The Screening Room
breakfast at tiffanys
In the "early" days of DVD, I bought "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It had been shown on television for years, but it wasn't a movie I really sat down to watch. One night, I popped in the DVD to finally appreciate the film as a grown up. I wanted to also see why so many people revered it. The opening title sequence with Audrey Hepburn walking through Manhattan on an early morning was sweet. The music by Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards's direction was nice. This was a stylish movie, if anything. Substance lacking as far as the film was concerned, one could appreciate Audrey Hepburn's look. It was iconic.

The movie, for me, came to a screeching halt when Mickey Rooney came on-screen. His role as Mr. Yunioshi made me squirm in my seat. It was as if I was watching a horror movie with a gory scene. I picked up my remote and put "Breakfast at Tiffany's" away, until now.

The film is now available as part of Paramount's "Centennial Collection" DVD series.

The movie isn't about Mickey Rooney's unfortunate role as Mr. Yunioshi, because the character, no matter how racist it is, isn't necessary to the plot. If the producers hadn't used his character, the movie would've been a nice romantic romp. The very idea of a story about a call girl made at the time was probably risqué. Edwards directs the Truman Capote story with his usual light touch, so the call girl aspect doesn't really register at first. You become caught up in the simplicity and innocence of Peppard's love for Hepburn.

George Peppard and Hepburn make a beautiful couple, though it's difficult for me to get the image of Peppard as Col. John "Hannibal" Smith out of my mind. Still, he's credible in this role as a writer who falls for a call girl. Hepburn, who plays innocent as Holly Golightly, plays Hepburn. She was a fine actress, though I've usually found her to be limited in her acting style. I've always enjoyed her no matter what. She does exude style in the film. Perhaps Paramount has cultivated the iconic Audrey Hepburn image. The shot of her in that black dress is captivating. She was such a pretty woman.

I wouldn't say that the movie is all style and no substance, but the style covers up what essentially is a simple story. I think the movie is a bit overrated and overblown for its own good. It's entertaining and sweet, but nothing more than that. I can see why it's popular because it's one of those movies you catch on a lazy afternoon while the television is on. Once the movie's over, you grab the remote and watch something else. Hepburn has done films that hold up better than "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

I'm not usually a person who stands up and preaches against racism or depictions in films with offensive portrayals of culture. I'm sure that Mickey Rooney is at heart a nice man. But his role as Mr. Yunioshi is offensive as racial stereotypes come. The glasses, the fake buck teeth and the terrible accent nearly took me out of this film again. I gave it a try to see beyond this role. It's hard to wash away. It is so over-the-top that it's not funny by any stretch of the imagination. I'm surprised that audiences of the early-1960s flocked to this film and didn't protest against this character. There had been some racially sensitive films with positive roles for blacks made before "Breakfast at Tiffany's. I guess there was still a lot of tolerance for racial bigotry in the movies. More films would finally begin to break the stereotypes little-by-little, but unfortunately, Mr. Yunioshi still made it to the screen.

Mr. Yunioshi may have been a case of not only racial ignorance, but of America's feelings about the Japanese and World War II. Though the war had been over for a number of years, it was still fresh for many people. For many veterans of the war, the Japanese were a fierce enemy. Pearl Harbor and many battles in the Pacific engrained the Japanese in American minds as a mortal enemy.

The Japanese, who had begun rebuilding themselves into an automotive and electronics giant, were still seen by many Americans in racial tones. Mr. Yunioshi was a composite of what some Americans might have pictured the Japanese, no matter how wrong it was. Even when I grew up in the 1970s, there were still many who uttered racially harmful words about other races. And today, I still hear racial jabs about Mexicans and Asians. Sad that we can't get beyond this.

I do applaud Paramount for including a featurette on the DVD, "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective." The film has been available on many forms of video for years, and it's seen as a classic by the public. Paramount has done an admirable gesture in still letting viewers buy the film, but giving an Asian perspective to the film. This is an approach I've advocated for Disney to do with a far less offensive film, "Song of the South." Many who decry that film as being racially offensive haven't seen it probably ever, or for a long time.

I believe it's important not to whitewash film history. Digitally manipulating images like cigarettes or not letting audiences of today see potentially offensive movies is censorship. Let the audience decide on how they react to a film that may be offensive. Leonard Maltin, on the Walt Disney Treasures series of DVD, has done a fantastic job in prefacing certain Disney films and shorts about the ways some in society thought at the time those films were made. And Paramount, without doing a preface, took the correct approach in including "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective."

Without Mr. Yunioshi, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is a decent film. I wouldn't consider it one of those films to watch again and again, at least not for myself. It is of its time, and no doubt probably influenced "Pretty Woman" (1990).                     
Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
DVD Quick Glimpse



Delightful enough romance, but marred by Mickey Rooney's unfortunate role as "Mr. Yunioshi"

Director: Blake Edwards  

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Mickey Rooney, Patricia Neal  

Special features include featurettes, photo gallery and theatrical trailer

Not Rated

Picture: Good
Sound: Good

Check out Hepburn's style

Aspect Ratio (1.85:1)

Dolby Digital 5.1

January 13, 2009
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