Literary purists may balk at the sanitized version of Truman Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961). But film buffs were rewarded with Audrey Hepburn in her signature role as Holly Golightly, a young, free-spirited woman living in New York, who forges an unusual relationship with her writer/gigolo neighbor, George Peppard. The success of the film rests on the gamin shoulders of the remarkable Hepburn and the hip, haunting music of Henry Mancini.
When Blake Edwards was hired to direct the film, he had to convince the Paramount brass to hire Mancini. The two men had first worked on the PETER GUNN TV series, whose soundtrack album won the first Grammy for Album of the Year in 1958.
Mancini won the Oscar for TIFFANY’S over some very high profile composers and scores–EL CID (Miklos Rozsa), FANNY (Morris Stoloff and Harry Sukman), THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (Dimitri Tiomkin), and SUMMER AND SMOKE (Elmer Bernstein). No doubt the success of “Moon River” bolstered Mancini’s odds, but there is far more to the score than that marvelous tune.
Mancini’s unique sound perfectly complements the New York locale in the early ’60s. Scenes such as the party in Holly’s apartment, Holly and Paul’s (Peppard) walking trip through Manhattan, and their stealing caper at the five-and-dime gave Mancini rich opportunities to use his jazz-inflected rhythms and harmonies. Mancini uses a “stinger” chord, a vibrato effect created by the use of vibraphone plus several other instruments including piano and harp, to punctuate several scenes and to draw the viewer’s attention to the events onscreen.
Much of the score relies heavily on the Oscar-winning song “Moon River,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song’s melody is first heard over the opening credits as a guitar strums and a forlorn harmonica solo plays over the scene of an elegantly dressed Holly staring longingly into the windows of Tiffany’s by the dawn’s early light. At the end of the film, if you’re able to keep a dry eye as Hepburn runs through the rain searching for Cat with that haunting tune in the background, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.
As with most of Mancini’s score albums, the BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S album had its eye on the charts. So it eliminated most of the actual dramatic underscoring. The album was a huge hit and sounded great on a turntable. Intrada’s release of the complete score was welcome news to Mancini fans and Oscar completists like me.