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Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961): New York Stories

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)

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“…and I hate when things are over when so much is left undone.”


A week after The Dark Knight was released, the film had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94%. Some wag, I don’t remember who, opined that “the other six critics are all from New York City.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Blake Edwards’ love song to that same city, has an 88% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and I think it’s the opposite—the other twelve are from outside the five boroughs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very pretty thing, and the combination of Truman Capote’s wit coming through Blake Edwards’ lens, back in the days when Blake Edwards was still doing material that could be considered edgy (i.e., before his directorial career became an endless sequence of family-oriented Pink Panther sequels) produces some nasty laughs indeed. But is that enough to not only carry the movie, but the incredible amount of baggage that’s attached itself to the movie during the past half-century?

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You can find a thousand pictures of Hepburn in the little black dress, but I found only this one of the sole scene in the movie where she actually plays a human being.

Plot: Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn in the role that defined her career) is a socialite who, as the film opens, gets a new downstairs neighbor, Paul Varjak (How the West Was Won‘s George Peppard), a writer-cum-gigolo installed in the place by his sugar mama (The Day the Earth Stood Still‘s Patricia Neal), who lives down the hall. The two strike up a friendship that might turn into a romance were it not for Holly’s desperate desire to marry up; she’s got her sights set on Rusty Trawler (Lilies of the Field‘s Stanley Adams), “the ninth-richest man in America under the age of fifty”.

…and that’s it, really, with an extra subplot or two added in (Paul is a writer with one critically-acclaimed but commercially-unviable book under his belt, Holly has a past she doesn’t like to think about, etc.). To modern eyes, the most terrifying piece of the film is Mickey Rooney’s cartoonish, stereotypical portrayal of Holly’s Japanese upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi, which is offensive at every turn. Audiences in 1961 probably found it hysterical while shielding the kiddies’ eyes from the idea of a young woman living on her own and doing relatively well at it (while Varjak is explicitly a gigolo, Holly’s status as a high-class prostitute remains intentionally ambiguous, but in terms of 1961 dollars, did anyone really believe her “dates” were giving her fifty bucks to go to the powder room? Not unless she was going to the one with the wrong plumbing).

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nope, not racist at all!

It’s true that the final scene is a masterpiece of emotional manipulation (but let’s be honest here: we’re far more concerned about the fate of Cat than we are whether Holly is finally going to let her feelings for Paul break through), but it’s far from enough to get through the ponderous, badly-aged first hour and three-quarters of the movie to get to unless you have the same love affair with New York City as did Truman Capote and Blake Edwards. **


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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