Top 10 Reasons That the Novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Better Than the Movie

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* …

My Breakfast at Tiffany's inspired collage

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?

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote6. 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.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

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?

23 thoughts on “Top 10 Reasons That the Novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Better Than the Movie

  1. Andrew Yates

    I completely agree! I read the novella first and then the movie straight away and It really irritated me how much they changed the storyline. I also hate that they made the nameless narrator “Fred” a masculine man who in the book his character has more substance and depth as an asexual, if not gay character who seemingly has more cultural significants. Plus hated how they shifted the timeline of the film. I think it has more potential being set in the 40’s.

    1. Brigitte Post author

      Thank you for your comment Andrew (and thanks for reading my article at all)! I completely agree, I think that the narrator was really compromised by the romantic plot, it was unnecessary, in my eyes, he’s a much more “contemporary” character in the novella too, which isn’t usually the case. Holly too, who is portrayed as little more than a call girl in post-movie pop culture, has so much more depth and complexity in the novella. I could go on and on, of course, it’s hard to stop once I get going!

  2. MaryAR

    I completely agree! I also read the novella first, and I LOVED Holly, I LOVED the fact that she left and was true to herself, even if she also left people that loved her and thought she was special. I hate the fact that she stayed in the movie. Although I don’t think Moon River is annoying, I would rather listen the movie version of “Don’t wanna sleep. Don’t wanna die. Just wanna go a-travelin’ through the pastures of the sky”. That ‘Holly Song’ just made me dream a lot. About freedom. About not being in a cage.

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment! I was actually just thinking about these things yesterday so it’s quite a coincidence that you happened upon it then. It’s still my favorite novella, I think I would have never liked the movie if I had read the book first. People who love the movie don’t know what they’re missing!

  3. Tessa

    I have an ultimate amount of love for Audrey Hepburn, hence me viewing the film first before reading the novella. I choose to view them as separately as I possibly can because of how many differences. The film feels more ‘inspired by’ than ‘based on’ in my opinion. All I know is that reading the novella really made me view the film differently and I’m forever recommending people to read it after viewing the movie to see what an amazing story they are missing out on.

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      I completely agree, I absolutely love Audrey Hepburn and I think she makes an amazing Holly Golightly. I also think that the film version becomes completely ruined by the novella so I always recommend that someone see the movie first (which is the opposite of recommendation book/movie order recommendation I’ve probably ever made). Thank you for your comment!

  4. Kevin

    I finished the novella only moments ago –it currently rests on my nightstand — and immediately searched the web for criticism and comparison. Having last seen the film years ago, I don’t have as fresh of a memory as others, but it isn’t reasonable to expect simple scenery and dialogue to match the brilliance of Truman Capote’s carefully crafted words. In order to do a fair comparison, one must always account for this.

    Aside from the egregious portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi by Mickey Rooney –an actor I admire, I might add — most changes in the film are understandable. “George” as a prostitute adds a bit more depth to a character that the reader, at the end of the novella, still knows little about. Liberties with his sexuality and Holly’s implicit staying in New York also make for a crowd-pleasing on-screen interpretation of the story. In the novella, “Fred’s” sexuality was never explicitly stated –though the character surely bares resemblance to Capote himself (who was openly gay).

    I do agree with your overall sentiment, however, and agree with your points completely in 4, 3, 7, and 10. Though, they dropped the Africa thing, so I guess they felt they also needed to drop Joe Bell. But, Bell is an excellent character in the novella.

    I will say this, as I read the novella, it was hard not to imagine Hepburn as Holly, but although the character is 19 in the novella, it did seem like Marilyn Monroe-esque part (extroverted, male-pleasing “ditzy” blonde. Monroe happened to be 33 when the movie was likely filmed. I shouted, “I knew it!” when I learned afterward that Capote even wanted Monroe for the part. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part other than Audrey, though. And I think she did a terrific job!

    1. Ms. Bee Post author

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I actually decided to write the list after watching the movie back-to-back with the novella. I think if you watch it again some of the absences/changes will be even more striking. I loved the movie before I watched it that 4th (probably?) time; seeing it so close to the novel I actually had to turn it off at the end. I think in cutting or minor changing characters like Joe Bell, Mag, and Rusty it slightly compromises what the novella is really about: the many types of love. The whole book is a chronicle of different types of love, all of them valid, and that’s part of the beauty of it. I’m glad Capote didn’t get his way with Monroe (who I adore, I just think she’s wrong for this role), Hepburn will always be Holly in my head. I’m not arguing the film is evil or horrible or anything like that, of course, and thank you again for engaging with my list so thoughtfully.

  5. John Grannis

    It’s rare that a story can jump genres without some dissonance, but the book and movie are both gems in their own way. As Norman Mailer pointed out on the back of my copy, nearly every sentence in the book is beautifully crafted. And Holly’s hip jargon is delightful! But the movie wordlessly evokes some of the many charms of New York, and its promise of freedom.
    The theme of liberation, well that’s the common thread for me. Of course the book could go further, with frank discussion of sex and self creation. A favorite line: “Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart.” The reason the movie is so loved by many women even today is Hepburn’s example of someone asserting her power to explode conventional feminine roles. But she should have gotten on that plane!

    1. Ms. B Post author

      First, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I think my favorite passage from the book is the one about never loving a wild thing, because your love will make it strong, strong enough to leave you. I agree that she should have gotten on the plane! A totally different ending. At least Cat’s ending wasn’t changed, ha!

