Film of the book: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)

One of those classic films so famous that it eclipses the original book, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on Truman Capote’s 1958 novella. It’s set in 1960 instead of 1943, which only makes a small difference to the story. There are quite a few changes for the worse, however. As an adaptation, it’s not that great. Although I’m not a fan of the book (I’ve read it twice and that’s enough), as with nine times out of ten, I’d rather read the book than watch the film again.

What everyone knows about this film is Audrey Hepburn’s sparkling performance as Holly Golightly, a society girl who lives with her cat. She mainly hangs out with older wealthy men but when a writer (unnamed in the book, Paul in the film) moves into the same apartment block, they become friends. Audrey’s portrayal of Holly is similar to the book, although she’s not the blonde described. And of course, her dialogue is toned down, with offensive language cut out and no references to homosexuality. I’m not keen on George Peppard’s portrayal of Paul, however. He’s more forthright, even lustful, than his humble book counterpart. For some reason he is a kept man, having an affair with a married decorator. I don’t know why that was added, but it made me like him even less. Sadly the character of Joe the barman was deleted from this adaptation. I suppose he wasn’t considered necessary, but still, he is a friend of both Holly and Paul.

There are two awful things about this film. Firstly, the way a neighbour, photographer Mr Yunioshi is portrayed. He’s actually a decent character in the book, yet in the film he’s a racist caricature played by a white actor. Maybe it was considered comedy gold at the time but it’s just cringeworthy. His character is amalgamated with that of Sapphia (who was cut from this adaptation), a spiteful neighbour who’s always complaining to the authorities about Holly’s behaviour. Secondly, there is a sickeningly twee Hollywood ending, which is fine if you prefer the story as a rom com rather than a quest for self-discovery with an element of crime fiction, but it’s not true to the book characters. They’re not so simplistic as that. I also felt sorry for the ginger cat, who was very wet in the rain. I think the cat was the best actor in this film. I have discovered his name was Orangey and that he appeared in ten films and eight television shows during his career.

In summary, it’s a film worth watching just because it’s so famous. It’s also in shimmering Technicolor. There are some aspects of it that I enjoyed, but for the real ending you should read the novella.

Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.

2 thoughts on “Film of the book: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)”

  1. Agreed. This is not one of the most faithful novel-to-screen adaptations ever done, and what is up with Mickey Rooney’s performance! However, Audrey’s wardrobe is utterly fabulous, right?

    1. I’m glad we feel the same on this one. Oh yes beautiful costumes and the film does look great!

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