap as she sits inside the frame of her open window…but it is a great piece. Also, Mickey Rooney is outrageously funny here. But should he have even been in this movie, is the question I struggle to answer. Admittedly, he’s the most racist portrayal of an Asian character ever in the history of Hollywood. He doesn’t look or sound Japanese, but instead like he’s mocking the Japanese. Beyond the stereotyping that forms the character, he just doesn’t seem to fit the story, even as a comic relief. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a plastic rose of a movie. If I look at it simply for what it does offer, it’s just about halfway a masterpiece. If I stand any closer, though, the attempt at sentiment seems goofy and superficial. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano