“Moon River” — Andy Williams

“Breakfast At Tiffany’s” is a classic movie…and one of my all-time favourite films.

I loved Audrey Hepburn in the role of Holly Golightly—in many ways this role came to define her career, although she had been a successful actress since appearing alongside Gregory Peck in the 1953 movie “Roman Holiday”, for which she won an Oscar.

For most people, their mental image of Audrey Hepburn is drawn from the movie poster for “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, which portrayed Audrey Hepburn in a simple, but stylish, black dress with a cigarette in a long black holder.

Even in silhouette that look, popularised in her role as Holly Golightly, is what most people think of when you say “Audrey Hepburn”, so closely is she identified to this day with her role in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”.

This was a very stylish film…some of the camera work is exquisite. My favourite shot is of a deserted 5th Avenue, early in the morning, with Audrey Hepburn nibbling a croissant as she pauses on her journey home after a night in all the most stylish places around town to stare dreamily into the main window display at Tiffany’s.

“Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was directed by Blake Edwards, who would later become more famous for directing the “Pink Panther” series of films.

It’s probably fair to say the “Pink Panther” films didn’t exactly enjoy the same level of critical acclaim as “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” but I’ve got a silly sense of humour sometimes, so they usually made me laugh.

In addition to an iconic star, a talented director and a wonderful script, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” also has one of the most-loved movie themes of all time.

“Moon River” was written by Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. And, in another bizarre connection between two very different films, not only did “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and the “Pink Panther” films share a director…Henry Mancini also wrote the very well-known theme tune for the “Pink Panther” films.

Audrey Hepburn dazzled and sparkled as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, living a stylish life in high society despite having what the tax authorities might describe as “hard to trace sources of income”.

If you’ve read Truman Capote’s original story, you’ll know his novella was buffed up a bit and made more respectable for the Hollywood of the early 1960s. Truman Capote wrote an astonishingly good book…but it’s just a somewhat different story to the more “respectable” Hollywood movie version.

“Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was quite bohemian at a time when that wasn’t necessarily seen as a good thing by movie studio executives, never mind the general public.

Patricia Neal played a wealthy woman who financially supported struggling writer Paul Varjak, played by George Peppard, while enjoying a physical extra-marital relationship with him.

There have been plenty of movies where there were “other woman” used in this way. But it was rare to see a woman in the “lead” role in a mainstream Hollywood movie in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Patricia Neal’s character was in charge of the relationship and approached it with the emotional detachment more often associated with men of that era in similar situations — when she learned that George Peppard had fallen in love with someone else, she calmly picked up her things and left without as much as a glance back over her shoulder.

There was no love involved, she was just using him for physical companionship…again in a way that men had treated women before in movies. But it was unusual for the woman to be the emotionally detached driver of the relationship in the way Patricia Neal’s character in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was.

I’ve always found this quite a significant element of the plot in a movie of its time. Nowadays it would hardly cause a slightly arched eyebrow, even in the politest of company, but 60-odd years ago when “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” first came out, the world was a different place.

Women were often treated as just “the supporting act” to their husband. Many fewer women worked, especially after they got married and had children. And they were not expected to take the lead in romantic and physical relationships.

but I can go on for hours about “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”…and often have…so let’s get back to the movie’s wonderful theme song, “Moon River”.

In “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, Audrey Hepburn does a breathy rendition of “Moon River” while sat on the fire escape outside George Peppard’s apartment. You can find that performance here… https://youtu.be/uirBWk-qd9A

However the singer most people associate with “Moon River” is Andy Williams, who made the song his own personal theme tune over the years.

When, many years later, Andy Williams built his theatre in Branson, Missouri, he even called the venue “The Moon River Theatre”. That gives you some idea of the pivotal role Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s song played in his life.

Somewhat confusingly, in the UK, the first hit version of “Moon River” was recorded by a guy called Danny Williams, who was clearly a completely different person. Danny Williams’ version of “Moon River” was the UK’s Christmas Number One for 1961.

Perhaps surprisingly, for a song so strongly associated with him, Andy Williams never released “Moon River” as a single. It featured on his albums, was used as the theme tune for his TV show in the 1960s and was an ever-present feature of his live performances, but never made it to the pressing plant as a 7".

“Moon River” has a wonderful dreamy quality to it…you could imagine floating down a river, lying on your back on the deck, just letting the current carry you where it chooses…

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

In a sense, this was a take on Holly Golightly’s attitude to life. She was going wherever the muse took her, taking what life put her way, without a definite plan of action.

We don’t get to hear much of Holly Golightly’s back story, but it seems she was from hillbilly country and married young, raising a family before she fled to the big city. One of the film’s more heartbreaking moments is when Audrey Hepburn has to tell her ex-husband, who finally managed to track her down to New York, that she’s never coming back home again.

There’s no suggestion that “Doc” Golightly behaved badly towards her, but Holly is firm in her resolve and puts Doc onto a Greyhound bus back home without her.

She knows she’s hurt him by saying she’s never coming back, but…again unusually for the era…Holly’s clear that she’s going to forge her own path in life and doesn’t want to settle for a life of domesticity in a small country town, tending house and looking after their children.

Audrey Hepburn’s character is definitely seeking something, although we’re not sure what it is…and her character doesn’t seem to be much the wiser either. Or, more likely, she’s escaping something and is prepared to do whatever seems to be the complete opposite of becoming a housewife in a small town.

She wants to be loved by a wealthy man, at least in part a reaction to her poor upbringing, but develops a strong bond with George Peppard, in his role as struggling writer Paul Varjak.

Holly Golightly calls Paul Varjak “Fred” because he reminds her of her deceased brother.

Clearly things are quite complicated….

Given half a chance, I’d watch “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” every day if I could. It’s a film I adore.

And I’d happily listen to the theme song, “Moon River”, on a loop for hours. It’s such a beautiful song, even though it’s only got two short verses.

Somehow it always connects me to a calm, restful place where nothing bad could ever happen.

Henry Mancini’s wonderful composition clearly plays a large part in that, as does Audrey Hepburn’s performance of it, even though it’s not the most powerful vocal performance ever committed to tape. But Johnny Mercer’s lyrics come from a very special place too…

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

As the vocal comes back in for the “two drifters” line, I always get a lump in my throat.

It’s what Holly Golightly wanted, but it’s what we all want really…

Someone special to drift through life with, taking in all the world has to offer, following rainbows to their mythical end, hand-in-hand.

It’s no surprise that a song as beautiful as “Moon River” won an Oscar for Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

Here’s Andy Williams with his signature song, one of the finest songs of the 20th Century, from one of the finest movies ever made…it’s “Moon River”…

The video is below but, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/24AIahNHzBxm9S12peXbnG

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.

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