"Breakfast at Tiffany's" Movie Review

Breakfast at Tiffany's

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A stylish classic with Audrey Hepburn at her elfin, elegant best, Breakfast at Tiffany's is almost but not quite ruined by Mickey Rooney's hideously stereotyped performance as Hepburn's Japanese neighbor, buck teeth and all. Intended to provide broad comedy at the time, the scenes provoke intense discomfort today.

Nevertheless, the movie's bittersweet romance and its great sense of hip and heartless New York society in the late 1950s make Breakfast at Tiffany's a film that's still well worth watching... just fast-forward through the bits with Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi.

The Plot

The movie begins at breakfast, with lovely Holly Golightly (Hepburn), still dressed in an evening gown in the early morning light, drinking a cardboard cup of coffee and eating a danish as she wistfully browses the windows at Tiffany's. A "party girl," Holly spends her evenings with a series of older men who seem to have lots of money (she routinely receives $50 when she goes to the powder room, long before the "powder room" meant cocaine).

She lives in a barely furnished apartment where she washes her hair, hosts parties, and attends to an independent orange tabby. Once a week, she traipses off to Sing-Sing to meet with admirer Sally Tomato, an Italian ​gent jailed for mob activities, who gives her "the weather report" to relay to his cronies on the outside.

Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a young writer whose first effort showed promise, now suffering from writer's block, is installed in the apartment above by his older, married mistress. Naturally, he befriends Holly—they're both young, beautiful, and in essentially the same line of work. He eventually learns that Holly is trying desperately to rise above her surprising origins. The central struggle of the movie is whether the two of them can accept happiness and possible poverty together, or continue their attempts to trade up.

The Cast of "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Hepburn holds the movie together in the role that defined her career. She brings a disarming artlessness to Holly. She looks fabulous in her sophisticated clothes, waves a long black cigarette holder around, and spouts odd little bits of French (calling one aggressive suitor "quel beast"). Yet she seems to float untouched above the seamier aspects of her life, only occasionally letting us see her vulnerability and loneliness. She's irresistible and despite all the glamorous party clothes, she's just as charming wearing a pair of jeans and a simple shirt when she sings the movie's hit song, "Moon River."

Director Blake Edwards said in later years he would not have cast Peppard in the role. I'm with him. I'd like to see Paul long for Holly a little bit more than he does—it would make the payoff so much more affecting. Patricia Neal, on the other hand, makes the most of her tiny role as the bored and wealthy Mrs. Failenson, who keeps her boy toy for amusement. She even leaves him cash to take Holly somewhere to get her out of his system, never doubting that her money will bring the starving writer back to her. She's cold, hard and just perfect.

Buddy Ebsen established his Jed Clampett credentials as one of the characters from Holly's past, and the ensemble cast of artists, business types, party girls, strippers and kooks who populate Holly's parties is dated but still fun.

The Backstory

The film was made from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, although the screenplay was by George Axelrod. Capote had always envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the part, and felt betrayed by the studio when Hepburn was cast—yet the choice was inspired.

Her effortless style and fragile beauty set fashion trends for years to come, and the movie produced icons of American fashion. The little pink cocktail dress she wore in one scene sold not long ago for $192,000. The "little black dress" she wore to go visit Sally Tomato in the pen has ever since been a staple of the chic female wardrobe. And the black Givenchy gown she wears in the opening scene was auctioned for $800,000 in London in 2006, to fund the building of 15 educational centers for children in India.

The Bottom Line

If you can get past the truly appalling Mickey Rooney bits, this classic romance still holds together pretty well, and the whole thing is worth it just to watch Hepburn dazzle her way through the costume changes. It’s an easy, light breakfast—just a ​danish and a cup of coffee after a long night.

Recommended for You

If you liked Breakfast at Tiffany's, you may like Charade, Funny Face, Sabrina, or My Fair Lady.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" at a Glance:

Year: 1961, Color

Director: Blake Edwards

Running Time: 115 minutes

Studio: Paramount