October was the month of things that go bump in the night, of monsters and witches and horror. Now it’s time to turn our attentions to a refined subject, an actress of skill and ability whose films are still celebrated today. The month of November is Audrey Hepburn film month and it’s being kicked off with one of her greatest cinematic achievements. It’s time once more to travel back 56 years. 1961, a time that saw the beginning of the ‘Marvel Age’ with publication of Fantastic Four #1, and Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the Earth. On October 5, Audrey Hepburn’s latest film Breakfast at Tiffany’s debuted and it further launched her into stardom.
Directed by Blake Edwards (above) and adapted from Truman Capote‘s novella, this story turned Hollywood on its head. Not only was it well-cast and scripted, but it evoked such feeling from audiences with its moving tale of love. With Blake at the helm, this deep novella was able to make the transition from printed page to silver screen, moving hearts everywhere thanks to the casting of Audrey Hepburn.
Audrey Hepburn is a name that evokes a host of memories. She is one of the quintessential leading ladies of 20th century cinema. An icon to millions of people across the ages, her films and roles are some of the greatest ever. As Holly Golightly, Audrey stepped into the role of a New York socialite, constantly going out and having fun and living life. Then her world is turned upside down by her new neighbor; not only does she learn so much about herself, she learns how to finally love and something every person wants deep down…to be loved. One of the things that is so fantastic about her performance as Holly is that despite having a flighty outer personality, the REAL Holly Golightly is drawn out piece by piece as the movie progresses. Such a drawing out comes when Holly is singing on her balcony late one night.
‘Moon River’ is the signature song of the production. Written by Henry Mancini, the number was tailored just for Audrey based around songs from her 1957 film Funny Face. Its walking bass melody, varied with choral and string variations mixed with brisk combo jazz, is such a moving and heartfelt song. Audrey has a wonderful singing voice and her vocals, combined with Henry’s music and words, are why it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s has strength in its supporting cast as well. Chiefly George Peppard as struggling author Paul Varjak. Since he bears such an uncanny resemblance to Holly’s brother Fred, she christens him Fred and becomes his friend. (Though neither could have predicted all their time spent together would lead to them not only falling in love.) In addition to George, there is also cast members Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Alan Reed and José Luis de Vilallonga. Then there’s the casting decision that has caused endless amounts of controversy over the years…Mickey Rooney.
Mickey Rooney at the time of the film’s release was a household name. A celebrated actor and comedian, his casting as Audrey’s upstairs neighbor I. Y. Yunioshi was not given a second thought at the time. As stereotypical casting decisions have been overridden in modern times, Mickey’s performance has been characterized as both “painful, misguided” and “overtly racist.” Despite these criticisms, the movie still thrives on as a cultural icon.
Another important member of the cast is not even human, he’s a four-legged marmalade-colored tabby who liked to hang out in Holly’s apartment. Yes, that is a direct reference to Cat (played by Orangey and trained by Frank Inn). Poor slob, poor slob without a name. He is Holly’s one constant companion (next to Paul). Why, if it weren’t for Cat, Holly wouldn’t have been able to own up to admitting her feelings towards Paul. Those feelings were cemented by his leaving the cab to look for Cat and her realizing how much Cat and Paul mean to her. In the end, it wasn’t just Holly owning up to her true self in order to stop running and find love, it was Cat too.
At the time of its release, the film received a wide mix of views. New York Times critic A. H. Weiler said:
“Miss Golightly, is, as her one-time Hollywood agent declares, “a phony, but a real phony, understand Fred, baby?” Miss Golightly also explains that if she could find “a place that makes me feel like Tiffany’s, I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.” She is, in short, “a wild thing.” All the quick-silverish explanations still leave the character as implausable as ever. But in the person of Miss Hepburn, she is a genuinely charming, elfin waif who will be believed and adored when seen.”
Those words only serve to showcase the caliber of actress Audrey Hepburn was. She could play a variety of roles, and in the performance as Holly she wears many masks. Underneath all of them is the “genuinely charming, elfin waif” described in Mr. Weiler’s review.
While the month of November is the month of Thanksgiving, this month the attention from a movie-going perspective is being turned in a different direction. Instead of talking turkeys and Pilgrims, these pieces will be devoted to the storied and vast career of Audrey Hepburn. A queen of 60’s cinema, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the defining roles of her career. It has such a grand story with a powerful message about not running away from life’s problems and instead facing things head-on. This is something so many people then and now can relate to. So as the day of feasting and family draws close, take a moment to relax from the upcoming stress of basting birds and mashing potatoes. Take some time to enjoy a slice of movie heaven, with a little trip to New York City and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.