To turn a book into a movie small, acceptable crimes must be committed, but there are some changes that they made to Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the conversion process that open a gulf between the novella and the movie that must be detailed. That’s why I present to you the Top 10 Reasons That the Novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Better Than the Movie … I could have also called it Crackerjack Prizes vs Christopher Metals Comma Saint* …
10. In the movie they write out Joe Bell – who, in the novella, is a very sweet, lovable, and important character. He’s also part of the novella’s overarching theme of “other” kinds of love, a larger category of love that is next to removed from sexuality, this is the way that both the narrator (Paul in the movie, unnamed in the novella) and Joe love Holly.
9. Rusty Trawler, Mag Wildwood, and José Ybarra-Jaegar (they changed his last name for the movie for some reason) – are all mangled in the name of film continuity, as is all of the action surrounding them (the party, which is pretty altered, and a group vacation that gets written out completely). That they make Mag shorter than José, leave out Mag becoming Holly’s roommate, and make Trawler’s character (eventually) broke and heterosexual (in the novel he’s actively fighting a homosexuality which horrifies him) are just some things that get left out. In the novella they’re wonderfully fleshed out and they’re missed in the movie, but all that would make for a 5 hour film so it’s somewhat understandable.
8. The Falling Out – is totally different in the movie and not nearly as poignant because, in the novella, there’s a long period of time that passes before they make up, whereas in the movie it’s the very next scene. In the novella it’s a clash of character while in the movie it’s precipitated by Holly drunkenly mentioning Paul’s being “kept” by his “decorator friend.”
7. The Mickey Rooney version of Mr. Yunioshi is uncomfortably racist – and they write out Madame Spanella entirely (who hates Holly and ultimately gets her arrested) to expand Yunioshi’s character to allow for more racist “fun” which is what scoots it past #8 and makes it really offensive. Poor old movie, who would have expected times to change?
6. They make Holly more “acceptable” in the movie – in the novella she “can’t get excited by a man under 40” (paraphrasing) while in the movie she is interested in Rusty Trawler because he’s “the ninth richest man in America under 50.” Gretta Garbo is on her list of “ideal” life partners and her speech about how all types of “love should be allowed” is removed, a really wonderful part of the novella. In the movie she is also made significantly more dependent on Paul, for example, having Paul accompany her to Sing Sing, the bus stop to see Doc off, the Library (which she goes to in order to research Brazil because she wants to steal Jose from Mag), to Tiffany’s, and to the police station. None of these things come even close to happening in the novella. At least they leave in the stealing (and yes, it’s masks and it happens in front of nuns in the novella, too).
5. In the novella the narrator isn’t a prostitute – in fact he’s not even straight. In the novella, while the main character loves Holly, it’s made explicit that it’s not sexual (though there is one scene of sexual tension). A great line that’s not in the novella because of it? “You’re a stylish girl, can’t we end this stylishly?” Remind me to use that next time I have to break up with someone. I do suppose Paul’s whoring keeps the two characters on a more even moral keel for the audience, but it’s too bad, because it really violates an important element of the novella.
4. Holly’s pregnancy (by José) and miscarriage (saving the narrator’s life) – are major parts of the novella that are totally missing from the movie. That and the fact that she professes to sincerely be in love with José in the novella, as much as she can love anyone, and not with Paul.
3. “I love you, you belong to me” – or so Paul says in the movie, it’s a disgusting concept, and it’s nothing like what anything the narrator in the novella would say. His character is jealous at times, but never possessive. The way they made the narrator into “Paul” was by making him more masculine and aggressive, which is unfortunate, because the novella character was so wonderful without it. If I ever stop being angry about this edition I just look at the .gif above and remember what a disservice it does to his character.
2. In the novella, Holly leaves at the end – as in goes to South America and then travels the world, in the novella Holly is always a wander, a traveler, and true to herself. She is always “traveling” as her mailbox indicates at the beginning of the text. The movie changes her character for the sake of a happy ending, but her unchangeable character – for better or worse – is what makes her so wonderful in the novella. There’s a speech about people who get their character “too early” in the text, which actually has a lot of wonderful, small speeches that there just wouldn’t be room for in a movie, but they make the novella very much worth reading. The final scene of the movie with Holly running after Paul is just sad, it doesn’t do either of their novella characters justice. Incidentally, Holly is the one that goes after Cat in the novella, not Paul, and while she doesn’t find him, he does eventually find a “real” home, which suggests that Holly eventually will too.
1. Moon River – is an annoying song (to me, I can’t stand it, though I’m sure some people can) but it’s important for the movie, it works and it’s well-paced (can be sped up, slowed down, and restyled easily). Fine. In the novella Holly sings, “Don’t wanna sleep. Don’t wanna die. Just wanna go a-travelin’ through the pastures of the sky.” There’s something beautiful and sad about it, plus it’s not a real song, they could have recorded it, they just chose not to. That, I think, is the #1 difference that puts the movie below the novella, the novella is written like a movie, but they chose to change so many things just because they could, and the unnecessary changes diminish the story so much. I will say this though, I think that Audrey Hepburn is just about as perfectly cast as anyone could be.
I loved the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s until I read the novella, so if you love the movie now, perhaps this list will encourage you to read the novella as well and who knows? Maybe you’ll like it better too? Do let me know …
PS: I actually wrote a discursive bibliography of Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was in grad school, click the link if you want to read it!
* The small, symbolic object of affection that is given to Holly in the movie is an engraved crackerjack ring whereas in the novella it’s a St. Christopher metal, patron saint of travels, because Holly’s card on her mailbox, under her name, reads: “Traveling.” In the novella she gives the narrator a very expensive, gaudy birdcage; it’s a relationship more of equality in the novella, you see?