Breakfast in Classic Movies (and How it Drives the Plot) - Part 1

Breaking bread with a person is an intimate activity. To do so first thing in the morning suggests the person carries a certain level of importance in your life (at least for that day or that moment).

When this morning ritual occurs in a movie, an audience has the time to be with the characters in their moments of vulnerability; we get to know them and like them (or not).

Hungry? Let's have breakfast with the stars.

Breakfast in Bed
Movie: All About Eve (1950)

The Breakfast

It's your usual tray of coffee, jam, toast and who knows what else.  What is being served for breakfast in this scene is not as important as where it is being served.

Birdie the maid (Thelma Ritter) brings breakfast to Margo the actress (Bette Davis) in the bedroom. They suspect the new personal assistant Eve (Anne Baxter) of nefarious plans.

A few minutes later, Eve, the potential villain, interrupts and comes in on the pretext of running errands.  The dialogue here could easily have been done in a different room, but they choose Margo's bedroom for a reason.

How it Drives the Plot

Breakfast in bed is a device to place a confidential topic in the most intimate spot in the house -the actress' boudoir- thus having Eve violate what is sacred.

Eve entering the room is a part of increasingly familiar maneuvers that this young opportunist will commit. Eve will later do much more than intrude on her boss' conversations, potentially threatening every aspect of Margo's successful life.

Breakfast in Bed, Part 2
Movie: One Touch of Venus (1948)

The Breakfast 

A secretary (Eve Arden) casually walks into her employer's bedroom, grabs a bite of toast and jam while waiting for him (Tom Conway) to finish a telephone conversation.

How it Drives the Plot

To share breakfast with someone  tends to be an indication of warmth and solidarity in old films. And to share breakfast in bed -even when one of them is standing up- shows another layer of a companionship between characters.

The employer and his right hand lady share a close-knit, seemingly platonic relationship. There's an indication that wedding bells might soon ring for this couple. Still, we don't know yet; he's about to be distracted by a living statue of Venus (Ava Gardner).

Breakfast on the Go

Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

The Breakfast 

Of course, we are obligated to include this famous breakfast scene. But it's a good one.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly leisurely eats a danish and coffee by herself in the morning as she gazes at shiny objects in the window of Tiffany & Co. jewelry store.

How it Drives the Plot
Holly's breakfast is notable as a solitary breaking of the fast. Meaning that everyone else we discuss today who consumes a meal does so with someone else nearby. That's not the case for this opening scene.

She's in an evening gown at dawn, which in classic movies suggests she's been to a wild party. The lady might be using this alone time before another mad round of soirees begins.

Holly hasn't said a word and already she's an intriguing character. Observing her silent meal whets the appetite for the rest of the film.

Breakfast in Bed with Jewelry
Movie: Ball of Fire (1941)/ A Song is Born (1948)

The Breakfast 
A timid professor proposes to a nightclub singer who he doesn't know is on the lam. He places the engagement ring under the lid of a plate of toast and serves her breakfast in bed. But she's not hungry. She simply drinks the juice and black coffee ("Just jav, no cow").

It's an awkward few seconds as he stares at the plate's lid and tries to get her to pick it up. ("Won't you have some toast?")

In addition to that, this is a rather daring scene for a classic film, considering an unmarried man and woman are speaking to each other alone, in her bedroom, while she's still in her bed jacket ... and with the door closed! But the character bumbling around, making a fool of himself, distracts from what was considered risqué.

How it Drives the Plot
This awkward proposal over toast and coffee progresses the plot.

(1) The shy professor is stepping out of his comfort zone to pursue a love interest, even breaking societal norms to express his infatuation.
(2)The fugitive will use her potential nuptials with the professor to get away from New York City and away from the police.

Will he discover her true intentions? This guy is in for plenty of heartbreak. But not before breakfast.

A Cup of Coffee and a Kiss
 Movie: Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)

The Breakfast
A busy wife (Doris Day) brings her husband (David Niven) a cup of coffee just as he wakes up from a late commute the previous evening. They kiss, which is good. He tells her about his work and she's too busy minding the dog to listen; this does not bode well for their relationship - the crux of the whole plot.

There is a potential threat to their marriage in the form of a stressful move to the country, the husband's new commuting routine and an ambitious actress waiting to pounce on the guy whenever he's in the city.

How it Drives the Plot
The movie is letting us know with this simple cup of coffee that, despite the impending turmoil, the couple is still together... for now.

You're Fired! (and Before Breakfast, Even)
 Movie: The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

The Breakfast 
Jody Varner has just discovered that his father has fired him from the family business. He dashes outside in his pajamas to the lawn where Mr. Varner, the elder sits consuming the morning meal.

Jody attempts to discuss the decision, then segues into whether his father loves him. Mr. Varner continues eating, then dismissively tells the son to go fishing.

How it Drives the Plot
Throughout this scene, the father rarely looks up from his breakfast as his son pours out his heart to the man who sired him. Mr. Varner's scrambled eggs are more important.

This tells you
(1) The decision is final. There will not be reams of discussion about Jody returning to his job.
(2) His not looking away from the meal indicates the shame the father has for a disappointing son.

It's a chilling scene.

What are your favorite classic movie breakfasts?
Read the second part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 2
Read the third part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 3


  1. Love this post and your analysis on the intimacy of breakfast, and clever use of the ritual nature of the meal in film. Really enjoyed this.

  2. Very interesting article. I wanted more.

    I never make soft boiled eggs without hearing Claudette Colbert from the opening of "The Egg and I" starting to tell us the story of her marriage.

  3. I like the breakfast scenes from "Citizen Kane" to mark the passage of time.
    Wonderful post!

  4. Jacqueline,
    Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy a visit from you. :)

    Caftan Woman,
    You can get more in part 2 here:

    Silver Screenings,
    Citizen Kane, yes! That's a great one. Very efficient storytelling by having the married couple age in seconds at the breakfast table. Changing from adoring newlyweds to cantankerous people in a moment's notice. Love it!

    Thanks everyone.

    - Java


Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


About Java

"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email:


Blog Archive

Writer's Block Doesn't Stand a Chance