If you look at her screen image up to that point, Audrey Hepburn would've seemed all wrong to play Holly Golightly inBreakfast at Tiffany's. The film was a hit, increasing her fame as an actress and as a fashion icon. It brought her another Oscar nomination.
Breakfast at Tiffany's, the 1961 film directed by Blake Edwards, made the recent honor roll of releases added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. The Registry selects works of enduring importance to American culture that reflect who we are as a people and as a nation. If, this weekend, the New York Times did a lifestyle article on movies that made people want to move to New York City, Breakfast at Tiffany's would be mentioned. I've heard young women in Manhattan say that they wanted to be "just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's." It influenced Sarah Jessica Parker's fashion-obsessed character on Sex and the City. They should watch Audrey's movie again.
This is a tale of lost souls and survival in a big city. There's a melancholy tone to the open with Holly alone on Fifth Avenue early in the morning. The harmonica playing "Moon River," is sweet but contradicts her ultra sophisticated look. It calls to mind a small country town instead of a big city. There's a reason for that, we'll learn. This movie is about phonies, about free spirits who are afraid to remove the mask and give their hearts. It's about finding something real in the big city...namely love.
I read that Truman Capote, author of the short story that became the basis for the Blake Edwards screenplay adaptation, saw Marilyn Monroe as being more of Holly --- probably the Monroe as we knew her as the clueless but lovable country girl in Bus Stop. Party girl Holly Golightly is a country girl who headed to New York City to get away from her past and transform herself -- change the way she talks, walks, dresses. She even changes her name. Manhattan is a mecca for reinvention. There were two things moviegoers could count on in an Audrey Hepburn movie -- a fashion transformation, usually of the caterpillar to butterfly kind, and a romantic angle that had her young character falling in love with an older man. In a way, it started with William Wyler's Roman Holiday, the film that brought her a Best Actress Academy Award. Manipulative but gentlemanly veteran newspaperman Gregory Peck knows that she's really a royal traveling incognito.
At the end, she transforms into a confident, independent princess. They'll both learn something about life, love and humanity. In Billy Wilder's Sabrina, she earned her second Oscar nomination as a modern-day Cinderella who unexpectedly falls for the older, reserved, reliable brother of a handsome younger playboy who lives in a huge mansion. William Holden starred as the young brother. Humphrey Bogart played the older one.
In Funny Face, she's the bookworm who falls for a renowned fashion photographer played by Fred Astaire. He gets her a job and takes her to Paris. She changes from meek Greenwich Village intellectual bookstore clerk with a plain wardrobe....
...to fabulous high fashion model gracing runways and the pages of glossy magazines.
In that fine 1957 musical comedy directed by Stanley Donen, Fred Astaire's photograher character describes the future model as "...a girl who has character, spirit and intelligence." That was the essence of Audrey Hepburn's screen image in the 1950s.
Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face and Love in the Afternoon co-starring Gary Cooper found her falling for an older man because men her own age were immature and could not appreciate her mind and spirit along with her physical charms. As Ariane in Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon, the French detective's daughter reveals, "I don't care much for young men. I find them conceited and clumsy and very unimaginative."
This is flippedin Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's the middle-aged men in Holly's Manhattan existence who are clumsy. Like Sid, the oaf who tries to weasel his way into her apartment in the first ten minutes of the movie. She just had her breakfast at Tiffany's. Sid is staked out in front of her apartment. Apparently, her paid for her nightlife. He also picked up the check for a few of her friends and gave her "...$50 for the powder room." Because he gave her that money "for the powder room," he bellows at her closed door "Now doesn't that give me some rights?" The young hipster party girl has been too generous with her favors occasionally. She's needed the money. She hasn't been very intelligent about herself, her new life, her flight from her past. As in her previous hits, Hepburn's character here also undergoes a transformation. She transforms from backwoods hillbilly into Manhattan sophisticate with a new name. But the gorgeous outer change didn't equal inner happiness. This is true of many who flock to New York City to become new. Things don't always work out as planned. There's a rootlessness and emptiness under Holly's trendy, kooky big city life exterior image that's reflected
in her apartment. She's been there a year. Yet walls are bare. It doesn't seem like a home. It looks as if she's just moved in. Struggling writer Paul Varjac, played by young and handsome George Peppard, notices this. They are more than neighbors in the same apartment building. They are kindred spirits. As in the movie's Oscar-winning Best Song, "Moon River," wistfully introduced by Audrey Hepburn, Holly and Paul are "two drifters, off to see the world." He's basically the well-kept boy-toy of a rich married woman whom, with slight embarrassment, he introduces to Holly as "My...decorator."