  6. Steve Paradis

    “I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Tiffany’s”
    Holly’s absurd metaphor for the life de luxe actually had to be literal in the movie–even if only for the creme bun in front of the store–as if the audiences would storm the manager afterwards, demanding to be shown the missing scene they were promised.

    “Holiday Delightly


    And Audrey Hepburn is always my first choice for a West Texas girl. You really can see how Marilyn Monroe was Capote’s perfect choice. They could do a “remake” that would be a real adaptation and cast Jennifer Lawrence. She’s right, and I’d love the articles screaming how unlike she is to Audrey Hepburn, which would prove the point.

  7. Ginger Tom

    I recall seeing this film as a child, and the scene that left the most lasting impression was that of George Peppard in bed naked! The story, I was surprised to learn, was that of a novella, considering the film’s legendary status, I was expecting a full novel. I was also devastated to find that Holly abandons her beau, and not the tear drenched scene portrayed in the film. It was the same heart-wrenching moment like at the end of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ where you think ‘If only…’.
    It would have been ironic to have Marilyn Monroe cast and have her say ‘But Doc, I’m not Norma Jean anymore’.
    Maybe a TV mini-series could be produced that’s faithful to the book, like they did with ‘Mildred Pierce’.

  8. Pingback: The Princess Bride by William Goldman | Ms. Brigitte's Mild Ride

  9. william norris

    Great commentary and response….has me thinking, having just seen the movie again, and having read the novella years ago….

  10. Pingback: Happy 10 Year Blogiversary! | Ms. Brigitte's Mild Ride

  11. Mel Bee

    You’re correct about the horrible changes from the novel to the film. However, I think you’re missing the reasons why. The MPAA censors would never have awarded a production seal to a film that included obvious references to homosexuality and/or prostitution. If you look up the production code from the period the film was released, it will become a bit more clear. This was just before they changed to the current ratings system we have now. In any case, a film that had not been certified by the censors would generally not do as well at the box office because most theaters would not carry such a movie for fear of backlash by interest groups, not to mention local censors in various cities it would be playing in. There are a couple great books about the impact the censors had on great works of literature when they were brought to the screen. The idea was that censors were there to ensure that children weren’t unduly influenced by immoral acts on screen. Sounds silly today but the idea that certain movies/topics would be made only for adults had not yet taken hold nor could studios see the logic in reducing large segments of their viewing public. However, by 1947 the movie industry was losing money like crazy due to their inability to take more chances on screen, overcensoring what was on screen, and of course the rise of television made most people stay home instead of going to the movies, particularly when both TV and movies were censored. Why go out to see milquetoast entertainment if you can get it at home? In any case, if this film had been made 5-10 years later, it probably would have been much closer to the novel because the MPAA could then restrict access to younger viewers by giving it an adult rating. Too bad it had to bear the brunt of a bunch of ultra conservative old men who thought the American public couldn’t handle a bit of reality in the theater.

    1. Brigitte Post author

      You are correct! My dad’s an amateur LGBTQ+ film scholar, so I’m aware of all that, it just didn’t seem relevant for a pretty old list post. I’m glad it’s in the comments though because it’s a very valuable lesson in cinema history. Thank you for posting it!

  12. Josie

    No wonder Capote hated the film. Sounds like the only thing his book and the film had in common was the title. I remember watching the film when I was young and feeling pretty underwhelmed. I’m definitely going to read the novella now. Thanks for posting!

    1. Brigitte Post author

      Thank you so much! I didn’t know that Capote disliked the film, but it makes a ton of sense. I’m so excited that you’re going to read the novel; I hope you love it!

  13. Chris

    I just had one comment to make. I think when Paul comments on the movie on Holly “belonging” to him, it speaks more to how two people can have that special, once-in-a-lifetime connection and belonging to one another. He feels that they were meant for each other whether the audience and Holly herself agree/disagree. He is just making his position clear as he has always tried to genuinely help her and be there for her despite his own feelings. But after seeing her make enough poor decisions in the movie and failing to mature, he wants to pull her into something positive and feels he can be the one do to so. I think back to one of his brief chats in the film with his “decorator” when he mentions that he could help this lost girl essentially get traction and stability.

    I think what Paul is trying to say is sincere and masculine for that era/period of time in history. I don’t see it as truly possessive but I can understand the misconception. Men were much more confident in their feelings and, from a Hollywood perspective, women loved that in an attractive man… as it essentially speaks to their confidence. He loves this woman and wants to help her. Some may view it as selfish as wanting to be with her in order to do so… but love can be selfish at times and in order to get it… you have to work/push for it at times. I don’t find it disgusting in the least but to each their own on that note.

    I really wasn’t a fan of the novel as it just didn’t have the charm that works so well in a movie under 2 hours with one of the best actresses of all time in the lead role. But your breakdown of the differences and your takes is organized and a good read whether one agrees of disagrees. Kudos to you.


    1. Brigitte Post author

      Hello! Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I do agree that, at the time, people probably found the “you belong to me” romantic, and people can now too if that resonates with them, but I personally feel like it doesn’t age well. I think needing her to “change” or “grow” is kind of paternalistic though, but that’s my opinion (and to be fair I have not watched the movie in a few years so I’m going on recall alone here). While I still think the novella is better, I completely agree that Audrey Hepburn is one of the best actresses of all time. She is amazing! I really appreciate you taking the time and leaving your opinion here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.