By Rosalie Tirella
It’s Super Bowl Sunday. I am watching Audrey Hepburn movies.
Today: SABRINA. Last month it was BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS. Both movies are wonderful. Star Audrey Hepburn is beautiful and enchanting in both of them: her lithe, ballet-perfect torso poetic; her doe eyes and thick eye brows a fashion statement unto themselves, her swan neck dreamy … But I am a TIFFANYS girl all the way!! In SABRINA, Hepburn (Sabrina) is very young, gamine … knowing but filled with moon beams, as all kids are. She gets the guy of her dreams. … She is wistful, emotional, true … We feel we are in some sort of jaded fairy tale set in New York City – and we are. It’s a Billy Wilder film, after all! … yet … yet we yearn for Holly Go Lightly (Hepburn) in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS.
The depth of this film, of Hepburn in this film, is breathtaking. Hepburn is a walking tragedy – she’s wearing Givenchy – but she’s still a walking tragedy. More so! Haughty, but of the streets. Shrewd, but ultimately clueless. Barely holding up all that evening couture, a torn and fragile wild heart at the bottom of the champagne glass – more Appalachian waif (she’s from Kentucky) than the NYC sophisticate she pretends to be. When her jailbird pal Salli Tomato looks at her finances and says: “$8 to sew an evening gown strap back on … 7 cents for one can of cat food …” and he looks up from Holly’s little ledger ready to cry, that’s all we need to know.
I have watched BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS (1961), about 25 times through the years but, only last month, during a viewing after not seeing it on my TV screen for five years and having read the Truman Capote novella decades ago, did I really “get” this Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame!) work of art! What a movie! … Only during this most recent viewing did it hit me like a sledge hammer: Holly Go Lightly is a call girl. Behind the lovely city scenes, behind the NYC Library, 30 Rock, the skyscrapers, beneath all that mocking-bird happy talk and prattle coming out of Holly’s lipsticked mouth is a young woman who is terrified. Lost. Maybe raped by her “rats” and “super rats.” Tragic.
Why my strong emotions, my pitcher of tears, after this viewing? Older and wiser, did I feel maternal towards the young Holly? Was it my own old woman musings that made me so empathetic? Holly Go Lightly: a beautiful girl degraded on all fronts. A skinny kid from a poor country shack, her hick accent smoothened by elocution lessons, her beauty in full bloom, her long neck drenched in lovely jewelry …exploited at every turn. In a fight for survival. Yet standing oh so elegantly in front of Tiffany’s department store, after stepping out of a taxi cab one of her johns has paid for. Here she is in sexy black evening gown, earrings dripping from earlobes, standing in front of the storied store’s entrance, drinking cheap takeout coffee out of a styrofoam cup, gobbling down a croissant out of a bag. Breakfast at Tiffanys! She’s a prostitute, yet she eats her crumby breakfast in no doorway, ashamed, cowed, but standing before the iconic Tiffanys: an august, understated, historic business. Holly is known to visit Tiffanys to window shop, to see all the designer clothing, perfect clutches, diamond brooches. But Tiffanys is more than a symbol of understated wealth and elegance for this gold digger with great taste. It’s home. It’s church. It’s a comfort. It’s unconditional love that never disappoints.
Holly meets her “Fred” – George Peppard as Paul Varjak – when he moves into her apartment building. Young and beautiful, too, Paul’s almost in as bad shape as Holly is! He’s an aspiring writer – a book of short stories under his writer’s belt – but he wrote the collection several years ago and has nothing new; his typewriter doesn’t even have a typewriter ribbon in it! He’s prostituting himself, too: he’s being kept by an older, married woman whose brittle elegance is only surpassed by her cynicism.
Right away Holly and Paul, both sensitive souls, become best buds! Sleeping together platonically … Paul attends Holly’s big empty party in her big empty apartment, he meets her Cat, chats with her smarmy mentor/savior … and he falls for Holly. Holly is smitten, too – which is why she puts up the wall. Too scared “to be owned by anyone” Holly won’t sleep with Paul. Won’t let him be her boyfriend … She has a stray cat she’s taken in – but hasn’t named him. He is just Cat. She’s that afraid of commitment and love. But “Cat” is well fed and carelessly caressed when Holly returns home after her urban escapades. And Paul is always there for her, too. He listens – and understands Holly’s small, sad stories. He watches as she goes through “rat” after rat – even a Super Rat and Scared Little Mouse – as she searches for the richest man in America to marry! And use! That way she can take care of her brother Fred, a special needs guy who is in the Army for the time being. She loves her brother Fred. Dreams of being rich enough so she can buy a horse farm and bring Fred home to live with her. This touches Paul…when Fred is killed in a Jeep accident Holly loses it. Paul understands … But Holly’s with the prince of Brazil now – Paul can only advise this good but cowardly politician …how to be there for Holly. How to love her.
A few months prior, Paul and Holly had spent the night together – after a magical day spent “touring” New York: the grand public library to check out Paul’s book, Tiffanys!, shoplifting two plastic Halloween masks at a five and ten store…then the lifting of the Halloween masks, Deputy Dog for Paul, a pretty cat face for Holly … and seeing the truth, and kissing by their apartment building’s mail boxes. LOVE. The next morning: Paul knows: SHE’S THE ONE FOR ME. He’s filled with joy and turns in bed to kiss Holly good morning. But Holly, terrified of her feelings, has already fled the scene – to the NYC public library. To research Brazil: she plans on marrying that rich Brazilian politician.
A good egg but too afraid to muss his political reputation back home with loose-cannon Holly – she thinks he’s going to marry her – this latest beau dumps her, too. Yet Holly – in a cab with Paul – plans on following the morally weak and proper pol to Brazil. Paul has assumed she knows that she’s been dumped…that she will cash in her plane ticket to South America and go home with him to live happily ever after. (He’s broken off with the married broad and is now working, selling his short stories to The New Yorker) He even has the Cracker Jack ring (the prize) he had engraved for Holly at Tiffanys during their fun-filled day together – a cute, sentiment-laden engagement ring. He even has Cat!! – pulls the rough-hewn yellow tabby out of a sack and hands him to Holly.
But Holly is busy putting on nylons…lipstick…she plans to leave NYC. BE FREE. She doesn’t want to be domesticated by Paul. It is pouring rain – she yells at the cabbie: STOP THE CAB!, and she dumps Cat out into the pouring rain, into a rough neighborhood filled with garbage cans and “garbage galore”!
Paul turns to her in the back seat of the cab and explodes: HOLLY, I LOVE YOU! YOU BELONG TO ME!
Holly: I DON’T BELONG TO YOU! NOBODY BELONGS TO ANYBODY!
Paul: “PEOPLE BELONG TO EACH OTHER! YOU BELONG TO ME! You say YOU’RE FREE. But love’s a fact. I love you! I don’t want to put you in a cage! I want to love you!” … Then this truth: “Baby, you’re already in a trap. A cage you made for yourself.”
Paul gets out of the cab to go look for Cat. Holly sits in the cab dumbfounded and the taxi driver drives on. Then Holly has her epiphany. She flings open the cab door and runs out to look for her Paul and her Cat. She runs through the rough streets of New York screaming CAT! CAT! CAT! She finds Paul. He is looking for cat, too. Then …from behind a garbage can, MEOW. MEOW. It’s CAT! Soggy but safe. Holly rushes to him, scoops him up and sticks him in the front of her rain coat, against her breasts. She smothers Cat with kisses – Paul runs to her and they kiss passionately in the rain, Cat between the two young lovers soaking in all that love.