Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Audrey Plays the Field - and the Guitar

The Fathom Events TCM Presents for November was the excellent Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).  Audrey Hepburn, in a performance that has become iconic, appears as Holly Golightly, a peripatetic young woman who has temporarily settled in a small apartment on Manhattan's East Side.  Holly owns nothing except a bed.  Even her pet, Cat, the "poor no-name slob" who shares the apartment with her does not belong to her.  Holly doesn't work - she parties, and goes out with men who reward her with $50 for the powder room or for a cab.  She also goes to Sing Sing once a week to bring a weather report from Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) back to his gangland ties.  She's trying to save money, to afford a home with her soldier brother, Fred, but can't seem to get ahead, despite her relatively spartan lifestyle.  Her life is changed when would-be author (and gigolo) Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into the apartment upstairs.
When we see the images, like the one above of Ms. Hepburn as Holly, it's easy to forget that Holly is not a particularly nice person.   She uses people constantly, she is eminently selfish, and is careless to a degree that in the person of another actress would be unforgivable.  But Audrey Hepburn makes us believe, along with O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam) that Holly is a "real phony" - she truly believes the story that she has concocted about her life. In her introduction, Tiffany Vazquez pointed out that Truman Capote, the author of the novella on which the film is based, openly disliked the film, especially the casting of Ms. Hepburn.  He wanted Marilyn Monroe in the part.  But that's a piece of casting I would find hard to swallow, and would certainly have made Holly a very different character.  Surely, Ms. Monroe was a fine actress, but even at her most naive moments, there is a worldly wisdom that Holly really should not have.  It would be hard to imagine Ms. Monroe as a "real phony".  She just seems to know the world too well.
Nor is Paul Varjak a prince among men.  His apartment is being paid for by his lover, the very married - and very rich - Emily Eustace Failenson (Patricia Neal).  Discouraged by his lack of success as a writer, Paul still claims it as his profession, while pointing to a typewriter without a ribbon.  It's only after Holly gives him a ribbon (and questions his relationship with Emily), that he begins to write again. George Peppard is able to make Paul likeable; he too has an innocence that makes him appealing, and makes his attraction and care for Holly easy to believe.  Mr. Peppard was not the first choice for the role - Steve McQueen was offered the role.  However, Mr. McQueen was currently on the television show Wanted: Dead or Alive, and CBS would not permit him the time off.  This would, of course, have been a very different movie (think about it - McQueen and Monroe.  It's not an easy picture for me).
The one performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's that is totally ignominious is Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi.  Made up as the worst kind of racial stereotype, Mr. Yunioshi is a lecherous fool.  Holly, as selfish as she is irresponsible, can never remember her keys, so she constantly rings Mr. Yunioshi's bell.  He continues to ring her in. Why? Because she has hinted she might pose for him.  It's revolting, really.  Years after the film, both Mickey Rooney and Blake Edwards disavowed the portrayal, saying they wished they had not done it (see this series of TCM articles), though Mr. Rooney said that at the time, he thought the role was funny.  It was after he began hearing that character was actively disliked that he began to see the problem with Mr. Yunioshi (See this article in the Deseret [Salt Lake City] News.)
Regardless of this one characterization, this is a wonderful film.  It's #61 on AFI's list 100 Years, 100 Passions and in 2012 was added to the National Registry of Historic Films.  It has also had tremendous influence on a generation. What woman doesn't own a "little black dress"?  Which of us doesn't want to visit Tiffany's (yes, I've gone - in a hat and sunglasses.  And Holly is right - they ARE very nice in Tiffany's).  And how many people equate the images shown here with Audrey Hepburn?  It's an iconic performance that has stood the test of time.
Also iconic is the song "Moon River."  As this article from Vogue, 10 Things You Never Knew About Breakfast at Tiffany's points out, the song was almost cut from the film!  Luckily, Blake Edwards won, and we get this wonderful moment, with Audrey Hepburn singing Henry Mancini's magnificent song.  It is a moving moment, that gives us an image of a Holly Golightly we see only this once in the picture.  We'll see you next time, with more of our group's discussion.

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