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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Aug. 14, 1947)

Norman Z. McLeod’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a pretty funny film, and sometimes funny is all you need.

It wasn’t all James Thurber needed at the time the film was made, however. The movie was based on Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name, and he was extremely unhappy with all the changes made to it. He also hated Danny Kaye’s performance as Mitty, since it was nothing like how he had originally conceived of the character.

I haven’t read Thurber’s short story. If I had, this movie and the liberties it took with the source material might have irritated me.

As it was, the only thing that irritated me was the length of some of the film’s musical interludes. Danny Kaye is an engaging and likable performer, but he milks his musical stand-up comedy bits for such a long time that I had more fun watching the amused extras than I had watching Kaye.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a Technicolor extravaganza that follows the misadventures of a put-upon editor named Walter Mitty (Kaye). Mitty lives with his mother (played by Fay Bainter) and commutes into New York City every morning to his job at a company that publishes pulp magazines. He also has a rich fantasy life, and imagines himself as a sea captain, a brilliant surgeon, a gunslinger in the Old West, a … well, you get the idea.

He’s engaged to a girl who doesn’t really love him named Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford), his mother piles errands on him until packages are literally falling out of his arms, his boss Mr. Pierce (Thurston Hall) steals his ideas, and Mitty takes it all in stride. One day, however, the girl who prominently features in all of his daydreams (Virginia Mayo) suddenly appears in the flesh, and Mitty is drawn into a real-life adventure involving stolen jewels and a spy ring. A grim-looking assassin who masquerades as a psychiatrist named Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (played by a perfectly cast Boris Karloff) dogs Mitty’s every move, first trying to kill him, then trying to convince him that the whole affair was just another one of his daydreams.

It may not be a deep film, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a lot of fun. It’s a production of The Samuel Goldwyn Company, so of course the luscious Goldwyn Girls are on hand for all those department store dressing-room scenes and lingerie-modeling bits that are integral to the film’s story.

3 responses »

  1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not only a great film, it’s a great piece of film history. It’s a FUN, clever movie featuring the considerable talents of a legend in the entertainment industry, Danny Kaye. To be ‘irritated’ by these superb fantasy interludes shows a tremendous lack of appreciation and understanding of film making of the period. Audiences of today, instead of being so quick to look down their noses at the great films of the past, need to realize that great films contain more than sexual innuendo, car chases, and foul language. I weep for the future if wonderful films like ‘Mitty’ irritate the audience

  2. Did you actually read my review before writing your diatribe? I really liked “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and said that the only thing that irritated me was the length of Kaye’s two musical numbers, not any of the “fantasy interludes” of the film. Having a difference of opinion about how funny this whole scene is — — or whether or not it goes on too long does not represent a “tremendous lack of appreciation and understanding of film making of the period.” A single negative comment about a single aspect of a film made in 1947 shouldn’t make you weep for the future, unless you’re looking for reasons to be curmudgeonly.

  3. I have to agree with Thurber. If I had been he, I would have been appalled at how my character was treated. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the movie; that was how I ended up on this site, but the movie’s character and especially the plot had precious little to do with the original story.


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