BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – Henry Mancini
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Hollywood producers Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd saw opportunity beckoning with Truman Capote’s controversial 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and convinced Paramount Studios to purchase the film rights. They hired George Axelrod to write a screenplay that “softened” Capote’s edgy narrative, and Blake Edwards was given the director reigns. Edwards assembled a fine cast, which included Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, George Peppard as Paul Varjak, Patricia Neal as Emily Eustace, Buddy Ebsen as Doc Golightly, Martin Balsam as O. J. Berman, and Mickey Rooney as Holly’s landlord Mr. Yunioshi. For the 1950’s, this truly sordid story broke all the sensibilities of the day – Holly was a foul-mouthed, bisexual, social-climbing and gold-digging prostitute, who has had an abortion and smokes marijuana! The fact that the story’s narrator was gay only added to the controversy. Jurow and Shepherd knew the story as written would never fly, so they chose not to make a modern and edgy social drama. They astutely recast the story’s narrative into a more conventional, and emotionally accessible direction – a romantic comedy. Well, Holly’s love affair with struggling writer Paul succeeded on all counts and won audience hearts worldwide. The film was also a critical success, earning five Academy Award Nominations, winning two for best Original Song and Best Score.
Jurow and Shepherd were disposed to select an accomplished composer from Broadway so as to capture a sophisticated and authentic New York soundscape for the film, but Blake Edwards was sold on Mancini following his hit theme from Peter Gunn. He won the day and the rest is history. Mancini understood that the film required a defining title song and so brought in lyricist Johnny Mercer. What the collaboration produced was one of the most iconic songs in film score history – “Moon River.” Most interesting is the fact that studio executive Martin Rakin tried to excise the song postproduction, but met fierce resistance from Jurow, and Hepburn who cried out “Over my dead body!” In writing for the film Mancini relates that Hepburn was his muse, she inspired him, animated him, and her essence permeates his score. Indeed the impetus for “Moon River” was to penetrate beneath Holly’s sophisticated yet faux persona and tap into her true essence; that of a lost country girl yearning for a lover to accompany her on life’s path. For his themes and songs, Mancini understood that he had to speak to both the romantic and comedic elements of the film.
He underpins his score with two primary themes; the breezy Holly’s Theme, which emotes her irrepressible spirit and love of New York, and the Moon River Theme, a wistful melody, tinged with sadness and yet, full of longing. Mancini renders it in a multiplicity of forms with variations for harmonica, strings, voice, and chorus. His talent for jazz music is highlighted in this film and several scenes are supported by his source music, which imbues the film with the necessary ambiance. There is a comedic piano motif, which informs us of Paul’s fascination with the mercurial and unpredictable Holly. His score resonated with both critics and the public at large, earning him a well-deserved Academy Award wins for Best Score, and Best Original Song.
“Main Title (Moon River)” supports the film’s opening where we see a taxi driving done a deserted New York street and we see Holly exit in a gorgeous black Givenchy gown. As the opening credits roll we discern it is late and as she walks home, she window-shops while eating a pastry with coffee. Mancini introduces us to his Moon River Theme, which he renders in a wistful expression. The use of a harmonica adds a folksy quality and we conclude with the theme transferred to chorus and strings. This perfectly sets the tone of the film! Nicely done. In “Paul Meets Cat” a quirky guitar joins with comedic piano motif to support Paul and Holly’s first meeting as he wakes her and meets her cat. We can clearly see that she fascinates him. “Poor Fred” reveals Holly climbing the fire escape to escape a drunken client and entering Paul’s apartment through the window. They have a drink, bond and she spends the night platonically. Mancini supports the scene with interplay of Comedic Piano Motif and Moon River, which features both the harmonica and a low register flute. The subtlety and nuance of his scoring here is spot on, a perfect synergy of music and film narrative.
The next five cues are a score highlight, which support the extended party scene at Holly’s apartment. In “Moon River (Cha Cha)” Holly is throwing a party and Paul joins and meets OJ and they share their perspectives of Holly. Mancini imparts a party ambiance by rendering the Moon River Theme as a Cha Cha. I think this works really well. As the party continues we transition to “Latin Golightly,” where Mancini provides some classic sparkling jazz, which hits all the right notes and features some nice horn play and piano. “Something For Cat” introduces another dance-like jazz rhythm with really cool contrapuntal horn play and solo sax vibes. “Loose Caboose – Part 1” returns us big time to a jazz powered Cha Cha as the party is increasingly spinning out of control as more and more people become drunk. “Loose Caboose – Part 2” continues the vibe with a singularity of jazz and Cha Cha that features superb solo trumpet play! Let’s party! In “Sally’s Tomato” Holly and Paul visit Uncle Sally who is incarcerated in Sing Sing prison. Mancini provided a slow and sultry dance-like jazz piece, which was dialed out of the film.
