Adapting Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Amid transferring Truman Capote’s classic novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s into a film, director Blake Edwards adjusted many small details and one key component of the story. Though the several altered catalyzers do not disrupt the fundamental story, the adjusted nucleusthe relationship between “Fred” and Hollychanges it drastically. While the general qualities of these key characters are portrayed correspondingly to the novel, the deeper, inner complexities of the characters and their overall perspectives are affected by this adjustment. Accordingly, Holly and “Fred’s” original characters do not survive the adaptation. In addition, many of the other characters do not reflect their original design, in some cases due to the same alteration.

Despite omitting her boyish hairstyle, Edwards captures Holly’s outward characteristics and features accurately. Similarly to the novel, she is depicted as youthful, wild, free-spirited, mysterious (due to her at-first unidentified past), and, as the character O.J. Berman puts it, a “phony.” Her inward character, however, is suffered. Because of her relationship with “Fred,” the emphasis of Holly’s affection for José, a dominating sentiment in the novel her, loses its significance. Even more crucial is the relationship’s effect on the outcome of the story. Because Holly decides to stay in New York with “Fred” instead of flying to South America despite José’s neglect, her spontaneity, independence, and desire to keep movinga few of her key characteristics in the novelare all abandoned.

“Fred’s” general character is portrayed faithfully as well: he remains reserved, subtle, and mildly humorous. Like Holly, however, his intricate details are subsequently adjusted by the change of arc. Having feelings for Holly, “Fred” becomes more involved in the storylosing the somewhat wise and omnscient qualities he carried as the narrator of the book. His devotion to Holly almost makes him seem vulnerable and less noble (i.e.: begging her to stay at the end), or maybe just more human. In addition, though unrelated to the relationship’s impact, by giving him a real name (“Paul Varjak”), “Fred” loses the incompleteness and mystique of being an essentially nameless narrator.

As for the minor characters, the changes due to the added affair (and in general for that matter) are less significant. José, whose surnames are changed from “Ybarra-Jaegar” to “Silva Pereira,” could be interpreted as suspicious of “Fred”a trait not present in the novel. Mag Wildwood, Holly’s stuttering southerner-friend, is portrayed as less obnoxiousHolly is not even provoked to tell the men at the party about Mag’s STD, like she does in the novel. Mr. Yunioshi, though highly offensive by the Asian-American generalizations established through his portrayal (and the casting of Mickey Rooney… come on), does not have much room to lose significance. Joe Bell, on the other hand, does lose significance, where he is left out completely. Overall, while the changes among the minor characters are not critical to the plot, they are still noticeable, and sometimes due to the relationship that warped the major characters.

Minor characters aside, it is clear that the relationship drastically alters Fred and Holly. Between Holly losing her careless edge, “Fred” becoming more personal, and their ultimate unification, the story becomes something else—something different than Capote’s. This does not mean the film is thus distasteful or of less quality, but it does create an entirely new story.


Written in 2009 for a film adaptation course.

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4 thoughts on “Adapting Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  1. Well said Maestro. But that’s what happens in Hollywood with all those pushy, sharp-elbowed writers determined to make some impact they can point to in future pitch meetings. They’ll say, “what if we change the guy to a girl?”, or — “does it have to be New York City? Why not Buenos Aires?”, or — “Let’s do it as a western!”

    Writers and actors! If only we could make movies without them!

  2. Hi! I watched the special features of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the director was saying at the time no one had a second thought about casting Mickey Rooney to play an Asian person. It just didn’t occur to them that it might be offensive. He also said that looking back he wished they cast a real Asian American. Now though, what can one do? Just letting you know. 🙂
    -Yana

  3. Hi! I just nominated you for the inspiring blogger of the year award! I really enjoy reading your blog and wanted to share it with my readers. To accept, just repost the award, mention who nominated you and link to their blog, then write 7 things about yourself. You should also nominate 15 others and let them know! Thanks for writing so well and inspiring people.
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    -Elizabeth

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