She's possessive. And hard. Paul calls her "2E." This relationship is about sex, not love. She does decorate his apartment. It shows her true self. She does for decorating a man's apartment what Helen Keller did for the sport of skeet shooting. Patricia Neal is deliciously vulgar in this role. It's no coincidence that this woman is in an outfit designed to make her look like a character in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
She's a mean queen who is jealous of a lovely younger woman. In Paul's bedroom, when Holly spots a generous amount of cash that 2E "left on the dresser," so the speak, Holly is not shocked. "I understand. I understand completely," she says. This is not Sabrina Fairchild, the respectable chauffeur's daughter in the Billy Wilder comedy or Jo Stockton, the bookworm-turned-bird of paradise model in Donen's charming musical. This certainly isn't the brilliant feminist medical student, Sister Luke, in 1959's The Nun's Story. In that, too, Hepburn has a major fashion transformation as she goes from civilian to life in a convent. She leaves behind a young man who wanted to marry her. Fulfilling a dream to aid the afflicted in the Congo, you feel that the nun could be attracted to the middle-aged doctor played by Peter Finch. He has a passion for medicine, for helping others and a respect for her independent spirit that reminds her of the respect she gets from her beloved father, a prominent surgeon. Holly is fooling herself. Paul detects the sadness in her life when she says, "I need money and I'll do whatever I have to do to get it."
He sees the loneliness in her. He wants to end it, to fill her life with something meaningful. The sincere young man falls in love with Holly and ends his affair with 2E.
But Holly seems headed for a brick wall. She has set all her financial sights on José, the wealthy Brazilian she met at one of her parties. Yes, this is the kind of middle-aged man the Audrey Hepburn character would've fallen for in other movies. He's sophisticated, dapper, mature and attractive. He's played by actor José Luis de Vilallonga.
(He played another character named José when he was featured as the Sangria-making charmer in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits.) However, the irresponsible activity of Holly's hipster life has caused a little mess. José can't be tainted by that mess. Holly would, at the most, be to him what Paul was to the married decorator. This time, it's the middle-aged man who is "...conceited and clumsy and very unimaginative," to quote Ariane from Love in the Afternoon. It's the young man who pushes her character towards the important, necessary inner transformation and self-awakening.
It's the young man who truly loves her and helps her to save herself from nothingness. Her heart will no longer be as her apartment was -- a blank, empty space.
In the opening scene, we saw Holly on an expensive Manhattan street gazing through the window of an expensive Manhattan jewelry store as she's gorgeously coiffed and gowned. Now she wears plain, ordinary clothing in the pouring rain in an alley with trash cans. But she's emotionally in a better place. No more "$50 for the powder room." She's found true love. She's found herself. There would be a return to the original Audrey Hepburn film format with another caterpillar-to-butterfly fashion transformation and a character romantically pursued by a young man but preferring a middle-aged gent. That was musically in the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1964, My Fair Lady. I like how Audrey Hepburn was brave enough to change and challenge her screen image in Breakfast At Tiffany's. At first viewing, it may seem a kooky romantic comedy from Blake Edwards. Look again. There's a darkness underneath the fabulous fashions and colorful characters. If not careful, Holly could wind up discarded like her no-name cat when her party girl popularity has reached its expiration date. When I read in The New York Times once that a few young women said that they moved to Manhattan so they could be just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's, I thought of the non-pretty aspect of "$50 for the powder room." I think those young women wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's. They did not want to be like her. I hope. Jailed mobster Sally Tomato knows. He reads Holly's diary and comments, "This is a book would break the heart." Holly's embarrassed but she knows deep-down he's correct. Fortunately, Holly finds that "huckleberry friend" who is "...after the same rainbow's end..." and treats her like she's a Tiffany's gem. We should all be so lucky.