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Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's(1961)

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Audrey Hepburn enjoyed one of her greatest successes in the screen adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a free-spirited woman who works as an "escort" with her own rather unique outlook: she believes that the only worthwhile men are the ones who give her fifty dollars to tip the powder room attendant –but if they do give her fifty, she ditches them and heads home. It is, in fact, one of these encounters (we learn later) that led to the film's unforgettable opening sequence, which has Holly getting dropped off by cab in the wee hours of the morning on the deserted street outside of Tiffany's. She enjoys a sweet roll as she browses the windows of the legendary jeweler before continuing home to her cheap walk-up apartment.

Holly finds a new friend when the handsome Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into the apartment above hers. She learns very quickly that although Paul looks perfectly respectable, she has found something of a soul mate in him: he's being kept by interior designer Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal). Although the arrangement takes care of physical needs, it has apparently had some psychological effects: Paul is actually a writer who has had a book published, but he has not written anything for five years. When Paul explains to Holly that he's working on a novel and writes every day, she blithely points out that there is no ribbon in his typewriter.

Paul also quickly learns just how unusual his new neighbor is. On their first meeting, on the day Paul moves in, he watches as she scrambles to get ready for her weekly visit to see one of her "clients": an inmate at Sing Sing named Sally Tomato (Alan Reed), for an hour of chatting every Thursday. The only thing she is asked to do by Tomato's associate is to ask him for the weather report each week. For this Tomato's associate pays her one hundred dollars a week. Holly sweeps Paul into her whirlwind life, and he goes along willingly as oberver and eventual participant. He finds there is very little that she won't do, including climbing through his window from the fire-escape in her bathrobe in the middle of the night when one of her latest clients, unhappy about being ditched, shows up at her door and starts threatening to break in. Paul is lying in bed naked, Mrs. Failenson just having left, and Paul is slightly taken aback when Holly decides to slide into bed with him and snuggle, which she considers perfectly all right because they are friends.

She next invites Paul to come down for drinks, and when he arrives he finds himself in the middle of a very bohemian party, with a panoply of very different characters, all equally fascinating in one way or another. At the part Paul meets O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam), a Hollywood mover and shaker who greets Paul by asking if he thinks Holly is a phony. He spills the beans about the fact that Holly was from the backwoods somewhere in the midwest, and that he paid to rid her of her hick accent, but now he himself can't tell whether or not she's the "real thing," because she carries her persona off so well. It is during this party that Paul finds out about another of Holly's hobbies: when she is not with clients she is working at finding a millionaire to marry. To this end she has actually managed to get some wealthy talent to her party. First is Rusty Trawler, a slathering geek who only a mother could love; and secondly, Jose da Silva Pereira (Jose Villalonga), the suave and sophisticated future president of Brazil, to whom an alliance with Holly would mean scandal.

Over the next few months Holly and Paul grow closer as she uses him as both sounding board and confidante. And knowing her seems to stimulate his creative juices, as he begins writing again. But there are barriers that are not to be broken. Holly wants to be free is afraid of emotional ties, t though marrying for money is perfectly acceptable. Of course, eventually the inevitable happens and Paul falls in love with her (and she with him, though she would be loath to admit it). The realization of this creates an instant rift It takes an arrest for drug trafficking and a very wet orange tabby to finally bring them together.

Despite it's status as a bona fine film classic, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a very peculiar movie, mainly due to the casting of Hepburn (though her presence alone carries the film). Capote's Holly Golightly (he had envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the role) was a saltier woman, obviously pretending at sophistication, and there was no bones about the fact that she was a hooker. When Hepburn was offered and accepted the role, the powers that be startled to back-pedal on some of the racier aspects of the original character (especially her profession), and turn her into someone who has successfully become sophisticated. The rough edges are gone. But what she actually does for a living is hopelessly obscured, especially since she seems to leave most of her clients before the "date" is over.

But there is no doubt that the film works as it is on sheer star power. Hepburn is simply delightful as screenwriter George Axelrod and Director Blake Edwards' re-vision of the character. She sparkles her way through the role, always looking gorgeous and always somehow believable. George Peppard makes a bland leading man, but paired with Hepburn there is probably very little he could do. Buddy Ebsen gives a heart-rending performance as Doc Golightly, Holly's backwoods husband who shows up to take her back home (unsuccessfully). The film's major flaw is the racist and thoroughly embarrassing performance by Mickey Rooney as building landlord Mr. Yunioshi. It hardly seems possible that this kind of ethnic slur was still considered funny in 1961. In the interviews included on the disc Edwards has the good grace to admit that he didn't know what he was thinking, and that he'd still like to go back and recast it today.

Paramount's new anniversary edition DVD includes a splendid transfer, with beautifully realized colors and a new 5.1 surround mix of Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning score. Extras include the brief featurettes "The Making of a Classic," "It's so Audrey: a Style Icon," Brilliance in a Blue Box," "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany," and the original theatrical trailer.

For more information about Breakfast at Tiffany's, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Breakfast at Tiffany's, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter