Breakfast at Tiffany's from 1961 with Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen and Mickey Rooney
TCM's current series, Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror, discusses the racism, sexism, prejudices and stereotypes in movie history. It's been a smart and honest approach so far that doesn't elide the ugliness, but does recognize that, effectively, it's a part of these movies that can't be effaced, nor TCM argues, should it.
If you want to watch these movies, you can't avoid seeing these odious period cultural norms (some of which were already dated at the time as culture moves forward haphazardly). For Breakfast at Tiffany's, the TCM discussion rightly points out the terrible, racist and insulting character of Mr. Yunioshi played by Mickey Rooney. His portrayal of a buck-toothed, bumbling and immature Japanese man is awful, insulting and cringe worthy.
The truly crazy thing about Mr. Yunioshi is his character fits neither the sophisticated style, nor the forward-looking social commentary, of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Sadly, it's just an awful and demeaning part of an otherwise outstanding film.
Having seen Breakfast at Tiffany's more times than I'll admit unless under extreme interrogation methods, my relationship with this movie is like visiting with a life-long friend. Each time, I focus on a different aspect of the movie as I have long since absorbed the plot.
For newbies, the plot is Audry Hepburn, as Holly Golightly - a young New York City partier, socialite wannabe, gold digger and courtesan - having her confidently cynical approach to life disrupted by her upstairs neighbor, George Peppard.
He, like Holly, makes his living from wealthier New Yorkers who, no other way to say it, pay to have sex with these very pretty people. While Peppard is weary of his demimonde lifestyle and immediately sees the value of real love with Hepburn, it takes Hepburn the length of the movie - as her various marry-someone-rich plans continue to fall through - to see its value too.
The story is a good one, but what captured my attention this viewing is Breakfast at Tiffany's style. Though being, at times, sad, morose and bleak, every scene, even the most dispiriting, is visually appealing. Bus depots, the NYC Public Library, police stations and even strip clubs are all stylishly beautiful in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Despite Hepburn's and Peppard's problems, you want to live in this world (if it would have you).
When a depressed Ms. Hepburn, suffering from a case of what she calls "the mean reds," sits on her window sill, with one foot resting on the fire escape singing the melancholy Moon River, she's in jeans and a grey sweatshirt with her wet hair wrapped in a towel, yet she looks fantastic.
A five-and-dime store never appeared more attractive and color coordinated than the one where Hepburn and Peppard don and then abscond with plastic Halloween cat and dog masks. It's not the disheveled Woolworth of my youth, but like a store designed by Andy Warhol at the height of his Pop Art powers.
The wardrobes - where one assumes half or more the movie's budget was spent - are a trip though early sixties cool with Hepburn wearing the best little black dress (not the famous opening-scene evening gown) possibly of all time. She has so many wardrobe changes that several of them take place on screen and serve to advance the plot (see Hepburn preparing to go to Sing Sing or in the cab after her time at the local precinct).
But she's matched outfit change for outfit change by Peppard's cougar-provided sartorial splendor (note his insane closet). Even said cougar, Patricia Neal, strikes a style note. She sweeps in and out of scenes while treating Peppard like the kept man he is, but with so much over-the-top style you kinda like her, or respect her, or are scared of her, or something, but you are aware of her panache.
Even at the end, when all pretense is stripped away and the two lovers, broke, spiritually broken and soaked to the bone, are standing in a garbage-strewn alley (has garbage ever looked so artfully arranged?), with a wet cat pressed between them, their world is still visually enticing.
None of this even touches on the other style icon of the movie, New York City itself. Maybe that can be the focus on my next viewing. Director Blake Edwards had a style vision for this movie that carries so consistently from scene to scene that it serves as a narrative technique. Yes, there's an engaging story, talented acting and much pain and sorrow, but Breakfast at Tiffany's is also an insanely beautiful trip through early-sixties New York City from the opening to closing shot.
TCM deserves Kudos for its honest, unvarnished look at movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's. But being blunt, it's also a self-preservation effort by TCM to get in front of woke cancel culture as its survival depends on these movies being "acceptable" viewing. TCM has one product - old movies - so it can't afford for them to be the next thing tossed on this unforgiving generation's bonfire of the vanities.
N.B., I live three blocks from Holly Golightly's apartment building in NYC. It's still there and looks reasonably similar to how it did in the movie, umm, not that I, uh, err, walk by it often just to look.
The "mean reds."
A Pop Art Five and Dime.
Early '60s cool.
Best LBD ever.
She (far right) is paying him (far left) to sleep with stylish her and she (middle) knows it.
I'm not much for "Hollywood" kisses, but this is a darn good one.
And the apartment today.