The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty fantasizes exciting and impossible lives where he is heroic, brave and always gets the girl. Much of this is fueled by the pulp magazines he reads each day as an editor. However, in real life, Mitty lives with his bossy mother (Fay Bainter) and is engaged to his childish fiancée (Ann Rutherford). Also, in his life is his fiancée’s would-be suitor (Gordon Jones), and her loud mouth mother (Florence Bates). His life at work is no better being constantly harassed by his overbearing, idea stealing boss (Thurston Hall). A chance encounter with a mysterious woman who resembles the girl in all of his fantasies, Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo), makes Mitty’s life even more complicated. Rosalind is working with her uncle to secure some Dutch crown jewels hidden from the Nazis during World War II. Mitty has to juggle helping Rosalind and her uncle and his mundane home life, while trying to become the hero he always dreamed he could be.
The film is loosely based on the short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty written by James Thurber. The story was first published on March 18, 1939 in The New Yorker. Ken Englund and Everett Freeman were given the task of adapting Thurber’s story into a film for Samuel Goldwyn Productions. According to Thurber, producer Samuel Goldwyn rejected the original script. Goldwyn wanted the movie to be a vehicle to showcase Kaye’s talents. Thurber was so disappointed with the changes in the film that he would later refer to it as The Public Life of Danny Kaye. The film was also adapted into a radio drama for the Screen Guild Theater on November 3, 1947 with Kaye and Mayo reprising their roles.
The character of Walter Mitty was so popular and relatable that the name became a term to refer to “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumph.” (The American Heritage Dictionary) Warner studio head, Jack Warner in his autobiography, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood used the term when referencing Errol Flynn, “To the Walter Mittys of the world he [Flynn] was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package.” This quote summarizes the heroic fantasies and daydreams of Mitty in both the short story and film versions of the character.
For those who are new to classic film, this movie is a great introduction to the work of Danny Kaye. Goldwyn accomplished his goal of showcasing Kaye and his talents as a comedian, dancer, and singer. This is not a film that is meant as an accent to a literary work. The original Walter Mitty story was really only used as an idea for a movie character.
Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and John Goldwyn had been working for years to remake the Walter Mitty film. In April of 2011, it was announced that Ben Stiller would be playing Walter Mitty in a new film set for release in 2013. The film would also be directed by Stiller. Now that the film has been released, I’m unsure how it will stand against the original. I’ll let you know once I see it.
This is a revised version of a post that appeared on this website on January 20, 2013 as the feature movie for the weekly Classic Movie Night Recommendation.