A Good Old-fashioned Comedy?

14 Feb 2021

I recently spotted a romantic film scheduled on a Sky movie channel, and with Valentine's day just around the corner, it seemed the perfect choice for my wife and I to enjoy. The film in question was: Breakfast at Tiffany’s Imagine my surprise when in the description of the film Sky had included the following warning: "This film has outdated attitudes, language and cultural depictions which may cause offence today." Surely they must be mistaken. I'd seen the film on my own about a decade ago at the BFI in London. I remembered that it starred Audrey Hepburn and featured songs written by Johnny Mercer. Beyond that I didn't recall much. I certainly didn't remember anything controversial. We decided to watch the film anyway, partly because we fancied a bit of light entertainment and partly because I was curious to know what was now deemed to be offensive. ''' It's a beautifully written, deceptively simple romantic comedy. Audrey Hepburn plays the iconic Holly Golightly, an apparently naive femme fatale, and George Peppard plays a struggling writer-come-kept man. She is beautiful and quirky, he proves that in the days before the A-Team, he was capable of being a subtle actor. And the third star of the film is the music: Moon River won an Oscar for Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, and the exquisite score with its echoes and ripples of Moon River won an Oscar for Henry Mancini. The film was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2012. So where could the offence possibly be? Well, the two lead characters live in apartment block run by a grumpy old Japanese supervisor, who also lives in the apartment block. His apartment is right at the top of the building. Whenever there is a loud disturbance (and there are several, all caused directly or indirectly by Hepburn) said supervisor sticks his head out of a convenient window or door and shouts, moans, complains, or threatens to call the police. None of this need be a problem ... unless of course you cast as the grumpy old Japanese supervisor one Mickey Rooney, complete with false buck teeth that barely fit in his mouth, ultra thick bottle-bottom glasses through which he perpetually squints, a fake skin tone several shades of yellow past jaundice, and provide him with culturally stereotypical dialogue that he delivers with an accent that I'm sure you can imagine given his misguided get-up. Rooney's performance is so toe-curlingly awful that I'd actually blanked it out of my memory since I last saw the film all those years before! I did a little research after the film to see what other people had thought about the film. The general consensus was much like mine. In a "making-of" for the 45th anniversary edition DVD release, the producer of the movie, Richard Shepherd, repeatedly apologises, saying, "If we could just change Mickey Rooney, I'd be thrilled with the movie." And the director of the movie, Blake Edwards, stated: "Looking back, I wish I had never done it ... and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it's there, and onward and upward." In retrospect, I admire Sky's decision to programme the movie; having gone through the whole warning-watching-cringing process, I think they handled the issue appropriately. They showed a classic movie, uncut, but also pointed out that the criteria for acceptability changes overtime. I think revisionists could learn from this very simple model: Learn and evolve, don't delete and risk repeat.

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