Voted one of the greatest female screen legends in American cinema history by the American Film Institute, Audrey Hepburn remains a fashion icon and fan favorite, more than twenty years after her death in 1992. Warner Bros. Audrey Hepburn Collection offers up three of her most popular films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Funny Face (1957) and Sabrina (1954). All previously released on Blu-ray, each of the films contain the same video, audio and extra specifications as the earlier releases. That said, the set is a must have for any Audrey Hepburn fan who hasn’t had a chance to pick up these films in high definition.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Loosely based on the Truman Capote novella of the same name, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an undisputed classic. Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly remains one of the most iconic characters in movie history. Though Audrey always said that Breakfast at Tiffany’s was one of the best experiences of her professional career, she also admitted it was one of the hardest. Naturally an introvert, it was difficult for Audrey to step into the shoes of the extroverted Holly.
Holly is a carefree girl who seems to relish the party lifestyle she’s created for herself. While it’s obvious from that start that Holly is an escort, that fact is never mentioned. Nonetheless, Hepburn plays Holly with such a vulnerable sweetness; it’s possible for audiences then and now, to not fully acknowledge her profession. We soon find out the reason for the vulnerability: she not really the glamorous sophisticate she pretends to be, but rather a small-town girl from Tulip, Texas, who has gone to the big city of New York to find herself. She ends up accepting money from men for “going to the powder room.” When she gets a case of the “mean reds”–that is, she gets really depressed–she heads off to do some browsing a Tiffany’s. After all, as Holly says,” nothing very bad could happen to you there.”
Holly meets a new neighbor in her apartment building, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a would-be writer being “kept” by a wealthy older woman who Paul nicknames “2E” (Patricia Neal). The two immediately feel a connection and the film chronicles their up and down relationship.
Essentially, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the story of a female escort and a male gigolo falling in love. However, because of the changes that screenwriter George Axelrod (Bus Stop, The Manchurian Candidate, 1962) made to the Truman Capote novella and the seemingly genuine romanticism both leads brought to the story, few would describe Breakfast at Tiffany’s in that way.
Aside from Hepburn, Peppard and Neal, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is blessed with a marvelous supporting cast. Buddy Ebsen plays Holly’s former husband, a patient but not-too-understanding veterinarian from back home in Tulip. Martin Balsam is a fast-talking Hollywood agent who’s trying to get Holly into movies. Jose-Luis de Villalonga is a Brazilian millionaire Holly tries to marry. And Alan Reed is mob boss, Sally Tomato, whom Holly visits on a weekly basis in Sing Sing Prison to get the ‘weather report’.
The only sore spot in the whole film is Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, the landlord of Holly’s building. The character is a racially stereotyped Japanese-American. While that portrayal may have struck audiences as humorous back in the 1960’s, today, every minute he’s on screen is cringe-inducing today. Rooney himself says, if he’d known people would have been so offended, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
More than years after its theatrical release, there’s still something tremendously appealing about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Sure, the characters smoke and drank like there was no tomorrow; but even so, there’s an innocence about it all that has been lost in the intervening years. While I’m glad we now know about the dangers of excessive smoking and drinking, there’s something comforting about watching a movie like Breakfast at Tiffany’s; it’s a glimpse of days gone by.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this 1080p transfer is beautiful. If you have the Centennial DVD that Paramount released back in 2009, expect that to gather dust, because this one is head and should above it. Colors are bold and vibrant. Blacks are inky. Audrey’s little black dress has never looked better than it does here. Detail is excellent as well. I could see the individual furs of Cat, and spot the different textures of Hepburn’s many beautiful outfits. If I had one small complaint, it would be that on occasion, the faces look a bit waxy. Other than that, this is a stellar effort.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a great job. Henry Mancini’s score sounds better than it ever has, with great use of the surrounds. Dialogue is audible and crisp throughout, and while there isn’t a magnificent aggression in terms of sound design here, this lossless surround mix serves the film well. While not true to the film’s original design, the movie sounds wonderful on Blu-ray.
English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Producer Richard Shepherd: While his remarks are quite dry, and you might have trouble staying engaged, he clearly enjoyed being part of the film and shares a few interesting facts.
