Breakfast at Tiffany's (Anniversary Edition) Review
Early morning and before the sun has lifted the dew over New York City, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) steps out of a taxi and gazes through the window of Tiffany & Co, still dressed from the night before and drinking a coffee and eating a danish. Returning to her barely-decorated flat and to her cat without a name, she collapses into bed but is woken up soon after by the ringing of the front door bell, through which she lets in her new neighbour Paul Varjak (George Peppard). Soon, Holly and Paul are firm friends but remain ones who dance around one another, never quite admitting that in spite of their supposed independence, they're wholly dependent on others - Holly on the rich men who support her with $50 trips to the powder room and the latest fashions from Givenchy, Paul on his wealthy sponsor (Patricia Neal). The closer they become, the more difficult it is for them to look beyond the parties they attend and their childlike enjoyment of the city.
But then Doc (Buddy Ebsen) visits, talking about Holly's past before her move to New York and before she became Holly Golightly, when she was still known as Lula Mae Barnes. He tells Paul that he's been looking out for Holly's brother Fred and that, given that he and Holly are still married, he wants her to come back to his home. These few secrets, though surprising, chip away at the reputation Holly has built up around herself and Paul finds himself falling in love with her, even to offering his last $10 to buy her a gift at her beloved Tiffany's. This love, though, is unrequited and as Holly plans to leave for Brazil to marry a rich landowner, Paul can only think of what might have been, had he, for example, been richer or had they simply begun by telling one another the truth.
It's odd to think of Breakfast At Tiffany's being considered one of the great screen romances. It isn't so much that Holly Golightly being a prostitute is something that the film suggests - it's more explicit in Truman Capote's novella - more that, as a romance, the flame that burns between Holly and Paul is one that struggles against the wind of ill fortune. Where romance ought to have blossomed on the fire escape that runs up the outside of their building, up and down which they sneak into one another's apartment, they keep a careful distance between them not so much out of respect but out of wanting their lives to turn out differently. As Holly explains several times during the film, all she wants is to marry a rich man whilst Paul's desire is to break the writer's block that's prevented him from writing a single word since the publishing of his first novel, with there not even being, as Holly notes, a ribbon in his typewrite. Love, it would seem, doesn't even occur to them until life chips away at the plans they had in mind for themselves and they find themselves awfully alone in a city that they're quite unprepared for. Holly Golightly may have the sass required to negotiate the upper echelons of Manhattan's social life and Paul Varjak may be a published author but they both bruise easily when it comes to love.
There is, then, precious little romance in Breakfast at Tiffany's, at least none on the surface. As an audience, we may look for cues from both Hepburn and Peppard for the romance but she offers none, keeping up a steely ambition until the film's final few minutes whilst he almost lets her slip away, coming just short of admitting that he'll never capture Holly's heart. His eyes suggest that he lacks the confidence that he needs to romance Holly, being sure that he's not wealthy enough to attract her eye. Although we may be sure that a love affair is in their future, we cannot be entirely sure that it is due anytime soon as neither one looks at the other with anything but regret and the more they learn, the more regretful they become.
Then one realises that, like music, it's not so much only the notes that are played that matter, more that they are on an equal standing with the silence and spaces between the notes. There may be little to Holly and Paul's affair during the film but events are inextricably driving them together, mostly disappointments but never so much as to leave them glum-faced and deciding that being together is maybe better than spending the rest of one's life alone. Paul's ambition to write is clearly suffering under the comfort afforded to him by Tooley's regular writing of cheques, most often in the minutes after their making love, and he sacrifices financial security for adventure, taking a risk on falling in love and gaining some creative reward from it. Holly Golightly bumps along with $50 here and there, from visits to the powder room or to Sing-Sing to meet gangster Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) but she's often visibly crushed when her plans for marriage collapse - firstly when Rusty Trawler (Stanley Adams), who she'd been ensnaring, announces his marriage to another before Jose da Silva Perriera (José-Luis de Villalonga) leaves a note calling off their engagement after she's arrested in a narcotics operation, fearing for his reputation in Brazil were he to be seen associating with such a woman. When Paul and Holly, as well as cat-with-no-name, share a taxi in the film's final moments, it's likely the best place for them, being somewhere to shelter from the rain as well as being a place without any real sense of location. And it's somehow fitting that they're together, being the only ones in the city without names, sharing the anonymity of a taxi - cat remains without a name to the very end, Paul is Fred for most of the film and Holly Golightly is really Lula Mae Barnes from Kansas but they seem to have realised that it's not who you are but who you're with that matters in New York.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is, then, hopelessly romantic, being not only a paean to Tiffany & Co and to carefree socialising amongst international jetsetters and style icons but also a love letter to Audrey Hepburn, who's portrayal of the foolishly tough Holly Golightly gave Hollywood an emblem of style, sophistication and perfectly silly ideas about love. More than that, though, it's a valentine to New York, where two people, who ought to be together but aren't, find themselves together in a taxi cab. The beautifully sad opening of the film has Holly tired of loneliness but it ends with togetherness and although Breakfast at Tiffany's may not be the perfect romance, it ends exactly as it should, with three no-name folks in need of one another because, in a city of millions, there's no one else.
