Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A round-up of old movies: Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany's...

I've always avoided Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). First, it's the ultimate fantasy chick-flick; second, I had assumed it would consist of two hours of winsome fluff; third, the clip of Miss Hepburn singing "Moon River" always annoys me, because I can't stand poorly-mimed guitar strumming; fourth, I have a distinct aversion to George Peppard, who I've always found glum, lumpy and charmless; fifth, I can only take "kooky" characters in very small doses, and any character named Holly Golightly is obviously going to be very kooky indeed. So, when I started watching the film at 11.30pm one night last week,  I did so convinced that I'd rapidly lose interest and would be tucked up in bed by midnight. Instead, I watched it to the end, without any fast-forwarding. How come? Simple: it proved to be a damned sight more interesting than I'd expected...

The start's good:

I hadn't realised that Holly Golightly is, in all but name, a call girl. Or that she would, albeit unknowingly, be passing on information from an imprisoned drug-running Mafia boss to his cohorts. Turns out George Peppard is also a whore - a once-promising writer, he's now the toyboy of a rich, middle-aged married woman (Patricia Neal). Overall, I was genuinely surprised by the underlying seediness of Breakfast at Tiffany's (although I suspect that Truman Capote's novella was a lot seedier)

Holly, it transpires, was born dirt-poor in Texas, where she was married at 14 to a man old enough to be her grandpa (Buddy Ebsen, apparently auditioning for his lead role in The Beverly Hillbillies), and has run away to New York (there's a fleeting reference to the marriage having been annulled, but I'd need a line with that). It's 1961, so the drugs of choice are cigarettes and alcohol - getting totally wankered is fun - and everyone is a grown-up: the youngest person to appear onscreen is Ms Hepburn herself.  We're in a world without teenagers or ankle-biters - which, let's be honest, is not necessarily a problem. Here, for instance, is an acne-free party:

Given his evident limitations, George Peppard isn't that bad (he looks good in his preppy suits). But most of the supporting actors are better - especially Martin Balsam as a motormouthed Hollywood agent, Holly's cat, Orangey (aka Jimmy Rhubarb), and the splendid John McGiver (a personal favourite of mine) in an all-too-brief appearance as a Tiffany's salesman:

I didn't love the film, but I enjoyed it. As for Audrey Hepburn...

I watched Funny Face (1957) for the first time the following evening, which also stars the Belgian gamin (whose upbringing in war-time Europe was even rougher than Holly Golightly's). This time, she's a dowdy young intellectual working in a New York bookshop, which is invaded (without permission) by the dragon-lady editor of a top fashion mag (Vogue, presumably), a photographic team led by Fred Astaire, and a spectacularly dumb model, who all proceed to create mayhem. Afterwards, Astaire convinces the dragon-lady that they could turn the dreary little bookstore clerk into the Next Big Thing. Astaire offers Audrey a trip to Paris. She despises the tawdry world of glamour and fashion, but she wants to attend lectures by her intellectual hero, a Parisian philosopher, so she accepts - and off to Paris they all jet.

It's all quite good fun in its way, if you like that sort of thing. I enjoy the occasional Hollywood musical, but I'm not a big fan of the genre. The opening number, "Think Pink", is a noisy pain, as is "Bonjour, Paris!", what with everyone prancing around a picture-postcard version of the French capital, bawling their tits off. I've always disliked "S Wonderful", and "Clap Yo' Hands", with its Minstrel Show feel, is rather embarrassing - it was composed in 1926, and it seems a strange thing to perform in a Parisian beatnik club thirty years later. The direction's fine, Astaire performs a memorable dance routine in which he turns his coat into a matador's cape, Audrey Hepburn is startlingly lovely throughout - she's model-beautiful, but her looks aren't in the least bland - and the Yahoo jeering at French intellectual pretension is quite amusing (although the New York Times threw a hissy fit about this vulgar display of anti-intellectualism at the time). But...

Audrey was a young-looking 28 when the film was released and Fred Astaire was 58, and could just about have passed for 50. You don't believe for one instant that this stunningly lovely young thing would ever fall for this distinctly ordinary-looking, much-older man. Yes, it happened a lot in Hollywood films back then, and it works when the screen is awash with sexual chemistry - Bogart and Bacall, for instance - and it pretty much worked six years later when Hepburn was paired with Cary Grant in Charade. But not with these two wispy, ethereal types, who have oodles of charm, but little sexuality. (Blame Ms Hepburn - she apparently insisted on Astaire as her co-star.)

There's also the issue of the title: Audrey Hepburn's face could be described as cute, charming, beautiful, lovely, striking, delicate - but funny? Don't be silly. Funny accent, granted. While the actress does cute and charming very well, she's not actually particularly funny. Just compare her performance here with Judy Garland's - again with Fred Astaire as the leading man - in that great musical, Easter Parade: Judy Garland isn't in the same league as Hepburn, looks-wise, but she could be laugh-out-loud funny when required.  Still, Funny Face's 103 minutes passed pleasantly enough.


  1. How much is George Smiley paying for her services in this clip?

  2. I don't care, nothing is too high a price!

  3. Frankly, the depiction of Mr Yunioshi by Mickey Rooney is a disgrace - buck teeth, pebble glasses, hysterical behaviour etc. I hope Baroness Chakrabarti is writing to the Japanese Ambassador to apologize on behalf of the nation. The film should obviously be banned.

    1. I'm pretty sure understandable anger at Mickey Rooney's performance explains why Japanese companies started buying up Hollywood studios in the '80s - after which Hollywood went back to bashing the Chinese. Marlon Brando as Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) doesn't seem to have created such a stir - probably because it's more of a satire on Americans, and the character is charmingly roguish and fun-loving and smarter than the American occupiers. Still, they wouldn't get away with it today.


  4. Fictional Western advocates might, if challenged, consider President Trump's pardonee :

    " A Liberal's Paradise would be a place where everybody has guaranteed employment, free comprehensive healthcare, free education , free food , free housing, free clothing, free utilities and only the Law enforcement have guns.

    And believe it or not, such a place does indeed already exist : It's called Prison.

    J.Arpaio, Maricopa County, AZ

  5. John McGiver's cameo performance is a delight. I've just googled him; he fathered ten children and died at 61. Crikey.

    1. McGiver also did a brilliant comic turn as Mr. Turner in the 1962 James Stewart film, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, for which I've always had a soft spot. (Sample line: "Kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts.")