Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

No One Ever Warns You About Mickey Rooney

On Valentine's Day, N. and I decided to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Neither of us had seen it before, though we had both read Truman Capote's novella, and both liked it. Yet, we both knew that the film would not be the original, because Capote's story isn't really all that romantic--it's quite dark and cynical, actually--and the awareness we had of the film suggested it was nothing like that. Audrey Hepburn was not going to be a prostitute, George Peppard was not going to be so meek, and the cat, well, the cat you know, would need to be rescued by Hepburn at the end of the film. (Which, as an aside, I was fine with: I have long had an aversion to animals being mistreated in a film or book. Even fake, I just dislike it. I don't enjoy it. And yes, in the story the cat finds a home, so it's not mistreated either, but still. Still.)

And yeah, the film changes a lot from the story. It drops pretty much all the meat from Capote's work, keeps the framework of it, and both downplays Holly's prostitution and gives the narrator some of his own sleeze to offset the 'free loving' nature of Hepburn's character. It is a skillful little reshuffling of the personalities of the characters, with enough left in it that, if you know Capote's version, still leaves Holly as a prostitute. If you don't, it leaves her mostly as a cheerful, manipulating gold digger who is just looking for the right rich man. You could write a lot on those two changes, a lot about the sexual politics that, fifty-two years later, will still find resonance in today's life.

Yet, there are still some odd strikes in what they keep in the film. Holly's marriage at fourteen to Doc is still there, but feels, contextually, off, as if it doesn't belong in this family orientated affair, and you can't help but think they would have just been better to turn him into her father, and her a runaway child, rather than a runaway child bride. It doesn't help, either, that Doc is played by Buddy Ebsen, who is probably most well known as the kindly father from The Beverly Hillbillies. But mostly, it just doesn't do anything in the film. In Capote's original, the marriage goes a long way to explaining Golightly's life now, of how she turned to prostitution, and her manipulation of older men--but in the film, it fails to do that, and just sits there, cold and strange and unnecessary.

But man, it's nothing when compared to Mickey Rooney.

My God.

Mickey Rooney.

No one tells you when you watch Breakfast at Tiffany's that Mickey Rooney is lurking in the film, waiting to destroy all its flimsy romance, all its good natured cheer. No one tells you that he will subsequently destroy all the romance that you wish to enjoy. That he will, ultimately, insult you so badly, so awfully, that you will set there slack jawed and go, "My fucking God. Mickey Rooney."

His portrayal of an Asian man is so amazingly offensive, so awful in every aspect that, for a film trying to be the most bland, inoffensive romantic maybe comedy out there, it almost beggars belief that it was included. It shouldn't be Hepburn's dress that is sold and remembered by millions, but Rooney's buck teeth.

It's a terrible portrayal, a terrible act of comedy that, even fifty years ago, must have offended, but it also illustrates just how far Western movies have not come since then. Oh, sure, Rooney could never do the roll now: political correctness would insist that someone at least Asian do it, but the rest of it, the room, the food, the clothes, that isn't difficult to see still existing, and it is all part of the offensive nature of the caricature. As much as you can read a lot into the changes of Hepburn and Peppard's characters, there's even more to make out of the small scenes that Rooney has in the film.

In the end, I have to say, both N. and I couldn't figure out how this film had become a romantic classic, or how it is still played in cinemas on February the 14th, and how nobody, nobody, says to you beforehand, "Yeah, about Mickey Rooney in the film..."

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