“Moon River” is a score highlight. It reveals Paul typing the opening lines of his new novel “My Friend”; “There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat.” He stops, distracted when he hears singing. He looks out the fire escape window and sees Holly playing her guitar and singing Moon River. We feel in her voice nostalgia, longing and a tinge of sadness. I present the lyrics to this timeless and iconic song, which perfectly captures the essence of Holly;
“Moon river, wider than a mile / I’m crossing you in style some day / Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker / Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters, off to see the world / There’s such a lot of world to see / We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend / My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me.
Moon river, wider than a mile / I’m crossing you in style some day / Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker / Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters, off to see the world / There’s such a lot of world to see / We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend / My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me.”
In “Meet the Doc” Emily comes and warns Paul that a man has been following her. He leaves to investigate, notices the man, and draws him to leave as he heads to the park. Eventually the man joins him at a park bench and shows him a photo, of him and Lulu Mae Golightly, his wife! Mancini played to the mystery of the scene and sowed tension with some classic suspense music, which features of all things, an organ grinder! He achieved a perfect marriage of music and film imagery. As Fred reminisces about his life with Lulu Mae/Holly and how he misses her, Mancini supports the nostalgia and longing with a tender, warm, and wistful rendering of the Moon River Theme, carried by harmonica. This is a very nice heartfelt moment. “You’re So Skinny” is bittersweet as Paul greets Holly by calling her Lulu Mae. She immediately realizes she is exposed and asks to see her husband Doc who races up the stairs and sweeps her off her feet, carrying her into her apartment. Paul is heart-broken and Mancini speaks to this with a sad and wistful rendering of the Moon River Theme.
“Turkey Eggs” is a beautiful score highlight. Holly breaks Doc’s heart when she tells him that she cannot go back with him. Their marriage was annulled, and she has a new life that she will not give up. The scene is scored with multiple renderings of the Moon River Theme. We open with the theme rendered tragically with heartache as she devastates Doc with her decision, but they eventually reconcile as he boards the bus and the theme warms and regains its wistful nature. Powerful emotions were at play here and Mancini’s music was spot on. Following Doc’s departure, Holly is sad and asks Paul to take her out for drinks, as she wants to get drunk. “Hub Caps and Tail Lights” reveals the two at a strip club, which Mancini supports with some classic, bump and grind stripper music! Eventually Paul takes Holly, who is quite drunk, home. In “Rats and Super Rats” Mancini at last introduces Holly’s Theme, which he infuses with a soft dance-like rhythm with an intimate jazz vibe born by some wonderful solo sax work. “The Hard Way” offers an emotional powerhouse for the score where we see Holly break Paul’s heart. She relates her intention to marry the wealthy business tycoon Rusty Trawler so she can support her brother. She gives Paul some money saying he should be used to women giving him money, and then asks him to leave. Mancini adapts the Moon River Theme as a crescendo of dramatic heartache and pathos. Holly, now alone, realizes what a terrible thing she just did.
In “Rusty Trawler” Paul picks up a paper with headlines that declare that Rusty Trawler has taken a fourth wife – but it is not Holly. Mancini support the revelation with comedic quackery as Paul revels in the moment. Holly provides a full playful rendering of Holly’s Theme by chorus with a fun jazz vibe. As the two have made up, they drink champagne and then go out to spend a day together, eventually ending up at Holly’s favorite place – Tiffany’s. The playful and happy ambiance continues in “A Lovely Place” as Holly’s Theme is reprised by chorus when Tiffany’s agrees to engrave a ring Paul will give Holly. In “Bermuda Nights” Mancini provides a sparkling, yet tender ambiance as they check out his book at the New York library. “The Big Heist” offers a score highlight for a silly scene where Holly coaxes Paul into stealing something from a 5 and 10 cent store like they did as kids. As they peruse the store and contemplate several heists, they eventual don silly dog and cat masks, and walk out successfully! Mancini interprets the narrative well and supports with comedic jazz and classic crime caper music born by low register piano, xylophone and tense flutes.
