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Empire List #486: Breakfast at Tiffany's

The great thing about a TV channel where they only show movies 24/7 is that eventually, you just might run into a classic. I do not currently even own a TV, but fortunately during the fall of 2009 I was spending my week off at my mother’s place in Quebec City where she does have the Movie Network. This allowed me to watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” a classic from 1961.

I didn’t know much about this movie except that it stars Audrey Hepburn, a giant of the screen in her days. I was familiar with the work of the director, Blake Edwards and his composer Henry Mancini. If you haven’t seen the original “Pink Panther” films, which are ten times better than the remakes, then you definitely must have heard its iconic theme at some point. With talent like that in front of and behind the screen I felt pretty confident this was a film worth watching.

Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a firecracker of a character who owns every room she walks into. Her name sounds like that of a Bond girl from that era, when they were damsels in distress to be rescued by Sean Connery. It turns out to be a fake name since Holly is sort of a high-class call girl living in New York. Part of her weekly routine involves visiting Sally Tomato, an incarcerated mob boss who pays her $100 just for a one-hour conversation. It doesn’t hurt that she also carries messages for Sally’s drug ring.

The movie’s plot revolves around Holly slowly developing a romance with Paul Varjak (George Peppard) a new tenant in her building. Paul is a writer who hasn’t published anything in years and is about to get his creative juices flowing by meeting Holly.

There are many funny moments in the film. As a popular New York socialite, Holly invites dozens of people to her apartment. After a few too many cocktails, these wealthy characters start to really let loose. When a woman is about to drop to the floor inebriated, Holly yells “TIMBER” like a lumberjack who has just cut down a tree.

The constant going-ons in her apartment cause the ire of Holly’s Japanese landlord Mr. Yunioshi, a stereotypical character if there ever was one. Played by Mickey Rooney, who clearly is not Japanese, Yunioshi is constantly angry, wears round glasses, and has one thick accent that is played for laughs. It’s difficult to tell what is more offensive for Japanese viewers: the fact that the character is a joke, or that he is played by a Caucasian man. You would think that decades later Hollywood would have learned from mistakes like these, but 2010 was the year when people wanted to boycott M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” because he cast Caucasian actors in what was meant to be Asian roles.

But back to the film at hand. A great story involves conflict and the greatest conflict with this particular story involves the obstacles standing between Holly and Paul. Holly likes Paul, but she means to use her socialite status to get close to wealthy men with the hopes of possibly marrying one and running off into the sunset. Paul doesn’t care about money; he only cares about being with Holly and is upset by her obsession with money. But it isn’t just about her. She also has a brother to support, and since her socialite status is the only way she can think of to make money, marrying a rich man seems like the best solution to all of her problems.

Will Holly and Paul get together in the end? Well let’s put it this way: this isn’t “Casablanca.”

You can tell a movie is a classic when it influences pop culture. I like the CSI franchise and during one episode of CSI: New York three young women rob a store dressed as Holly Golightly. Not the most inconspicuous of disguises to commit a robbery but you have to admire the idea that even thieves in New York love classic movies from the 1960s.


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