Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s directed by Blake Edwards (1961)
This won a book vs movie poll I posted! I post polls regularly, so make sure you subscribe so you can participate in future polls!
This book and movie are about young New York socialite Holly Golightly as told by her neighbor, a writer who befriends her.
I am just going to get right into the plot, so there will be spoilers going forward!
In both, Holly meets the narrator and calls him Fred because that is her brother’s name and she says they look similar. In the movie we find out his real name is Paul, but in the book, I don’t think we are ever told his name.
In the movie, he is basically the boy toy of a rich married woman (played by Patricia Neal who I have mentioned in previous videos for Hud and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because she was married to Roald Dahl). She pays for his apartment, buys his clothes and in general supports him. Part way through the movie he begins to fall for Holly and so he breaks it off with her. Her character is not in the book at all.
She added an interesting element though, because both Fred and Holly and paid for their company by others. Holly isn’t ashamed of this, yet when she brings it up with Fred he gets defensive.
In the book it isn’t explicitly said, but it is implied that he is gay whereas in the movie he is straight.
In both they have quarrels, but in the book after an argument she doesn’t talk to him for a while and it isn’t until her ex-husband comes by that they start talking again.
In the book, Holly’s full name is Holiday which I think is actually a really cute name! In both we eventually learn her real name is Lula Mae and she had been a teen bride. However, she eventually runs off. Her brother Fred was left at home, but he eventually joins the army. During the course of the story, she finds out he has died in the war.
Part way through the book her ex-husband shows up to take her back home. She isn’t going to go back though and she is able to get him to let her go.
She makes money as an escort and we often see men following her around, trying to get her attention and trying to get ownership over her and feeling like she owes them her time and attention. She has various relationships but near the end she is getting ready to marry a man from South America.
In both, she visits Sing Sing to see a former mob guy named Sally Tomato. She is paid to visit him once a week and Sally will give her a weather report which she then tells Sally’s lawyer. In the book, Holly tells Fred about this when she has been drinking. When he mentions it to her later, she dismisses it in a way that makes Fred feel like she regrets telling him and doesn’t want him to bring it up. In the movie she has no reservations about talking about this and even brings Fred with her on one of her visits.
In both, she is arrested when it is discovered that Sally is still running drug deals from prison. In both, but especially the book, we see how these people who had claimed to be her friend’s leave her high and dry. In both she had been engaged to Jose when this happens, and he sends her a later ending things with her, admitting he is a coward.
In both, Holly is going to still fly to South America just to get away. In the book, she tosses out her cat with no name, and leaves. Years later Fred still doesn’t know what has happened to her but he and another guy who had been obsessed with her will talk it over and try to figure out what happened. She had also written to Fred, asking him to find her cat and he does. Years later he is still caring for it.
In the movie, she is going to leave and tosses Cat out into the rain while she is with Fred on the way to the airport. He is upset that she is being cold and still wanting to leave even though he has told her he loves her. He leaves the taxi and says how her desire to be free and not be “locked up” has caused her to be locked up in a cage of her own making. She then runs after him and the two look for the cat. They find the cat, and kiss in the rain and things are happily ever after.
The bird cage
This idea is represented in the book with an ornate bird cage Holly gifts Fred which isn’t shown in the movie. She tells him to never put anything inside it, and despite its beauty, she still see it as a horrible cage that keeps things trapped. Fred however admires its beauty. After an argument, he gives Holly the bird cage back, and she then leaves it on the street to be thrown away. He takes it back though keeps it through all of his travels in the following years despite it being difficult to transport.
This cage shows how Holly views ideas of love and commitment you could say-she doesn’t want to truly love anyone and just wants to marry for money. Love ties you down and makes the other feel like you “belong” to them. Throughout both, as said, men are trying to claim ownership over Holly in one way or another. Fred tells her that because he loves her, she belongs to him. But he says that belonging to someone else is a beautiful thing (just like he thinks the cage is beautiful in the book) and she is doing herself a disservice by not letting herself feel that.
