I’ve never seen…Breakfast at Tiffany’s

To give you an idea of how far my prior ignorance of this film went, before watching I thought it was about Audrey Hepburn playing a character called Tiffany who ran a café. A bit like Frankie and Johnny. I also thought ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something was from the soundtrack.

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In actual fact it’s a romantic comedy that’s the spiritual successor to Monroe, but with the increased sexual liberalism of the 60s and more serious emotional appeal than typically managed in Monroe’s pictures.

Hepburn stars as Holly Golightly, a ditsy and flirtatious young woman whose rootless life involves her searching for a rich man to marry. When writer Paul (George Peppard) moves in upstairs she finds emotional comfort in his presence. There’s also one of the best cat performances in any film by Organgey, credited on IMDb as “‘Cat’ – a Cat (as Cat)”.

Much as in Monroe’s films there is a contrast between the headstrong lead women and the way they define themselves relative to the men in their lives. But Holly is arguably the less flattering example, given she is less in control than, say Laurelie Lee. Impulsive and difficult, she’s not always the most sympathetic character. But as her troubled past is uncovered we feel increasingly drawn to her, just as Paul is. And with a finale which is pure Hollywood drama that sweeps you along with it.

However, this is all undermined somewhat by the utterly gratuitous and completely unnecessary racism of Mr. Yunioshi, the landlord, played by Mickey Rooney. If the caricature itself weren’t racist enough, it’s made all the worse by the fact he’s played by a white man employing every racist yellowface trope: slick back hair, goofy teeth, glasses. It can’t be easily brushed away by the changing moral zeitgeist either, as the casual use of a non PC term might, for instance. There’s no affection in the portrayal in the way, say, Alec Guinness effectively plays an Arabian prince in Lawrence of Arabia.

This is the deliberate and prolonged mocking of someone’s perceived racial characteristics by people who are not of that race, in a country where twenty years previously people genuinely of that race were rounded up and sent to camps. It’s a real shame that an otherwise so likeable and well-rounded a film as this is also capable of leaving such an unpleasant taste in your mouth, and it’s a testament to how good the rest of the the film is that it’s still remembered so fondly.

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