We all have moments when we daydream. A spoken word, an image, a song, launches us into a realm of fantasy where we place ourselves center stage in the drama. Timid magazine proofreader Walter Mitty ( Danny Kaye ) has these dreams too. As an ace pilot gunning down Nazis; a sea captain battling a fierce storm; a riverboat gambler exposing a cheat; or a square-jawed gunslinger, Mitty is always the hero with the beautiful blonde clinging to his side. With the steady thumping of "ta-pockita ta-pockita" he uses his overripe imagination to escape from his humdrum reality and his henpecking mother ( Fay Bainter ).However, Mitty finds it difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality when the beautiful damsel from his dreams ( Virginia Mayo ) appears before him in real life and pleads for his aid in a dangerous situation involving spies. The clumsy milquetoast also realizes he may not have the backbone to face the adventure he has always been seeking.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was based upon a short story by James Thurber ( The Male Animal ) originally published in The New Yorker magazine in 1939 which featured Walter married to a nagging wife.
Ken Englund and Everett Freeman's took Thurber's story and rewrote Mitty as a bachelor, tied to his mother's apron-strings, and engaged to a pretty but obnoxious young woman ( Ann Rutherford ). They also reworked the story into a clever blend of comedy and intrigue centering around the theft of a little black book containing the whereabouts to priceless Dutch art treasures hidden from the Nazis. Danny Kaye is given ample opportunity to display his comedic antics and particularly shines in the non-dream sequences. While there are many highly amusing moments in the film, there are also some missed opportunities. Parts of the script are inconsistent with one scene apparently missing/cut and Walter's transformation at the end of the film seemed too sudden. Kaye's famous sing-song number "Symphony for Unstrung Tongue " ( penned by his wife Sylvia ) is too zany for our taste and halts the momentum of the picture but his second silly song "Anatole of Paris" is quite entertaining, especially since it takes place within an Irene Sharaff fashion sequence starring the Goldwyn girls.
|It's no wonder Mitty thinks he has imagined these crooks...just look at them!|
"Perhaps you are mistaking me for someone else." Dr. Hollingshead ( Boris Karloff )
"Oh no. No one looks as much like you do as you do." Walter Mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was released on September 1, 1947 and received much praise from critics and audiences alike. It seems like the only person not amused by the film was its author. James Thurber did not enjoy seeing his story rewritten in such a slapstick Hollywood fashion and even refused to attend the premiere. He felt that Samuel Goldwyn had discarded his work and used only the basis of it as a vehicle for Danny Kaye's shenanigans, dubbing the film The Private Life of Danny Kaye. In fact, after reading the final script, Thurber offered Goldwyn $10,000 not to film his story!
|The stiff in the cab.|
"Walter, what's that awful smell?" Gertrude Griswold
"It's that cologne you gave me for Christmas." Walter
"It's lovely, isn't it?" Gertrude Griswold
An interesting aspect of Englund and Freeman's screen adaptation is that while Walter Mitty often dreamed of becoming the hero who aids a woman in distress, when the opportunity arose in real life he refused to accept it; not once, but three times. In the first instance, while they are in a taxi cab, Virginia Mayo asks him for his assistance in helping retrieve the "little black book" and Mitty refuses because he is late for work.
Director Norman Z. McLeod, who had filmed numerous comedies of the 1930s ( Monkey Business, Topper, It's a Gift ) took the helm and did a marvelous job directing this brisk-paced comedy. Special mention should go to art director Perry Ferguson who created a wonderful contrast between the colorful settings of Walter's dream sequences and his dark and old-fashioned home.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is highly entertaining escapism and - in spite of its inconsistencies - showcases Danny Kaye at his chaotic best. The Technicolor is stunning and the film boasts a great cast of supporting players including Boris Karloff, Thurston Hall, Florence Bates, Gordon Jones, Reginald Denny, and Konstantin Shayne.