I Saw A Film!
I never read the book, but I have read that they changed Peppard’s character to straight. This is a bit of an oddball of a movie. Possibly meant as a sort of early variation on a soul-searching, non-conformist life (something perhaps that would have taken some steam from the party-happy wild 1920s, and then deposited some form of “finding ourselves” and satisfying discontent in The Graduate. People with differences from the common perception of normalcy (though ask anyone and they’re trend-setting, deep-thinking, warriors of fighting against white-bread America–riiiiight) as Capote no doubt was, with his famous Peter Lorre voice to his homosexuality, no doubt was forced to self-examine as we do when we can’t seem to quite find our satisfaction with the great offerings of our culture (beer, football, beer, football, maybe a bit of very staid and complacent missionary position, if you’re lucky). On the other hand, so many of us haven’t the luxury of a self-indulgent pursuit of truth and eu-satisfaction as we’re too busy holding down crappy jobs and taking care of people in real need.
Enter Holly Golightly, played by the delicious Audrey Hepburn, so cute you want to eat her, but at the same time rather an annoyance, with her fruitcake attitudes, carelessness about everyone but herself, and silly philosophizing (though, I’m guessing the book was a bit deeper, this superficial sort of gold-digging and running from Buddy Epson was probably as outrageous as they could make it). I am concerned that the humor bits of this film, a long-suffering Japanese landlord overplayed by Mickey Rooney wearing a huge set of choppers and squinting while shouting that he’s calling the “porice” on Holly as she continually refuses to keep track of her keys and forces the poor fellow to buzz her into the building at all hours, and tolerate her parties (no way!). I won’t delve into the fact that we have a pudgy white man doing a comic (somewhat slapstick) portrayal of an Asian man here, I don’t think it’s particularly arguable that this was a good idea, but it was common in the age (I’m looking at you Jerry Lewis).
Enter George Peppard as our writer character comfortably surviving off the largess of an older woman (Patrician O’Neal) whom he clearly provides with affection (though it’s not properly on display – this film could use a remake). Peppard meets Holly as she freely uses this stranger’s help with dressing herself and getting ready for a meeting (and this I missed the first time I watched this thing) with her “financial advisor” and “weather reporter” at Sing Sing prison (a criminal who supplies her money for her friendship, it appears, I’m not surprised I missed it as there’s not much exposition there). Peppard soon combines with Holly as they are often peeping in one another’s windows and even slipping into bed occasionally, though entirely without sexual spark (from Capote’s point of view, because of gayness, from Hollywood perspective, because Peppard has virtue!). Peppard’s “Fred” takes care of Holly like a brother rather than a lover, but also, this is a 1961 film and casual sexuality would have been treated like a scandal on the screen. I’m sure Audrey just cuddling with half naked Peppard was enough to cause fits.
There are some familiar tropes, our Holly has some philosophical moments that were certain to pique interest of artists and deeply emotional (whatever passed for Emo in the Beatnik era) types. She refuses to name a stray cat she adopted, as she doesn’t feel she has a right to (we snort of course, that cat doesn’t care what you’re calling it). At a club, watching a lady strip while getting drunk, she asks Peppard about the depth of the stripper’s talents. He agrees that she’s only amusingly and superficially talented, not deeply or meaningfully talented. These moments lend to the woman’s charm, and detract just a few ticks from the high level of her gold-digging superficiality. A later sequence of them trying to buy a ten dollar trinket at Tiffany’s comes across as very “jackass” to our senses today, but must have seemed clever and cute at the time. They also attempt a pointless shop-lifting just as a challenge for their day of doing things they’ve never done before, which leads to the pair deepening their relationship.
Holly lives on gifts and drops the drips once she’s fleeced them a certain distance. Peppard’s character falls for Holly’s charming outlook but only slowly begins to realize that she’s so well practiced at her chosen grift that she can’t find the emotion to respond to him (possibly). Instead, she’s latched herself to a foreign dignitary and a promising wealthy scenario in Brazil. Things fall apart and Peppard peppers her with some frustrated verbal. To her credit, despite tossing her cat to the rainstorm (unforgivable), she takes the criticism, after cutely dressing herself in the taxi, pulling up her stockings with her feet up on the back of the seat, and allows the criticism to force her epiphany (we don’t hear from the cabbie during this long quiet scene). Then our characters find each other and “grow” as they search out the poor soaked cat, who, like Rooney’s Japanese man, deserves a kind of bonus for the devotion. But this is not the book’s ending. If it were Capote would not have been a memorable artist.
We’re a long way from actual purpose or realization. Having Holly and “Fred” (she calls him this because he reminds her of her doomed brother. Yet another example of her being pointlessly indulged) only coming together to unite romantically (as if romance was the only illusory goal, “you just need to find the right one”) feels as twee as a twelve year old’s diary describing junior high pains (why’s everything I want so hard to get, I once wrote!). These two are professional romantics and pretending that they just have never really known “true love”, and that that is their search, is a kind of childish, but perennial laziness of storytelling (my mind just flashed to the Princess Bride where Wesley was only mostly dead and the last words on his nearly dead lips were “true love”).
We movie-goers seemingly never tire of the massive monument our entertainment industry continually constructs toward the reverence we’re supposed to feel for romantic love, even when our writer and our story has clearly lead us down a path of otherness and hinted at depth we were hoping to have revealed (there was a chance to teach us something here). Don’t forget the stripper was only amusingly talented. But if “Fred” were actually gay (as Capote wrote him), then this ending is doomed as well. So it appears we’re left with Holly being dumped by her rich conquest (due to associations with criminals-the Sing Sing scene (which I missed my first time around)) pointlessly throwing away her cat (in the book gone for good!) and then finding her cat and getting the big, in arms finale kiss from the lead (neither of which were in the book, I looked it up). Hollywood could not stand a gay lead, nor a romantic “comedy” ending without a big screen finale kiss. Overweeningly employed with piles of familiar melodic orchestra, to the point of utter saturation. Ugh. Fine don’t give us anything unique or thoughtful.
So there it is. If you were hoping for a life-changing experience exploring the depth and amenities associated with the lives of these two artists, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Hell even regular non-cynical (hard to describe Holly as a cynic, but isn’t she?) parochial lovers get jilted at the altar, and divorced down the road enough to impugn our devotion to the ideals of romantic love (Americans are statistically the most marrying people in the world). So presenting this tale of early sixties discontent and manipulation as a kind of playful and moody series of shallow parties, hang-overs and broken hearts due to inappropriate early marriages (and running away) is really disingenuous. We could pretend that everything John Clellon Holmes told us about his late 40s experiences with the beatniks as folks just clumsily not locating true love, but that would be like representing the entire feminist revolution of the 60s as ladies just not seeing love when it’s right in front of them. And that was done, absolutely, from Mary Poppins to Star Spangled Girl and well beyond. During this same era women have already been scientists, politicians, entertainers and race car drivers etc, why the need to drill into us this stupid love is all message? The answer is $$$$
This film is free on Prime (USA) and perhaps like Rebel Without a Cause was the best folks could get toward getting their hands on some form of individuality and freedom.