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  Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The What A Day For A Daydream
Year: 1947
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Stars: Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Boris Karloff, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford, Thurston Hall, Gordon Jones, Florence Bates, Konstantin Shayne, Reginald Denny, Henry Corden, Doris Lloyd, Fritz Feld, Milton Parsons
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Meek Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) is under the thumb of everyone in his life, from his mother (Fay Bainter) who is always ordering him about, to his boss Mr Pierce (Thurston Hall) who makes no bones about passing off Walter's ideas for his publishing business as his own. But as the milquetoast cowers before all those who would push him around, he does have an escape from the real world, for he is in possession of a vivid imagination which he loses himself in whenever there's an opportunity. Much like the heroes of his pulp fiction magazines, he can be as brave and capable as he wants in his own mind...

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is probably comedian Danny Kaye's best known movie these days, but not everyone was a fan: most famously, the original author of the short story it was drawn from, which lasts but around three pages or so making it very brief indeed, was James Thurber the popular American humourist, and he offered MGM studio boss Samuel Goldwyn ten thousand dollars (a considerable amount back then) to try and persuade him not to film the story at all. He didn't get his wish, and after it had been completed he would badmouth the results to anyone who asked, as if it had all played out as he expected.

Mind you, if you've made up your mind about something before it's even created then little wonder if it lives down to your expectations, because there were plenty who appreciated the movie when it was released, and it became a popular staple of television, offering younger generations a chance to catch up with this once-superfamous screen talent. With that in mind, what Hollywood did to the Thurber tale, barely an anecdote really, was typical of the way they would beef up slender material by turning it into something more familiar to movie fans, so although it began as a comedy in the vein of the source it soon took a diversion into romance and thriller for more substance.

But if you really had to make something of the premise of an inveterate daydreamer, then you could do worse than what Kaye and his team conjured up here, bearing in mind that audiences of the day expected him to perform one of his superfast, tongue-twisting routines at some point - here he does two, both penned by his wife Sylvia Fine as ever, and tending to stick out as party pieces rather than something pertinent to the plot as it unfolded. Yet seeing as how there are only a couple of such routines, Mitty can be the ideal film to introduce Kaye's stylings to those unfamiliar with him, as in many cases his pinpoint-exacting yet shameless hamminess in these can be embarrassing to watch if you're not used to them.

Otherwise, Kaye had the best of both worlds with this role, as he could be the panicky comic performer in peril with quite some amusing effect while in the fantasy sequences he flexed his acting muscles essaying the dashing hero, be he fighter pilot, surgeon or Wild West gunslinger. Back in the real world Walter finds himself embroiled in a mess of spying and doublecrossing when Dutch agent Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo, often the leading lady to screen comedians of this era) sits next to him on the train and so begins an association where a notebook containing a list of stolen Dutch treasures passes into Mitty's hands without him realising what is going on. Before long he's seen a man murdered and Boris Karloff is trying to push him out of a window, the kind of comedy thriller material that the humorous leading men of the day were all too adept at, and in the bumbling, aspirational Walter Mitty an ideal role for Kaye. The scene where he finally puts everyone in their place is most satisfying. Music by David Raksin. Pocketa, pocketa, pocketa...
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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