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Breakfast at Tiffany's: Anniversary Edition

To be clear, Paramount's "Anniversary Edition" of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) marks an anniversary of some sort — although by arriving in early 2006, it's simply the 45th anniversary of the film's theatrical debut, falling 15 years short of the "Diamond Jubilee" any marketing department would certainly prefer. One has to suspect that the re-issue is meant to capitalize on interest in author Truman Capote, who wrote the film's source novella, and whose celebrity is again prominent thanks to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-tapped turn in Capote (2005). Just the same, it's hard to fault any excuse to revisit an American classic such as this one. Few movie stars have both a storied Hollywood career and a true "signature role" — the mere mention of James Stewart, Bette Davis, or Cary Grant brings to mind any number of films, all seemingly meaningless without their presence. But Audrey Hepburn's image in a slinky black gown with piled hair behind a tiara and a long cigarette holder is a bit of pop-culture iconography as resonant as King Kong atop the Empire State Building or Marilyn Monroe holding down her billowing white skirt. It's odd then that Hepburn seems to have stolen one of Monroe's best parts — in Capote's original story, Holly Golightly isn't nearly the picture of urbane sophistication we see in Hepburn, and in fact the studio wasn't even sure if her fresh-scrubbed image would match Holly's gold-digging, party 'til dawn sensibilities. But thanks to several changes in the script and Hepburn's inimitable screen presence, one can hardly imagine Breakfast at Tiffany's without her.

Holly Golightly seems as free as a feather in the wind — at least to Paul Varjak (George Peppard), her new neighbor in her Manhattan brownstone. A beautiful young night owl who loves parties and wealthy men, she's a fascinating creature to Paul, a writer who naturally takes an interest in observing others. On the surface, the pair couldn't be more opposite — an industrious novelist "of great promise" according to one book review, Paul's a bit of a rational introvert, and a loner. He's also allowed himself to be "kept" by a wealthy older married woman (Patricia Neal), who decorates his new apartment and fills his walk-in closet with tailored suits. As for Holly, she won't be kept by anyone, although like Paul she's impoverished, and not above equivocal exchanges, be it as a paid companion for gentlemen or the wife of a very wealthy man, no love necessary. However, Holly and Paul's neighborliness soon evolves into a friendship, and before much longer love — which she can't accept, preferring to run away to South America with a wealthy Brazilian socialite (José Luis de Villalonga), where she expects he will ask her to marry him.

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While Breakfast at Tiffany's remains one of Hollywood's most enduring romances, fans of the film have been drawn to Capote's 1958 book as well, and many are surprised to discover just how much material was altered for the screen. Rather than elegant, Kennedy-era Manhattan with its mix of classic and modernist architecture, Capote's version takes place during the 1940s. Holly Golightly is a blend of multi-colored hair and foul language, and her neighbor is a close approximation of Capote himself. Little wonder then that both Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak were associated with the Paramount project during development, and that few considered Audrey Hepburn right for the role. Thankfully, some of Holly's less-exquisite traits remain, in particular her work as a call-girl of nebulous limits. It's also pretty clear that she and Paul shack up after their first date (both of the shoplifted masks are in his apartment the next morning). But cinematic adaptations can be as fruitful as they are perilous — and Breakfast at Tiffany's belongs as much to Hepburn and director Blake Edwards as it does to Capote. Holly's neuroses and "mean reds" are carefully concealed within Hepburn's Givenchy wardrobe and hard-to-place accent, and Peppard does a creditable job as Paul, a not-too-subtle approximation of J.D. Salinger. The supporting cast is just as superb, with Buddy Ebsen as Doc Golightly, a note-perfect Martin Balsam as a film producer, and Patricia Neal as Paul's patron, decorator, and otherwise. (Only Mickey Rooney's slapstick, buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi is a clear misstep, and one that everyone associated with the film claims they would change today.) From the famous opening as Hepburn has a croissant and coffee at 5 a.m. in front of Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue, to the outrageous party sequence, to the beautiful exteriors of Manhattan during fall and winter, Edwards manages to deliver more than a great romance, but also a time-capsule — making contemporary viewers wish they could have lived in a liberated New York in the early '60s, somewhere between the social confines of earlier generations and the cultural disruptions that would soon follow. How could Holly Golightly be anywhere else?

Paramount's "Anniversary Edition" of Breakfast at Tiffany's is not a bad upgrade for fans of the film — the new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is more stable than the one on the original DVD release, while the source-print is somewhat brighter with reduced collateral wear. It looks as we should expect it, and it's hard to ask for more than that. As with the original disc, audio sounds good in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or a restored monaural DD 2.0 track, and chapter-selection remains unchanged. However, all of the special features are new, including an intermittent commentary by producer Richard Shepherd and the featurettes "The Making of a Classic" (16 min.), "It's So Audrey! A Style Icon" (8 min.), "Brilliance in a Blue Box" (6 min.), and "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany's" (2 min.). Theatrical trailer, keep-case with paperboard sleeve.
—JJB



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