Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Breakfast at Tiffany's


I am all a twitter today as Madame Arcati is holding her little séance thing tonight; she absolutely promises that she'll be able to bring my late husband, Mr. Norman Maine, back under control so he'll quit haunting our house in such an outrageous fashion. Last night, he perched on the weather vane, sang sea chanteys and lobbed an occasional shoe at Johnny Carson's house next door until four AM. I really am starting to suffer from lack of beauty sleep. I am having Wolfgang Puck cater the séance and Madame Rose, my publicist, promises that all of the Hollywood movers and shakers will be there. Last time she promised that, she showed up with the residents of the Cedars Sinai Parkinson's ward but I will have to give her points for trying.

I've already heard from the old guard. June Allyson, Arlene Dahl, Mickey Rooney, Betty Garrett and Debbie Reynolds have all RSVPd yes. Ann Miller was supposed to come too but she's apparently having 'Taps' played for her somewhere else. The chorus boys and girls of my new show, Mother Teresa: The Musical are on hand to act as wait and bar staff and I'm going to have them do a few of the better routines for the assembled guests before Madame goes into her crystal ball act; it's important to start that all important buzz if I'm going to nab the Tony this year.

After setting up the buffet in the dining room and getting the terrace ready for the dance band, tasks which were not at all helped by Norman's floating a few feet above my head and issuing absolutely contrary orders, I had a few moments free and decided to relax with a film in the privacy of my sumptuous home theater. I was too exhausted to flip through my 'to view' piles so I channel surfed through the movie channels until I ran across Blake Edwards' 1961 film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's on some obscure variation on Cinemax and settled in for some heartwarming romance.

Based on southern writer Truman Capote's novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's is the story of self invented jet-set party girl, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) and her life in Kennedy era New York city. Here she stays up all night, refuses to put down roots (symbolically depicted by her refusing to give her cat a name), takes money from wealthy business men after a date (about as close to prostitution as the Hollywood film conventions of the time would allow) and looks absolutely ravishing in Givenchy gowns. Holly, who would likely be diagnosed as a borderline personality with bipolar tendencies today, runs across promising novelist Paul Varjak (George Peppard) when he moves into her apartment building. Paul is the kept man of a New York socialite (a purring Patricia Neal)who's looking for the inspiration for that great American novel and paying his way with stud service until it strikes.

This unlikely couple, both users, end up finding kindred spirits in each other and an awkward romance blossoms. There's not a lot of plot here, just events that illuminate character. Holly chases an impossible dream of climbing the social ladder through marriage to a rich Brazilian (Jose Luis de Villalonga). The husband she abandoned (Buddy Ebsen), a vet in rural Texas who married her at thirteen, turns up in a vain attempt to turn her back into Lula Mae Barnes. She inadvertently runs messages for a mobster (Alan Reed). It all ends up with a magical clinch in the rain with the lovers squeezing that symbolic cat, now very wet, between them.

Blake Edwards, who is best known for The Pink Panther series of films, gets most of the film right. He creates a magical New York with clever use of location, a city that never really existed outside of thirties musicals and the occasional Woody Allen picture. The romance is one of the all time best, despite the wooden acting of George Peppard. He goes wrong when he tries to inject slapstick comic relief. A subplot with Mickey Rooney in the worst Asian make-up this side of Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon is execrable and you cringe every time his Mr. Yunioshi appears on screen. Some comic bits in large party scenes also fall flat.

The screenplay is by George Axelrod, who also gave us The Seven Year Itch and the brilliant The Manchurian Candidate. Axelrod is the master of the understatement and he's smart enough to let many of the more interesting character moments depend on silence and action rather than on volumes of words which would likely only get in the way. The small touches which convey the complex emotional and sexual relationships of the protagonists as subtext are brilliant. It's helped immeasurably by Henry Mancini's lush, romantic score featuring the song, 'Moon River', one of the best songs of longing ever composed.

Audrey Hepburn dominates the film in her portrayal of the flighty Holly, plumbing the depths of the complex character through rapid line delivery, body language and her expressive eyes. The opening scene with the titular breakfast contains not a word of dialogue. She doesn't need it. She received a very deserved Oscar nomination for her work. Patricia Neal as the predatory, but nameless matron and the plaintive Buddy Ebsen also give stellar work. The weakest link is Peppard. He looks gorgeous but seems a bit out of his element, unable to draw attention or balance a scene with Audrey.

Despite the flaws, the film remains a fine romance and suggests the possibility of happy ever after, although I doubt these characters will find it.

Flying cat. Falling model. Fire escape guitar playing. Money on the table. Burning hat. Diamond tiara. Cracker Jack prize. Animal Halloween mask shop lifting. Night court.

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