US / Paramount / 115 minutes / 1961
Writer: George Axelrod based on Truman Capote’s novella / Music: Henry Mancini / Lyrics: Johnny Mercer / Cinematography: Franz Planer / Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Mickey Rooney
Academy Award: Henry Mancini, Song – Moon River
Academy Award Nominations: Audrey Hepburn, George Axelrod
As one critic said, the key to this film’s enduring success is, “star power… a showcase for Audrey Hepburn who, at 32, was in her acting prime (Ironically, Capote [writer of the novella on which the film is based] championed giving the part to Marilyn Monroe)”. Given Monroe’s performance in The Seven Year Itch , it is intriguing to wonder how she and Edwards would have interpreted the role of Holly Golightly but Oscar-nominated Hepburn shows not just on-screen style but hidden depths as an actress that Edwards allowed to come out of her previous glamour-girl persona.
Holly is superficially an airhead, an early Sex in the City style girl with her own Manhattan apartment and a lifestyle that involves mindless hedonism. Into her life comes new neighbour Paul Varjak (George Peppard) and the two start a relationship, partly based on things the other has never done (he takes her to the library to borrow a book, she takes him shopping at Tiffany’s). But behind their facades lie hurt – she has a ‘past’ and intends to marry a rich South American for his money while he ‘entertains’ a married woman (Patricia Neal), who always leaves him a little cash gift. As two damaged people begin to fall for each other, so their pains come to the surface and, if the ending is contrived, it is also satisfying.
Edwards, whose star shone brightly in the 60s and 70s, may have fallen into hack work now but this remains one of the jewels in his crown, a fantasy love story with New York shown as a backdrop that has influenced countless filmmakers. Add a script from the writer of (ironically) The Seven Year Itch and The Manchurian Candidate that veers between humour and pathos and, of course, Henry Mancini’s Oscar-winning haunting score (including Moon River ) and you have an enduring cinematic classic.