Breakfast at Tiffany's, being so popular a film, has enjoyed several DVD releases in different regions since the format first took a hold and this comes out in celebration of the film's 45th anniversary. At first, you suspect that there's really no difference to the picture but compare this and the existing R2 DVD and it's obvious that the colours are less glaring, although now a touch too pale, that the picture has been slightly softened and that the grain in the image has been reduced.
This 45th Anniversay R1 Edition
Existing R2 Version
This 45th Anniversay R1 Edition
Existing R2 Version
This 45th Anniversay R1 Edition
Existing R2 Version
The only question is over the aspect ratio of the film - despite the IMDB saying that the film was shot in 1.85:1, the R2 release was 1.78:1 and although online retailers are listing this 45th Anniversary version as being in the original aspect ratio, that doesn't appear to be the case with these screenshots being 1.78:1 (600x337 pixels).
As well as the aspect ratio being changed, if indeed that's the case, the original mono soundtrack has been remixed to 5.1, which doesn't really add anything to the experience. Thankfully, the original track has been cleaned up and sounds wonderful, with the sound mix, despite the chaos in a scene like the party, never sounding too busy and always giving space to the various versions of Moon River.
Commentary: In being kind to producer Richard Shepherd, it may be that he hasn't seen the film in some time or that it's just such a great film that he couldn't help but be drawn in but so rare are his contributions to this track that I found myself checking if the commentary had actually been selected. Forty-five years and a lot of films have passed between the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's and now so Shepherd can be forgiven for not providing a scene-by-scene commentary. Indeed, recollections from the time do seem to be quite rare and there's much that this has in common with the making-of that's also on the disc, leaving this an understandably patchy extra.
The Making of a Classic (16m13s): It's not particularly long but it does quickly cover most of the production, including the adaptation of Capote's novella, the casting, the production and the odd choice of having Mickey Rooney play a Japanese man. In retrospect, Blake Edwards does admit to wishing that he'd never filmed those scenes but, equally, he wishes that he'd never cast George Peppard as Paul Varjak without ever really explaining why.
It's So Audrey (8m15s): What do we learn in this? That Audrey Hepburn is stylish, that she was good at accessorising and that Givenchy confused her with Katherine Hepburn before their initial meeting. The latter is an interesting piece of trivia but otherwise, it's a piece typical of such magazines as Vogue and Marie Claire, wherein Audrey Hepburn's work for the UN is given as much prominence as her wearing of a scarf during Roman Holiday.
Brilliance in a Blue Box (6m04s): Given the distinctive turquoise colour of Tiffany's packaging, it's odd that this edition of the film comes in a pink box. Otherwise, John Loring, Design Director at Tiffany & Co explains the place that the jewellers has in American society and how Breakfast At Tiffany's took the brand worldwide, with Audrey Hepburn being, in his words, the first lady of Tiffany's.
Audrey's Letter to Tiffany's (2m29s): John Loring returns to read the rather sweet letter Audrey Hepburn wrote for a book celebrating Tiffany's 150th anniversary. Loring explains the background to his request before reading the letter aloud as the text scrolls up the screen.
Finally, there is the Original Theatrical Trailer (2m38s) for Breakfast At Tiffany's as well as previews for Elizabethtown (2m32s) and the DVD release of Titanic (57s).
The spirit of the body of this review didn't seem like quite the right place to mention Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi so I'll do so now - it is probably the worst piece of casting that you're ever likely to see. The buck-toothed Rooney wears a pair of thick spectacles and screams down the stairs at 'Miss Horry Gorightry' in a performance that has sometimes overshadowed the actual film, leaving it almost as well remembered for Mickey Rooney's Yunioshi as for Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly.
I've never read anything that's accurately described how out-of-place Rooney's performance is, at least nothing that sums up Jason Lee's discomfort at watching it in his playing of Bruce Lee in Dragon but it's the one bum note in an otherwise wonderful film.
The only final question is that if you already have a copy, is it worth buying this one. Unless you're happy with the existing picture quality, which is much better here, I'd tend not to bother. The new extras aren't, on their own, worth a second purchase and although the box is nice, that odd choice of pink over turquoise doesn't make it quite as collectable as it ought to have done. For newcomers, though, this is a marvellous film and this 45th Anniversay Edition is the best that Breakfast at Tiffany's has looked on DVD, leaving it a worthwhile purchase for anyone, post-biopic, who's catching up with Truman Capote.