Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Danny Kaye at his Best

Ben Stiller’s remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a mediocre film lacking charm and wit.   It’s worth revisiting the original film, made in 1947, as a tribute to the centennial of Danny Kaye.

the_secret_life_of_walter_mitty_posterConsidered by many critics to be Danny Kaye’s best picture, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is based on the 1939 short story by James Turner, who was not pleased with the adaptation made by producer Samuel Goldwyn, who invested more than $3 million into this lavish production.

Thurber, who reportedly offered money not to make his movie, was wrong, for this Technicolor musical comedy proved to be extremely popular with the public and critics.

Kaye, then at the height of his popularity, stars as Walter, a milquetoast proofreader for a magazine publishing firm. Walter is incapable of standing up for himself, which is why his mother (Fay Bainter) has arranged for him a marriage with the beautiful but overbearing Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford).

A middle-aged man, he escapes his dreary reality by imagining himself occupying various positions. Thus, as he muses over the lurid covers of the magazines, published by his firm, Walter retreats into his fantasy world, where he is heroic, poised, self-assured, and, most important of all, the master of his fate.

Looking at the cover of a western periodical, Walter fancies himself the two-gun “Perth Amboy Kid,” while war magazine prompts Walter to see himself as RAF pilot.

the_secret_life_of_walter_mitty_4Throughout his imaginary adventures, a mysterious woman drops in an out of his fables. Soon, the dream girl surprises Walter when she shows up as Rosalind van Horn (played by Virginia Mayo, Kaye’s frequent co-star).

Unfortunately, Rosalind is pursued by a gang of jewel thieves, headed by Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (Boris Karloff), a psychiatrist who convinces Walter that he’s imagining things and that Rosalind never existed.

As a result, Walter vows to live his life in the present rather than in his fabulous mind. He rescues Rosalind from the gang, stands up to his mother and Gertrude, and talks his way into a better position with the publishing firm.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty contains some entertaining musical production numbers, especially “Anatole of Paris,” which became one of Kaye’s signature songs.

the_secret_life_of_walter_mitty_2The sound of Water’s imaginary life-saving machine, pucketa, pucketa, pucketa, is still impressive. Holding up extremely well, the movie combines to an advantage Kaye’s famous zaniness as a performer with author Thurber’s genuinely whimsical tale.

Watching Boris Karloff doing a burlesque of himself and his screen image (“Frankenstein”)—without make-up—also offers a lot of fun.

 

 

 

Credits

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Running time: 110 Minutes.
Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod
Written By: Ken Englund, Everett Freeman
Camera: Lee Garmes
Music: David Raksin
Art Direction: George Jenkins and Perry Ferguson
Editing: Monica Collingwood
Costumes: Irene Sharaff
Special Effects: John P. Fulton

Cast

Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty
Virginia Mayo as Rosalind Van Hoorn
Boris Karloff as Dr. Hugo Hollingshead
Fay Bainter as Mrs. Mitty
Ann Rutherford as Gertrude Griswold
Thurston Hall as Bruce Pierce
Florence Bates as Mrs. Griswold
Gordon Jones as Tubby Wadsworth
Konstantin Shayne as Peter Van Hoom
Reginald Denny as R.A.F. Colonel
Henry Corden as Hendrick
Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Follinsbee
Fritz Feld as Anatole
Frank Reicher as Maasdam
Milton Parsons as Butler/Tyler