Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Centennial Collection
January 9, 2009
Based on the novella by Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is one of those classic, quintessential New York City films, like Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The World of Henry Orient (1964), and Manhattan (1979). These films are all snapshots of the city at a particular point in time. Seeing the Manhattan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is like going back in time with all kinds of vintage vehicles and places that don’t exist anymore. The film is also one of Audrey Hepburn’s signature roles – one that she will always be remembered for but it almost didn’t turn out that way. Capote envisioned Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly while Paramount Pictures wanted Hepburn but even the actress wasn’t sure she could play the part. Now, it is impossible to envision anybody else in the role.
Right from the start, with the shots of Holly Golightly (Hepburn) walking through the deserted streets of the city while Johnny Mercer sings “Moon River,” director Blake Edwards establishes a wistful, romantic atmosphere. Holly is a carefree, single girl living a glamourous life in the Big Apple. She was clearly the prototype for Carrie Bradshaw and the girls in Sex and the City with her single girl with expensive tastes. Holly is “crazy about Tiffany’s,” the legendary jewelry store that we see her staring at dreamily in the opening credits. For Holly, going to Tiffany’s is like going to church.
Paul (Peppard), a struggling writer, moves into her building and is quickly introduced to the whirlwind force of nature that is Holly. He’s been working on a novel for five years but one gets the sense that he lacks inspiration. He seems a bit defeated, still stinging from a bad review in The New York Times years ago (which he can still quote from, bitterly). Holly dreams of marrying a rich man – what better way to maintain her glamourous life? As the film progresses, we, along with Paul, learn that there is much more to Holly than meets the eye.
Audrey Hepburn is absolutely adorable as Holly, an irresistible, charming individual. Under Holly’s bubbly exterior, Hepburn’s performance hints at a loneliness, an inner sadness. She conveys a heartbreaking vulnerability underneath a cheery façade. This is evident in the famous scene where she sings “Moon River” on the fire escape of her apartment. One gets the feeling that she needs to be rescued, to be saved, and this gives the film an almost tangible, melancholic tone.
She has wonderful chemistry with George Peppard who plays it cool, downplaying his role which acts as a nice contrast to Hepburn’s flamboyance. He has a tough job of playing the straight man to Hepburn’s colourful Holly. He is the audience surrogate. However, Peppard is excellent because he knows exactly how to react to all of Holly’s outrageous behaviour. At first, his character seems a bit on the bland side but as the film progresses bits and pieces of his past are revealed which flesh out his character.
The film’s only blemish is the racist Asian caricature played by Mickey Rooney that is horribly dated and offensive. Fortunately, he is only a small part of the film. Regardless, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a great film about two lonely people each harboring their own dark secrets and that find one another and fall in love. The film is also a love letter to the city of New York, capturing a time and place that no longer exists but one that we can revisit again and again every time we watch this film.
A few years ago, a pretty decent Anniversary Edition was released. Now, Paramount has re-released the film under their Centennial Collection banner. Is it worth the double dip? The good news is that all of the extras from the previous edition have been carried over.
On the first disc is an audio commentary by the film’s producer Richard Shepherd. He candidly speaks about his opposition to Rooney playing a Japanese man but Edwards wanted his scenes kept in. Apparently, Marilyn Monroe wanted to play Holly but Hepburn was Shepherd’s first choice. There are quite a few lulls of silence between comments which makes listening to this track something of a chore. But when he is talking, Shepherd recalls several factoids and anecdotes about filming this classic.
New to this edition is “A Golightly Gathering” reuniting several of the actors who appeared in the film’s famous party scene at, where else, a cocktail party. They talk about their experiences working on the film and the roles they played. They also talk about working with stars Hepburn and Peppard as well as director Blake Edwards.
Another new extra is “Henry Mancini: More Than Music,” which takes a look at the legendary composer with his wife talking about how they met and offering her impressions of him along with his son and daughter. Naturally, they talk about his involvement in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Also new is “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective,” which addresses the racist stereotype of Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi. Several experts on Asian Americans portrayed in popular culture talk about the character and how it perpetuated a cartoonish stereotype.
From the previous edition, there is “The Making of a Classic,” a retrospective featurette. Shepherd wanted Hepburn to play Holly but Paramount didn’t think she was right for the part. Cast members, friends and family gush about Hepburn. Blake Edwards recounts some decent anecdotes about filming and admits that he didn’t want Peppard to play Paul but grew to appreciate him. Everyone, including Edwards, wishes that they could have recast Rooney in the role of the upstairs Japanese neighbour.
“It’s so Audrey! A Style Icon” is another extra carried over from the previous edition and it examines Hepburn’s look in the film. She was not considered a classic beauty but was very beautiful. She flew against the voluptuous Jayne Mansfield type popular in the 1950s. Hepburn had a great eye for fashion and what suited her body type. This is illustrated by numerous clips from several of her films that show off her personal style.
“Behind the Gates: The Tour” is a new extra that takes a brief look at the studio lot for Paramount Pictures, a vast lot with all kinds of city sets and soundstages for filming.
From the previous edition is “Brilliance in a Blue Box,” which takes a look at the famous jewelry store Tiffany’s. They talk about the famous Tiffany Canary diamond – the largest at the time – and how Hepburn was one of the select few that ever got the chance to wear it. Some of the store’s history is covered but this feels suspiciously like a promo for the store.
Also carried over is “Audrey’s Letter to Tiffany’s.” Hepburn was a huge admirer of the store and wrote a preface for the 50th Anniversary book in 1987. This letter is read by one of the store’s representatives.
Included from the previous edition is the original theatrical trailer.
Finally, a new extra is gallery of production stills, movie stills and publicity photographs.
The new extras are well made and entertaining but hardly essential and if you already own the previous edition, it is not worth double dipping. However, if this is the first time you’re buying this film on DVD then this is the one to get.