Breakfast at Tiffany's: Centennial Collection
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (12th April 2009).
The Film

I was much more intrigued going into "Breakfast at Tiffany’s", the second Audrey Hepburn film I’ve seen, than with my inaugural film, "Funny Face" (1957). For the better part of 15 years I’ve heard about how classic the film is, seen the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder and noted countless references to the film which still lingers in our cultural zeitgeist. And yet, despite the constant stream of gushing enthusiasm for the film, I never had any desire to see it. I blame it on my former bad habit of dismissing outright any film that appeared to have a romantic angle involved. Now that I’ve become a bit more cinematically cultured, if you will, introducing myself to many of these Hollywood classics seem more like a duty; I owe myself. I’m glad I’ve learned to open up, because I found "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" to not only defy my expectations, but also make me realize that it does truly deserve its place among the pantheon of Hollywood’s most enduring films.

Audrey Hepburn stars as Holly Golightly, a flippant, fly-by-night New York socialite/escort whose primary concerns are men, parties and Tiffany’s jewelry store. When a new tenant, writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard), moves into her building Holly becomes interested in getting to know him better. Over the course of their friendship, Paul begins to realize that he has strong feelings for Holly, and she eventually opens up to him as well, but it’s when Paul decides he wants to take things further that he learns Holly is a bird with no interest in being caged. She left home at a young age and got married, most likely for the money, and she’s been living on the fly ever since, never letting any one man take hold of her for good.

Though she had a career which saw the release of several timeless Hollywood classics, "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is the film with which Audrey Hepburn shall be indelibly linked. Hepburn, a natural introvert, had to put her all in the role of Holly, someone who is as extroverted as they come. I’ve read that some critics felt that she was miscast in the lead role, but I couldn’t imagine seeing anyone else’s interpretation of the character (though originally the role was to have gone to Marilyn Monroe). She’s a natural beauty, with hypnotic eyes that can easily cause men to fall under her spell. Hepburn also sings the film’s main song, “Moon River”, which was written especially for her by composer Henry Mancini, a track that executives wanted to cut before Hepburn vehemently rejected that notion. They never say outright that Holly is a call-girl, but the little hints she drops throughout the film help to explain how someone with no typical 9-5 job can afford her social lifestyle. I suspect much of this was due to the Hays Code which was still in effect at the time the film was released.

As with "Funny Face", all of Audrey’s outfits were selected with the aid of Parisian designer Hubert de Givenchy. She couldn’t possibly look any more radiant here; every look she presents is eye-catchingly gorgeous. Though I wasn’t familiar with the film, or Hepburn’s look, it’s clearly obvious that she has been used as the archetype for so many countless imitators of today, inspiring films from "Clueless" (1995) to "Legally Blonde" (2001). I don’t know a single thing about fashion unless it involves jeans or a black t-shirt, but even I can appreciate just how unique each outfit Holly wears truly is.

George Peppard plays Paul “Fred” Varjak, the straight-man to Holly’s wild girl, and he does a solid job, even though he is rather bland. Paul is not a wild guy, but he does all he can to try keeping up with Holly for fear of losing her. The thinks that things will go differently for him than any other man Holly has been with, and in the end he comes to find himself in the same position they all do. His character does share one similarity with Holly, however, as it is shown that Paul is living free of charge, and with a stipend, no less, in an apartment furnished by his sugar mama, Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal). Paul lives a much simpler life, content with being taken care of while he takes his time completing a novel, whereas Holly uses her men purely for their money to fund an extravagant lifestyle far beyond any means she could attain.

The most controversial aspect of the film, by far, is Mickey Rooney’s Yellowfaced, buck-tooth Japanese landlord, Mr. Yunioshi. At the time, it wasn’t a serious matter to make light of another race, so there weren’t any issues with getting this past the censors. Just look back at any old "Popeye The Sailor" (1960-1963), "Tom & Jerry" (1965-1972), or numerous other popular cartoons of the 30’s-60’s to see dozens or examples showcasing racial insensitivity. Though the producers and director all wish that they could erase the character from the film entirely, Rooney is the only one who seems rather nonplussed about the whole thing. Personally, it wasn’t so much the manner in which the character was played, but the fact that he was even included at all, that I found distracting. Had they gone with an authentic Japanese actor, and not made him so slapstick, I think the character could have blended more seamlessly into the film, whereas now he just stick out among the film’s already garish characters.

"Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is based on Truman Capote’s novella of the same name, although many changes were made during the transition to the silver screen. Capote had envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the role of Holly Golightly, a selection which George Axelrod kept in mind while writing the script. The studio eventually decided to go with Hepburn instead, a decision which Capote wasn’t too pleased about. Most of the changes were minor, such as toning down language and removing any references to Holly’s flirtations with bisexuality. This was due to the fact that the Hays Code was still in effect, and Hollywood’s new standards had to be met to ensure the film could be released. I think the film would have had a slightly darker edge had the code not been around when the film was made. It was finally discontinued in 1968 to make way for the MPAA.

Video

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" look incredibly good. The transfer is a marginal improvement over the 45th Anniversary Edition, but that matters little since the film is vibrant and lush. Colors explode off the screen with clarity; this is a fantastic looking film with remarkable production design. Sharpness looks as good as one can expect from standard definition, though I couldn’t help but think this film would marvel had it been given a Blu-ray release as well. As it stands, this is as good as this film is likely to ever look on DVD.

Audio

The film’s main track is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix, and it sounds excellent. The track is very clean and clear; there are no noticeable hisses or pops. Mancini’s Academy Award-winning theme song, “Moon River”, sounds lively and rich. The party scene in particular sounds fantastic. Audio purists are given a restored English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono 2.0, and there are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks available.
Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Following up "Funny Face", "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is #5 in Paramount’s Centennial Collection. This film is given a few more bonus features, with disc one home to both the feature film and an audio commentary track, while disc two contains numerous featurettes, the film’s theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.

It should be noted that most of the features presented here were originally included on the film’s 45th Anniversary Edition DVD released in 2006.

DISC ONE:

The audio commentary by producer Richard Shepherd has been retained here from the previous 45th Anniversary Edition DVD for this film. This is a straight-forward track with plenty of information. Shepherd gives up some very worthwhile notes, such as the differences between Capote’s novella and the film, how the film’s cast was chosen and that, if he could, he would have changed Mickey Rooney’s character in the film. All aspects of the production are covered and Shepherd gives some great insight into the characters and their motivations.

DISC TWO:

“A Golightly Gathering” is a featurette which runs for 20 minutes and 25 seconds. Several of the actors and actresses that were cast as attendees at the infamous party in Holly’s apartment recreate the bash and discuss some of their memories from the shoot. They share many insightful anecdotes that help to reveal a little more about the eclectic party goers.

Henry Mancini: More Than Music” is a featurette which runs for 20 minutes and 56 seconds. Friends and family members wax poetic on the legendary composer and songwriter. Though the runtime is rather short, this manages to adequately provide an overview of his phenomenal career, along with many great old home movies and family photographs.

“Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective” is a featurette which runs for 17 minutes and 29 seconds. Asian-American members of the media discuss the insensitive, yellow-faced character, and how politically incorrect he is seen as in today’s more attuned society.

“The Making of a Classic” is a featurette which runs for 16 minutes and 12 seconds. Various people close to the production discuss the making of the film, with most of the discussion being relegated to the topic of casting, with the rest being made up by some behind-the-scenes stories.

“It’s So Audrey: A Style Icon” is a featurette which runs for 8 minutes and 14 seconds. Those familiar with Audrey and her sense of style discuss how she was able to achieve her stellar sense of fashion. This is very similar to the featurette “The Fashion Designer and His Muse” on the "Funny Face" DVD.

“Behind the Gates: The Tour” is a featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Viewers are given a guided tour of the Paramount lot, along with some interesting statistics about the studio and its history.

“Brilliance in a Blue Box” is a featurette which runs for 6 minutes and 3 seconds. John Loring, design director of Tiffany’s, and Janet Zapada, jewelry historian, both discuss the designer store which is the object of Holly’s obsession in the film.

“Audrey’s Letter to Tiffany” is a featurette which runs for 2 minutes and 29 seconds. John Loring returns to discuss the preface that Ms. Hepburn wrote for a book written about Tiffany’s.

The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 2 minutes and 37 seconds.

Finally, 3 photo galleries are available:

- “Production” features 29 images.
- “The Movie” features 26 images.
- “Publicity” features 22 images.

Packaging

As with "Funny Face", "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" includes a full-color 8-page booklet with production photographs and some reflections on the film. The 2-disc set comes housed in a classy black slipcover which mirrors the artwork found on the disc’s cover.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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