“After the Ball” offers some funky jazz as Paul wakes up the next day and enters Holly’s apartment through her fire escape window. When he sees Emily coming to visit, he races up to greet her and give her the bad news – that he was in love and could no longer continue as her paid paramour. She offers a $1,000 check to retain him, but he turns it down and leaves her. In “Just Like Holly” he picks up the engraved ring from Tiffany’s and tries to track her down, with his efforts supported by a carefree rendering of Holly’s Theme carried by chorus. In “Wait A Minute” Paul at last finds Holly in the public library, where she rejects his confession of love, stating that she intends to marry the wealthy Jose and move to South America. Mancini supports the drama and torrent of emotions with a dramatic and powerful rendering of the Moon River Theme. “Feathers” is a supremely tragic textural cue, which supports a telegram that informs Holly that her brother has died in an accident. She has a nervous breakdown, destroying her apartment in grief. A compassionate Paul calms her, and puts her to bed, leaving her with Jose. Mancini uses darks chords with strings affanato and woodwinds to inform us of her anguish. In “Let’s Eat” Paul visits Holly months later after receiving a telegram from her. She informs him that she intends to marry Jose and move to Brazil. Paul, for old time’s sake, suggests they go out for dinner one last time. A carefree and whimsical Holly’s Theme carried by chorus and orchestra support the moment. When they return they are both arrested on narcotic charges for helping the gangster Sally.
We now come to “Where’s The Cat? and End Title” where the score achieves its emotional apogee. OJ has bailed Holly out of jail and asked Paul to take her to a hotel to lay low. He has packed her belongings and the cat. On the way he again confesses his love, which she again rejects, tossing her cat out a cab window to demonstrate she is a free woman without attachments. Paul tosses the ring to her, bids her an anguished farewell, and leaves the taxi to retrieve the cat. Holly recognizes she has gone too far and pursues him. She eventually finds her cat, and then realizes she does love Paul and they at last embrace in a passionate kiss to end the film. Mancini demonstrates mastery of his craft with this scene. He opens with an anguished, dark, and minor modal rendering of the Moon River Theme, which builds to a tortured crescendo of pain. Yet, as she finds the cat, her pain is transmuted into joy, and the Moon River Theme also transmuted to a now warm and major modal expression replete with chorus singing its words. This is a glorious culmination of love triumphant, perhaps one of the finest romantic endings in Hollywood history.
Please allow me to thank Douglass Fake, Roger Feigelson and Intrada for this magnificent reissue of the complete score of Mancini’s award winning Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The sound restoration and mastering is superb and vibrant. Mancini succeeds here on all counts He writes a melody for the ages with Moon River, which achieves a perfect union, seldom realized in film, with Johnny Mercer’s heartfelt lyrics. This song is legend and has been sung by great singers of every generation. He also captures Holly’s mercurial and irrepressible spirit with Holly’s Theme, which he renders in a multiplicity of forms, each capturing the many facets of her personality. Lastly he provides an authentic New York vibe with his marvelous jazz pieces. This intimate and romantic score offers film score art at its finest, enduring testimony to Mancini’s genius and mastery of his craft. I highly recommend you add this classic and timeless score to your collection.
Buy the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (Moon River) (3:07)
- Paul Meets Cat (1:24)
- Sally’s Tomato (4:57)
- The Big Blowout (1:05)
- Poor Fred (3:22)
- Moon River (Cha Cha) (2:32)
- Latin Golightly (3:05)
- Something for Cat (4:48)
- Loose Caboose – Part 1 (À La Cha Cha) (3:22)
- Loose Caboose – Part 2 (2:11)
- Moon River (written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, performed by Audrey Hepburn) (2:03)
- Meet the Doc (with Organ Grinder) (1:37)
- An Exceptional Person (2:57)
- You’re So Skinny (0:57)
- Turkey Eggs (2:43)
- Hub Caps and Tail Lights (2:19)
- Rats and Super Rats (2:27)
- The Hard Way (0:55)
- Rusty Trawler (0:26)
- Holly (1:56)
- A Lovely Place (1:33)
- Bermuda Nights (0:22)
- The Big Heist (4:02)
- After the Ball (1:14)
- Just Like Holly (1:41)
- Wait A Minute (0:44)
- Feathers (1:14)
- Let’s Eat (1:39)
- Where’s The Cat? and End Title (Moon River) (3:50)
- Moon River (Audrey Hepburn & Guitar) (1:38) [BONUS]
- Moon River (Piano and Guitar) (1:38) [BONUS]
- Moon River (Harmonica and Guitar) (1:36) [BONUS]
- Meet the Doc (without Organ Grinder) (1:37) [BONUS]
- Piano Practice No. 1 (1:38) [BONUS]
- Piano Practice No. 2 (1:48) [BONUS]
- Piano Practice No. 3 (0:54) [BONUS]
- Moon River (New York Version) (2:01) [BONUS]
- Moon River (Whistling) (0:10) [BONUS]
Running Time: 78 minutes 46 seconds
Intrada MAF-71129 (1982/2010)
Music composed and conducted by Henry Mancini. Orchestrations by Leo Shuken and Arthur Hayes. Featured musical soloists Robert Bain and George Fields. Score produced by Henry Mancini. Album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.