- A Golightly Gathering (20:00) (HD) This segment finds many of the actors from the movie’s cocktail scene reunite to reminisce.
- Henry Mancini: More Than Music (21:00) (HD) A 2008 piece on the composer, and his life in the industry.
- Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective (17:00) (HD) Various Asian filmmakers comment on Mickey Rooney’s atrocious Japanese stereotype and on the role of Asian actors and filmmakers in Hollywood through the years.
- The Making of a Classic (16:00) (SD) An examination of the adaptation of the Capote story for the screen.
- It’s So Audrey: A Style Icon (8:00) (SD) A look at Ms. Hepburn’s delicately simple style.
- Behind the Gates: The Tour (4:00) (SD) A quick tour of Paramount Studios.
- Brilliance in a Blue Box (6:00) (SD) The history of the famous jewelry store.
- Audrey’s Letter to Tiffany (2:00) (SD) A piece on a letter Hepburn wrote to preface a book about the Tiffany store.
- Galleries (SD) Galleries of production, movie, and publicity stills.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
The first time I saw Fred Astaire glide across the screen with Ginger Rogers in Swing Time (1936), I was mesmerized. They seemed to move so effortlessly, almost as if they were walking on air. Fred led Ginger in the dance routines like it was the most natural thing in the world. By 1957, Fred Astaire had been doing films for nearly twenty-five years and Audrey Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. Musicals were still a favorite among movie audiences, so it’s no wonder then, that Paramount released Funny Face, starring Astaire and Hepburn, directed by the esteemed Stanley Donen (Royal Wedding, Singin’ in the Rain) and featuring songs by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.
Screenwriter Leonard Gershe patterned the story on his friend, the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and Avedon’s romance with fashion model Dorcas Nowell. Avedon acted as a consultant on the film, set up the photography sessions, and supplied many of the photographs we see in the story. Because Funny Face is a Cinderella type story, Fred Astaire’s character, photographer Dick Avery is the prince. Jo Stockton (Hepburn), a shy bookstore clerk and amateur philosopher, is the young girl in need of a prince charming.
Maggie Prescott (played by nightclub entertainer, singer, dancer, pianist, and author Kay Thompson, a bigger-than-life Auntie Mame type), who plays the editor of Quality, a New York based fashion magazine, is on a quest to find a new “Quality” girl to represent the magazine to the women of America and the world. While looking for a place to do a photo shoot, Maggie and Dick come across Embryo Concepts, the bookstore where they meet Jo Stockton. Maggie decides to use Jo in the first picture to give the shot a more “intellectual” look, and then locks her out of the shop for the rest of the session. Back at the office, Avery takes a look at the picture of Jo, and sees something in her face that is “new” and “fresh.” With some convincing, Dick gets Maggie to agree that with a bit of a makeover, Jo could be a top model in the business.
The only problem is the bookish Jo wants no part of being a model. She thinks the fashion industry and modeling is nonsense, saying: “it is chichi, and an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics”. However, Jo changes her tune when she learns that the job will include a free trip to Paris to model the clothes of world famous designer Paul Duval (Robert Flemyng). While she doesn’t give a stitch about the fashionable clothing, it has been her lifelong dream to visit Paris. To top it off, she’ll get the opportunity to meet her idol, French philosopher Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair). Predictably, shortly after Jo arrives in Paris, she is transformed; from plain-Jane bookseller to one of the most striking looking women in the world.
From there, Dick and Jo begin to work together on the photo shoot. Jo begins by saying, “You don’t have to be friendly to work together,” to Dick. Acquainted will do.” Naturally, they become more than “acquainted.” The movie’s romance involves her and Dick falling in love. I found it all a bit creepy since at 58, Astaire was thirty years Hepburn’s Senior. Though by the end of the film, I was forced to admit they made a lovely film pairing.
While the romantic pairing wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the sets, costumes, and scenery involve some truly eye-popping colors and some glorious location shots in and around Paris. Legendary costume designer Edith Head was once again in charge of the costumes here, while fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy provided Ms. Hepburn’s Paris wardrobe.