Changes from book to movie
One of the most significant changes is Holly’s age. In the book she isn’t even 19 when Fred first meets her but is 20 or 21 by the end. In the movie, Audrey Hepburn was around 32 while filming. Even if they are trying to pass her as younger, she clearly isn’t in her late teens. Her age in the movie makes her seem like this manic pixie dream girl who refuses to grow up. She is partying all night long, shoplifting, trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do and this makes her seem like a bit more of a mess in the movie considering her age.
In the book, she is still in her late teens and this makes everything she does not that unusual. She doesn’t seem that wild (at least when I look at it through todays times) and she doesn’t come across as immature even. Rather she is going through normal phases that someone in their teens is going through. When I was in my late teens and early adulthood I was partying and shoplifting and figuring out who I was, my apartment was a mess and I didn’t want to settle down either. So I think that just really changes the dynamic of that character.
Another change is of course the fact that Fred falls in love with her. Like I said, in the book it is implied that he is gay and we even learn that Holly is bisexual.
Mag Wildwood and Rusty Trawler are also bigger characters in the book. Mag had been with Jose, and Holly had kind of been with Rusty and the four of them even travel together. Ultimately, Mag ends up marrying Rusty, and then later, Holly has plans to marry Jose.
Something else from the book we don’t see in the movie is that there is a woman in the building who strongly dislikes Holly and disapproves of her parties and general lifestyle. But we are told that when Holly leaves some guy moves in and he is just as loud and has just as many late-night parties as Holly. Yet this woman adores him and has no complaints whatsoever.
In the movie, Mr. Yunioshi is the one who disapproves of her lifestyle. He is in the book as well, but is just mentioned here and there.
Of course, Mr. Yunioshi is the elephant in the room when it comes to this movie. He is played by Mickey Rooney in one of the most racist portrayals I have ever seen. Blake Edwards was quoted as later saying he regretted this casting choice and “would give anything to be able to recast it.” Mickey Rooney himself is quotes as saying years later, “They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it…. Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it — not one complaint. Every place I’ve gone in the world people say, ‘God, you were so funny.’ Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, ‘Mickey you were out of this world.'” Rooney also said that if he’d known people would be so offended, “I wouldn’t have done it. Those that didn’t like it, I forgive them and God bless America, God bless the universe, God bless Japanese, Chinese, Indians, all of them and let’s have peace.”
Which is a pretty lame non-apology. He says he forgives those who are offended by it?? That doesn’t even make sense. When I complain about things like this, I tend to get a comment or two saying that it isn’t fair of me to judge something from however many decades ago against our standards of today. And while I see that logic, I don’t care. This was messed up and there is no defending it.
Some random things I want to mention before wrapping up, in the book (and movie though it isn’t as directly shown) the way Fred transports Holly’s cat is by putting it in a pillowcase! Wow lol poor cat.
The scene where Hepburn sings Moon River has become iconic, and this is mentioned in the book where he says she will sit on her balcony in the sun to get her hair to dry and will strum a guitar.
Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe in the role, but she was told playing an escort would be bad for her already oversexed image. Apparently, studios also didn’t want to cast someone so overtly sexual in the role and opted for the more innocent looking Hepburn as a way to not focus on the sexual. Monroe was a couple years older than Hepburn so I think she still would have been to old, but if she had been cast in her younger years I would have loved to see her portrayal!
George Peppard who plays Fred was apparently very difficult to work with. He didn’t like the emasculating relationship between he and Neal’s character and in general nobody liked being around him.
Book vs Movie
I have seen this movie more than once, my first time seeing it I was probably around 10 or younger. I have been a big fan of Audrey Hepburn for a long time, but I have always found this one a bit overrated considering it is probably her most well-known role. She is good, but I don’t think it is her best performance and the movie itself has never done much for me.
This was my first time reading the book, and it didn’t do too much for me either. Not that I disliked it, but it hasn’t become a new favorite by any means. I know this story resonates with a lot of people though, so I would love to hear in the comments what it is that people like so much about either the book or the movie. Again, it’s not that I disliked either one, I gave them both about 3 out of 5 stars.
When it comes to book vs movie, this is a decent adaptation and the movie itself has become so iconic. But with the added love story which tends to annoy me when Hollywood has to include a romance when there doesn’t need to be one, and the Mickey Rooney performance, I am going to say the book is the better one of the two.