Saturday, March 7, 2009

Target #261: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961, Blake Edwards)

TSPDT placing: #401
Directed by: Blake Edwards
Written by: Truman Capote (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay)

Even beforehand, I got the feeling that Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) wasn't really my sort of film. Adapted from Truman Capote's controversial novel of the same name, it tells the story of Holly Golightly, a free-wheeling call girl (in the novel, at least) who attempts to dissolve herself into upper-class society by attending lavish parties and courting wealthy men whom she denies her honest affection. There's plenty to like about the film, and it's certainly the most polished and elegant effort I've seen so far from director Blake Edwards {The Pink Panther (1964) and The Party (1968) seem somehow irretrievably trapped in the 1960s}. However, in what is probably a simple case of personal preference, it never quite clicked, at least not in the same way as Casablanca (1942) or An Affair to Remember (1957). I did, in any case, understand to some degree why many viewers, particularly women, could connect with the main protagonist on a more intimate level. Maybe they can see a little of themselves in Holly Golightly.

Of course, any mention of Breakfast at Tiffany's immediately calls to mind the image of Audrey Hepburn, and it's certainly among her most iconic performances, which is interesting given how it strayed somewhat from her typical screen persona. Unlike the shy and girlish "Cinderella" of Roman Holiday (1953) or Sabrina (1954), Holly Golightly is slightly arrogant, intrusive and fiercely extroverted. So determined is she to remain a free-spirited personality that she has barred herself from any meaningful human relationships, despite having accumulated a social circle that extends into the hundreds. Truman Capote had originally envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the main role, but Hepburn brings to Holly a certain delicacy and keen-eyed intelligence that is unique to her. Behind the character's breezy and outgoing personality is a sense of vulnerability and loneliness, of a drifting soul who idly attaches to thirty lovers a month without making any sort of emotional connection. Blake Edwards poignantly ties up the climax with an embrace in the rain, demonstrating a tenderness and sophistication that I hadn't expected of him.

Among the supporting performers, Martin Balsam is most certainly worth a mention, playing Holly's womanising, to-the-point agent, who publicly holds the opinion that his client is a "real phony" – that is, she herself genuinely believes in her own spurious lifestyle. Finally, I like Mickey Rooney as much as the next man, but what's going on here? When Richard Barthelmess donned ridiculous Oriental make-up in Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1919), at least the portrayal was respectful and sympathetic. Racial stereotypes can work adequately enough in comedies (see Peter Sellers in The Party (1968) or Murder by Death (1976)), and Breakfast at Tiffany's certainly has comedic elements, but the rest of the film also has an impeccable elegance that clashes horribly with the dim-witted slapstick of Mr. Yunioshi. If, indeed, the character had to exist, it would have been far less distracting had an Asian actor been cast in the role; some would certainly have existed in Hollywood at the time. Blake Edwards really needed to give that one a second thought.

Currently my #3 film of 1961:
1) The Innocents (Jack Clayton)
2) One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder)
3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards)
4) Judgement at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer)
5) Murder She Said (George Pollock)

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