The musical portions of the movie include dance numbers choreographed by Fred Astaire and Eugene Loring, plus the songs “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Funny Face,” “Bonjour, Paris!,” “He Love and She Loves,” “On How to be Lovely,” “Basal Metabolism,” “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Let’s Kiss and Make Up,” and “‘S Wonderful.” Along with the scenery, they are the film’s main attractions. Unlike 1964′s My Fair Lady, Ms. Hepburn did all of her own signing. She performs one solo, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”; a duet with Astaire, “‘S Wonderful”; a duet with Kay Thompson called “On How to be Lovely”; and takes part in an ensemble performance of “Bonjour, Paris.” Her previous dance training is also called into play, not only in the two dance numbers she performs with Astaire, but also for a Bohemian-style solo dance in a nightclub, which was later revived in a popular GAP commercial.
Nearing the end of his musical film career, Fred Astaire does a fairly impressive song and dance routine with an umbrella and cape to Gershwin’s “Let’s Kiss and Make Up.”Nearing sixty, he still looked like he was walking on air. Funny Face doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but Astaire/Hepburn, the costumes and the scenery make this a film worth owning. What’s more, the Academy nominated the film for four Oscars: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Writing. While it’s debatable whether Funny Face was worth those high honors, one thing is for sure, no one before or since has lit up the screen quite like Audrey Hepburn.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Warner has done a fine job with this 1080p transfer. A VistaVision production, colors are bright and vibrant throughout. Three’s a nice sense of texture, particularly in regards to the various outfits Audrey Hepburn wears. Detail is noticeably stronger than any of the previous DVD releases, and contrast is fairly even. While I did notice some slight softness in a couple of outdoor scenes, this may be partially inherent to the film itself. There is no sign of DNR or other anomalies.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 suits the film quite well. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and there’s notable depth during the various musical numbers. While I wouldn’t fo as far as to call it immersive, the dancing sequences go a long way in attempting to draw the audience in, with clear use of both fronts and rears. Ambient sounds come through nicely, and hisses, breaks, or other audio anomalies are never an issue.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following extras have been ported over from previous DVD editions:
- Kay Thompson: Think Pink (26:30) A tribute to the woman who played magazine editor Maggie Prescott. Multi-talented, Thompson was a songwriter who helped create the MGM sound; an author who created the beloved character Eloise; an actress, and a noted fashion icon. Interviewees include her goddaughter Liza Minnelli; Jim Caruso, Liza’s collaborator on a tribute show about Kay; Kay’s biographer Sam Irvin; Dick Williams, one of the Williams Brothers, who spent many years as a nightclub act with Thompson; Hilary Knight, the artist on the Eloise books; Matt Crowley, who finished the last Eloise book with Knight; and Ruta Lee, who played Thompson’s assistant in Funny Face.
- This Is VistaVision (24:38) Historians and camera technicians discuss the creation of the VistaVision process, which led to what we now know as the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Clips from the Paramount movies spanning the decade or so the process was used are shown, and more.
- Fashion Photographers Exposed (17:52) A day in the life of a fashion crew taking photos inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. The photographers discuss working with Richard Avedon, and the portrayal of fashion in the film.
- The Fashion Designer and His Muse (8:13) Explores the relationship between Audrey Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy.
- Parisian Dreams (7:49) Author Drew Casper (Style of Stanley Donen) talks about how Funny Face is really Cinderella in Paris, and discusses the films various locations.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:22)
Fresh off her success in William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn joined Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and director Billy Wilder for 1954′s Sabrina. The film was adapted from the Samuel A. Taylor play Sabrina Fair, by Taylor himself with Ernest Lehman. The film is like something out of a fairytale (it begins with the words “once upon a time”) that betrays its Cinderella roots. Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn) is the chauffeur’s daughter (John Williams), a shy teen who hides in the bushes spying on David Larrabee (William Holden), the youngest and the least disciplined son of the rich Larrabee clan. In contrast, older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) is all business. He runs the family empire and is more concerned with making money than making time with the ladies. Ironically, it’s only Linus that notices Sabrina, in the throes of a dramatic suicide over David’s cluelessness. Sure, Linus doesn’t realize that this silly kid is being serious, but at least he knows her name.
