BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S - Blu-ray review

...the movie maintains a spirited bounce in its step that is still infectious today.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Paramount's 1961 movie version of Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" may have changed the character of Holly Golightly from the one the author had in mind in his short novel, but the movie provided Audrey Hepburn with a trademark role. Her blend of big-city polish and back-home naïveté have delighted audiences for over five decades, and the movie remains one of Hollywood's most-engaging and popular romances. So, it's only fitting that Paramount afford the movie a 50th Anniversary, high-definition Blu-ray edition.

Holly is the spunky, free-spirited "party girl" who revels in her worldly lifestyle. It is a telling comment on the early 1960's that no one in the film ever refers to her as a call girl, nor did audiences then or now seem to notice or care. In any case, she's a phony, in a reality not the classy, glamorous, sophisticate she pretends to be but a small-town girl from Tulip, Texas, who has gone to the big city of New York to find herself. She winds up accepting money from gentlemen for "going to the powder room." When she gets a bad case of the "mean reds"--that is, when she feels downhearted--she heads off to do some browsing at Tiffany's jewelry store, where she feels comfortable and safe; it's the symbol of everything she wants in life, like elegance, class, style, and wealth.

Then she meets a new neighbor in her apartment building, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a would-be writer being "kept" by a wealthy older woman (Patricia Neal). Holly and Paul immediately become soul mates, and the story chronicles their on-again, off-again relationship. So, basically, we've got the curious situation of a prostitute and a gigolo falling in love.

Buddy Ebsen plays a patient but not-too-understanding veterinarian from back home in Tulip. Martin Balsam is a fast-talking Hollywood agent who's trying to get Holly into movies. Jose-Luis de Villalonga is a Brazilian millionaire Holly tries to marry. And Alan Reed is a mob boss, Sally Tomato--a combination Joe Bonanno and Lucky Luciano--that Holly visits on a weekly basis in Sing Sing Prison.

The only jarring note in the cast is Mickey Rooney's portrayal of a racially stereotyped Japanese-American. It was an accepted stereotype of the day, and one I'm sure a lot of people thought was daringly funny, but I guarantee it is offensive enough to make anyone today cringe in embarrassment. Times change, in this case for the better.

While the first half of the film does a good job sticking to Capote's vision, in traditional movieland style Holly is far more vulnerable here than she is in the book, and the filmmakers provide a much happier, fairy-tale ending. We'll never know what the movie might have been like without them, but we do know that these elements play a big part in what audiences have always loved about the film.

By and large, the story remains appealing, even if a few short stretches can be tedious, and the urbane, worldly-wise humor can seem more than a bit pretentious. It's also more than a little depressing from today's standpoint to watch an entire cast smoking and drinking itself into oblivion. As always, Ms. Hepburn is lovely to look at, even if her dreadful hats are not.

Blake Edwards directed the film ("Days of Wine and Roses," "The Pink Panther," "10") and Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini collaborated on the words and music for the Academy Award-winning theme song, "Moon River," with Mancini winning a further Oscar for his background score. Additionally, the Academy nominated Ms. Hepburn for Best Actress, George Axelrod for Best Writing, and a slew of people for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration.

Video:
Paramount video engineers restored and remastered the picture, which shows up well enough in the Blu-ray high definition, BD50, MPEG-4/AVC transfer. The original aspect ratio, 1.85:1 (1.78:1), seems almost quaint by today's standards, but it does its job in displaying most of the necessary sights of New York City. The Technicolor is vivid without being too bright or forward. It does have a kind of muted smoothness to it, however, instead of a flashy gloss, as though the engineers applied some filtering to remove excessive noise and grain. Fortunately, definition and black levels are more than adequate, even if skin tones don't seem exactly right.

Audio:
The audio choices are lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and restored Dolby Digital monaural. The DTS-HD Master Audio projects a reasonably wide, effortless front-channel stereo spread, but only on some musical tracks does it utilize the rear speakers for ambient reflections. Otherwise, it's fairly clear, still limited in dynamics and frequency range compared to newer releases, but offering a warm, pleasant bloom on the music.

Extras:
The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition contains all of the extras previously found on Paramount's two-disc Centennial Collection Edition. They begin with an audio commentary by one of the original producers of the film, Richard Shepherd, whose laconic remarks are informative and authoritative without being exactly sparkling.

Next up, we find a range of items pertaining to the film, the star, and the studio, most of them featurettes, some of them made for the Centennial Collection in 2008, others made for the 2005 DVD. First up is "A Golightly Gathering," a 2008, twenty-minute segment in high definition in which several of the actors from the movie's cocktail scene reunite to reminisce. It's kind of fun, even though it's also sad to think that most of the film's major stars are dead. Then, there's "Henry Mancini: More Than Music," a 2008, twenty-one-minute high-def piece on the composer. After that is "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective," seventeen minutes, 2008, also in high def, in which various Asian filmmakers comment on Mickey Rooney's atrocious Japanese stereotype and the role of Asian actors and filmmakers in Hollywood through the years.

After those items are yet more featurettes: a four-minute tour of the Paramount studios, "Behind the Gates: The Tour"; "The Making of a Classic," sixteen minutes on the adaptation of the Capote story for the screen; "It's So Audrey: A Style Icon," eight minutes on Ms. Hepburn's delicately simple style; "Brilliance in a Blue Box," six minutes on the history of the famous jewelry story; and "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany," two minutes on a letter Hepburn wrote to preface a book about the Tiffany store.

The extras conclude with an original theatrical trailer in high def but not restored; galleries of production, movie, and publicity stills; fourteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and a slipcover for the flimsy Blu-ray Eco-case.

Parting Thoughts:
There's no question "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is an exceptionally perverse picture for a romantic comedy: a gold-digging call girl, a gigolo, a marriage at fourteen, a racial stereotype, and a whole cast smoking and drinking themselves into an early grave. Nevertheless, the movie maintains a spirited bounce in its step that is still infectious today. The ending aside, it also maintains a good distance from any obvious sentimentality. Viewers who like the movie remain diehard loyalists for life. Although it is not among my own favorite films, it surely has its charms.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
8
Film Value
7