An Audrey Hepburn Showdown: Sabrina v. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

andy w August 8, 2012 3
An Audrey Hepburn Showdown: Sabrina v. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Sabrina vs. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Two of Audrey Hepburn’s most famous movies are now a part of Netflix’s “Classics” section.  It’s our first Netflix showdown, between Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Both movies are wildly famous, but are they really as good as their reputations suggest?  Here, we’ll review the formulaic similarities of both films.  
The GirlThe movies were made seven years apart, but there’s surprisingly little difference in the way Hepburn delivers a line.  Hepburn is always Hepburn.  She’s not the greatest actress who ever lived, but she certainly has presence.  In Sabrina, she plays the titular character—an insecure chauffer’s daughter in love with her employer’s youngest son, David Larrabee.  After a failed suicide attempt, she ventures off to Paris for two years and returns with a new air about her.  She’s confident and headstrong.  And she’s out to have David once and for all, if his meddling brother, Linus, doesn’t get to her first, as David is engaged to be married to the daughter of a potential business partner.

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she plays Holly Golightly.  It sounds like a Bond Girl’s name, doesn’t it?  Holly is a former country bumpkin turned worldly socialite who spends her time in the company of wealthy men.  One day, a young struggling writer, Paul Varjak, moves into the apartment below her.  The two strike up a fast friendship, but will it evolve into something more? 

In a way, Holly is the socialite Sabrina becomes while she’s in Paris.  In fact, if Breakfast at Tiffany’s took place in Paris, it could easily be seen as a companion piece to Sabrina.  Overall, Sabrina is a much more sympathetic and dynamic character, and less whispy as Holly. While the acting is, essentially, the same, Sabrina is a more likable character to root for.  

The Love InterestIt wouldn’t be an Audrey Hepburn movie if there wasn’t a love interest.  In Sabrina, it’s David, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s  Paul. While both could be classified as “playboys,” their personalities aren’t similar at all.  David is friendly and likes to have fun.  Paul is distant and a bit rigid.  He doesn’t open up.  In fact, there’s a snooty aura to Paul that makes it seem as though he looks down on the world.  While David likes to smile with every sentence he says, Paul seems to be morally opposed to do anything but look tense.

David Larrabee is played by William Holden, an Academy Award winning legend.  Paul Varjak is played by George Peppard.  This is about the only movie people might know Varjak from.  When it comes right down to it, it’s mostly the acting choices that make the difference, and Holden easily takes the crown. 

The Triangle
Hepburn characters seem to have a penchant for older men.  In both movies, an older man plays an opposing love interest.  Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) plays David’s older brother.  He’s a stiff businessman who’s never had time for love.  He plans to woo Sabrina away from David so David will marry a rich sugar-cane farmer’s daughter, as the sugar will help in the aid of the Larrabee’s newest business venture: plastics.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s Jose Luis de Vilallonga plays José da Silva Pereira, a rich Brazilian money launderer, who Holly plans to marry for his money. 
It isn’t a totally fair comparison, as Linus has much more screen time than Jose.  And it only hurts Jose’s case that Linus just happens to be played by Humphrey Bogart—The American Film Institute’s greatest acting legend.  This isn’t Bogart’s best role, however.  He’s far too old for Hepburn and their chemistry isn’t very exciting.  In fact, they don’t even kiss.  Perhaps it stems from the fact that Bogart never cared for Hepburn as an actress and resented her for being cast over his wife, Lauren Bacall.  While both love triangles in the movie are largely laughable, Sabrina’s isn’t as abrupt and does feel more organic to the story. 
The Jaded Other
Things aren’t so simple for either love triangle, as there’s another triangle outside each one.  Sabrina’s David’s fiancé is sweet and slightly naïve, and represents a multi-million dollar deal for Larrabbe Enterprises.  Tiffany’s Paul’s older lover (who also pays for his apartment), Emily, is David’s sole financial support.  If either’s heart is broken, someone is going to be financially hurt. 
The stakes aren’t as high in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as there is absolutely no reason Paul can’t go out and get himself another job.  But losing out on a $20 million business deal (which was massive in the ‘50s), which is the case in Sabrina, isn’t something that’s easy to shy away from. 
The ClothesOkay, we can’t do a showdown of these two movies without mentioning Hepburn’s wardrobes.  They always play their own character in each of her films.  But, since we don’t know anything about fashion, we’ll just let you decide.  In Sabrina, Hepburn’s signature look is a ball gown.  In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s a black dress–which is arguably the most famous dress ever worn in movies. 

The Music
Sabrina sings a merry acapella version “La Vie En Rose,” which suggests that her time in Paris has made her life, and personality, rosier.  It was already a popular song before the film.  Holly plaintively sings “Moon River.”  “Moon River” is one of the best songs to come from movies.  The score in Tiffany’s is also more memorable, as it features the lietmotifs from the popular theme song. 
Final Thoughts
Sabrina is a much better movie than Breakfast at Tiffany’s because it has an actual story and greater conflict.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s, while more popular, is a movie without a plot, it’s more of a slice-of-life romantic comedy that’s neither particularly romantic or funny.  Sabrina is a well-crafted and finely acted film with beautiful B&W cinematography.  It’s a definite watch.  Skip Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  


  1. Emily August 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm -

    Wow. I could not disagree more. It is true Breakfast at Tiffany’s does have less of a definable plot, but it has much more depth than you give it credit for and actually examines flawed characters rather than caricatures. Its purpose is to examine life and love… how sometimes our own insecurities are what’s actually holding us back. It certainly resonated with me a lot more than Sabrina. To each his own.

  2. Andy W. August 10, 2012 at 7:05 am -

    The main reasons I didn’t like Breakfast at Tiffany’s rested with the love interest (he wasn’t likable to me), and, as is the case with most Blake Edwards movies, several scenes lasted longer than they needed to. Like the party scene, or the unnecessary subplot with Doc Golightly–which was resolved as quickly as it was presented, then expected to be very moving as Doc rode away on the bus. It almost felt like the script was telling us what these characters were supposed to be feeling, rather than showing us… if that makes sense.

    I agree that BaT has more depth, since Sabrina is pretty much a fluff story, but for me, it just wasn’t an enjoyable enough experience to want to know more. :-/

    That said, both are better than Robin and Marion!

  3. Sarah August 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm -

    Well, I think that just as I am never going to love a guy’s flick the same way a guy would, a guy is never going to love a chick flick as much as a gal would.

    I agree that there isn’t a strong storyline that is present in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But that’s because the story isn’t really a story. It’s the realization that both characters come to that just because they aren’t perfect and they have made mistakes, it doesn’t mean they are worthless. In fact, they are very much worthwhile when the rely on each other. It is coming to the realization that they have the opportunity to save each other from the poor choices that they have made and the hard luck that life has doled out to them.

    As for Sabrina, it is a perfect romantic comedy. It is funny and charming. I don’t know if I have ever found Humphrey Bogart funnier.

    And as for the clothes, Audrey Hepburn relied heavily on Givenchy. Edith Head might have gotten credit for Sabrina, but she wasn’t the driving force. The clothes are great in both movies…you are just seeing two different decades’ take on fashion. 50’s vs. 60’s. And both movies show each decades’ fashion in the best light.

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