All of this takes place the night before Sabrina is to leave for Paris to spend two years at a cooking school. Fast forward two years–Sabrina returns from France a new woman; a sophisticated lady ready to capture the heart of David Larrabee. There’s only one problem: Linus has promised David to the daughter of a sugar cane magnate so the Larrabees can get their hands on all the sugar they need for a new plastic compound they are pioneering. Fearing that the thrice married David won’t go through with his end of the deal, Linus decides to take Sabrina out a few times to keep his little brother’s mind off her. Predictably, a genuine romance begins to develop between Sabrina and the significantly older man.
While Audrey Hepburn is as delightful as ever in Sabrina, the film itself isn’t one of my favorites. Film romances often ask viewers to suspend belief but this scenario asks too much of its audience. Linus is old enough to be her father with the personality of a wet noodle. Even when he’s trying to be charming, he still comes off looking like he’d rather be balancing his checkbook. How are we supposed to believe that Sabrina would suddenly give up her lifelong dream of being with a fun-loving fellow like David, for a bore like Linus?
Billy Wilder had originally wanted Cary Grant for the part of Linus Larabee but he passed because of scheduling conflicts. Grant would have brought a sense of innate charm to the role that Bogart is missing. That charm, combined with the fact that Grant looked much younger than Bogart at the time, would have made the idea of Sabrina falling in love with Linus seem more plausible. Bogart was a great actor, comedy just wasn’t his forte.
Though Audrey Hepburn isn’t required to do much more than be luminous and heartbroken, she is the reason Sabrina is worth watching. As she often does, Hepburn gives the story a great sense of style, enjoyable wit, unforgettable charm, strength and intelligence. Plus, her costumes are breathtaking; though the famed Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, many of Hepburn’s outfits were created by Hubert de Givenchy and chosen by the star herself. Sabrina is a good film; I just don’t think the pairing of Bogart and Hepburn allowed the film to be the true fairytale it could have been.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Sabrina looks quite good in 1080p. While the black and white image looks slightly gritty at times, contrast is solid throughout. There is a good sense of texture, and detail is far better than any of the previous standard DVD releases. The image does have an occasional softness, but I’m inclined to believe that’s inherent to the film, and not the transfer. There is no sign of DNR or other anomalies. Consistent throughout, this Blu-ray appears to be a fair representation of director Billy Wilder’s intentions.
The supplied DTS-HD Master 2.0 soundtrack supports the film quite well. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and we get a nice echo when Hepburn sings a bit of La Vi en rose and other musical pieces from Rodgers and Hart, etc. There is also some nice depth.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras have been ported over from previous DVD editions:
- Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon (17:30) a rundown of the actress’ most famous looks with fashion designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Cynthia Rowley, and Eduardo Lucero and fashion historian Eddie Bledsoe sharing their opinions about what made Hepburn special. This covers several of Hepburn’s movies, and there is some focus on designers Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy.
- Sabrina’s World (11:25) looks at the setting of Sabrina, including real places on the Gold Coast of Long Island.
- Supporting Sabrina (16:32) pays tribute to the Paramount character actors who rounded out the cast of the movie, including Sabrina’s father played by John Williams; Ellen Corby, who played Linus’ secretary; the maid Jenny, Nancy Kulp; Marcel Dalio as the Parisian count who schools Sabrina; Walter Hampden, a.k.a. Mr. Larrabee; Francis X. Bushman, David’s future father-in-law; and Martha Hyer, David’s fiancée.
- William Holden: The Paramount Years (29:52) is an examination of Holden’s career, beginning as a Paramount contract player (shared at the time with Columbia), through the war years, and eventually becoming a big star after success working with Billy Wilder for the first time in Sunset Boulevard. Actresses Pat Crowley and Stefanie Powers, actors Gil Stratton and Gene Reynolds, author Bob Thomas, and others talk about the man amidst photos and clips from his many films.
- Sabrina Documentary (11:46) vintage making-of documentary, featuring an interview with longtime Paramount executive A.C. Lyles.
- Behind the Gates: Camera (5:07) takes us away from Sabrina to show us the development of motion picture camera technology at Paramount.