Sometimes I just get in a mood. Last Sunday it was a mood to watch a western. So The Magnificent Seven glides into my DVD player. Bliss. Tuesday, it was classic sci-fi and in goes Forbidden Planet. Wednesday, something with Tom Skerritt (there are reasons), so after considering Alien and Contact, I decided on M*A*S*H, his first and an all-time fave. Last night, a conversation with the wife ("Who are the leading ladies today who'll be revered fifty years from now?") gave me an urge for (wistful sigh) Audrey Hepburn, or at least for one of her movies. But Audrey Hepburn is like a fine chocolate -- it's hard to stop at one. The night ended up with us enjoying two of her films, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Funny Face, both fresh to my DVD shelves on new reissue discs from Paramount's "Centennial Collection." This pair of essential small-c classics don't just star the inimitable Miss Hepburn, one of Hollywood's most exquisite and storied actresses -- watching them is all about soaking in a warm bubble bath of liquid Audrey Hepburn.
Hepburn's winsome, eccentric, "wild thing" Manhattan socialite Holly Golightly in the comic romance Breakfast at Tiffany's is, of course, her definitive role, the one you think of first and the one she imprinted into our collective Hollywood memory. Whether or not naive and impoverished Holly is a full-on call-girl -- how does she afford her fashionable Givenchy attire, complete with that iconic cigarette holder, and what do all those wealthy men expect from her commitment-optional paid companionship? -- is a question the movie skirts with easy finesse. Still, there's no question that when she meets up with Paul, the struggling writer ("of great promise") in the apartment upstairs (George Peppard), there shall be sparks. Both would-be lovers are "kept" playthings: Paul by a chilly older woman (Patricia Neal), and Holly by several men in rotation until the right rich Brazilian comes along. Their friction and romance are inevitable, and Henry Mancini's Academy Award-winning song "Moon River" sets the tone with the sweet sensuousness of a bowl of warm tapioca pudding.
While the wild party scenes and early-'60s hep-chic have aged gracefully into retro-kitsch, and the full details of Holly's secret past (hello, Buddy Ebsen) might be a bit squirmy, today's fans of Gossip Girl recognize Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany's as oft-referenced favorites of character Blair Waldorf. Who says kids today have no appreciation for their predecessors?
George Axelrod received an Oscar nom for his screenplay, which Hollywoodized Truman Capote's famous novella. With effective unobtrusiveness, director Blake Edwards helps the film go lightly along, but it's hard to gloss over one of the more infamous "What were they thinking?" casting cockups in Hollywood history -- giving yellowfaced Mickey Rooney the role of Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's Japanese neighbor, played with all the bucktoothed stereotyping of a "Jap" solider in a World War II-era Looney Tunes propaganda cartoon. "Miss Gorightry!" -- hoo boy. Edwards has spent nearly fifty years voicing his regrets about that, and on this DVD producer Richard Shepherd apologizes repeatedly for Rooney's offensive characterization.
Nonetheless, Breakfast at Tiffany's remains pleasant and stylish and rewatchable. Lovely, versatile Audrey is at her most svelte and charming, and the movie is pretty much ideal for a rainy evening on the couch with a loved one -- plus, ideally, a favorite cat for the final scene, a tender sequence that you can sop up with a sponge, but if you aren't moved by it you probably stick kittens with pins.
This two-disc, newly remastered Centennial Collection DVD augments the 2006 45th Anniversary edition. All the extras from that disc are carried over to this new edition, the main attractions being the revealing commentary track with producer Richard Shepherd, the making-of featurette, three click-through photo galleries, and the brief tribute to Hepburn as a "style icon."
New for this edition are the twenty-minute reunion piece, "A Golightly Gathering," with cast members from the cocktail party sequence chatting about their experiences during the scene's eight days of shooting; "Henry Mancini: More Than Music," a twenty-minute tribute to the composer; a promo tour through Paramount Studios; and the rather desperate "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective," which tries too hard to rationalize Rooney's role in an historical/cultural context. The effort only ends up pointing at rather than excusing the choice. The box includes an eight-page booklet with production trivia and color movie stills.
There's so much to enjoy about the bright, quick-witted, gorgeously mounted musical Funny Face that's it's hard to know where to start. Sure, you can't get anywhere with it if you're rattled by the slow-brewing romance between 28-year-old Hepburn's dowdy, intellectual bookshop clerk and 58-year-old Fred Astaire's urbane fashion photographer (based on real-life shutterman Richard Avedon). Never mind that their embodiment of the movie's stodgy 1950s conservatism and easy anti-intellectualism -- girls don't need brains, we discover, just hot bods, husbands, and upscale wardrobes -- can clunk like a tin can in the dryer. But hey, we're talking Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, so that's some mighty elegant slack we're willing to cut here. Their Cinderella story that transforms bookish bohemian Hepburn into a glamorous international supermodel who's the toast of "Paree" is old hat, but in this case we'll allow that it's one great-looking and entertaining hat.
Even besides the Hepburn-Astaire equation, we get music by the Gershwins and direction by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain). We find revelations in Kay Thompson as the brassy editor of a fashion magazine -- that whole industry gets a barbed spoofing in the film, highlighted by the musical montage "Think Mink" -- and her high-kicking duet with Astaire in the "Clap Yo' Hands" number is a showstopper. Astaire's song-and-dance solo with an umbrella and cape, to Gershwin's "Let's Kiss and Make Up," likewise shows us that the vintage hoofer still had the moves in the final years of his career. And then there's Hepburn, whose fervent young bookworm from Greenwich Village gets the butterfly upgrade with extravagant Parisian chic and Givenchy haute couture. Well, what's being a Hollywood icon all about, anyway?
But no doubt Funny Face's best-remembered sequence is Hepburn's jazz dance in a beatniks-and-bebop nightclub. We can forgive The Gap for pirating it for their Skinny Black Pant commercials:
Paramount's two-disc, newly remastered Centennial Collection DVD delivers the film with a sparkling transfer and strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The extras here tend toward the fluffy (really, do we need the short puff pieces on Paris, the VistaVision process, and the fashion industry?), but a worthwhile addition is the half-hour appreciation of actress-artist-dancer-singer Kay Thompson, with testimonials from the likes of goddaughter Liza Minnelli and biographer Sam Irvin. "Paramount in the '50s" is ten minutes of the expected self-promoting rah-rah, but fans of Funny Face will have plenty to see in the three click-through photo galleries of behind-the-scenes shots and promotional art. As with Breakfast at Tiffany's, the box includes an illustrated eight-page booklet with production info and color photos.