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Before there was Mike Meyers, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, JIM CARREY -- of
course -- there was the great and late Danny Kaye. In "The Secret Life of
Walter Mitty", Mr. Kaye gives a brilliant and hysterical performance as the
highly imaginative Walter Mitty, who escapes his own real life and pictures
himself as a whole new person, whether it's a hat designer, professional
gambler, a war hero, surgeon, etc. Yet his imagination is no longer fiction
when a real life event and adventure takes place in the dull, but unique
life of Walter Mitty.
Anyhow, I was really surprised at this movie. I thought it was going to be boring, because 1947 is 34 years before I was born, but I was really impressed by this movie. As a matter of fact, I thought it was A LOT funnier than a few comedy films they have these days. Danny Kaye really puts a smile on your face in this film. Anyone would love watching this film! It's a true classic! :o)
Whatever the setting, and there were many, Danny Kaye always played
himself -- the hypochondriacal, stuttering, cowardly, nervously
fiddling neurotic. That's pretty much what he is here, and if you
haven't seen a Danny Kaye movie this is a pretty funny introduction.
The plot violates James Thurber's short story, the point of which was that Walter Mitty daydreamed so much because his own life was so dull. It's probably Thurber's most popular story, although "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomatox" has more outright laughs. Here Kaye is involved in one richly comic episode after another.
The famous fantasies are pretty much gotten out of the way before the movie is half over. The "real" scenes are at least as amusing. He's a copy editor at a pulp magazine in New York and Boris Karloff, he of the ominous lisp, is pitching him a story about a doctor who murders people without leaving a trace by pressing on a nerve at the base of the skull. "Oh, we've already used that in 'The Revenge of the Gland Specialist'," objects Kaye.
The plot is a mystery about the planned theft of the Dutch Crown Jewels. Something to do with a murder Kaye witnesses (nobody believes him), a black book, Kaye singing silly songs, a chief conspirator nicknamed "the Boot," and a dazzling innocent blond -- Virginia Mayo -- who has a pretty sassy figure.
Watching her and Kaye talking about corsets reminded me that when I was a teen, all women seemed to be wrapped up in inexplicable buckles, plastic straps, and clips that only a deranged mechanical engineer could design. Come to think of it, I'm still out of it. I don't know whether women leave body gel on or wash it off, or what bath beads are. And when did "lipstick" turn into "lip rouge," and "rouge" turn into "blush," and "mascara" into "kohl" -- or DID it? Somebody is pulling the wool over somebody's eyes around here.
You ought to see this if only for the costume design and hair styles. Wow -- what exotica! It's impossible to believe that women ever dressed like this, or hoped to, despite Fritz Feld's glutinous paean to a hat that, although it looks like something Calder might have dreamed up during a horrible hangover, can be disassembled into three -- count 'em -- three separate parts and then be piece together into yet another arrangement. Put a tiny quail under that feathery apparatus and you're talking a two-hundred dollar entree at a four-star Parisian restaurant.
There's a likable element of running gags in here too. On three occasions Kaye's blustery boss is holding important business meetings when Kaye enters unexpectedly -- once simply late, and twice more crawling backward in through the tenth floor window pursued by pigeons.
Kaye's decline was sad. He wound up singing "Thumbelina" to a nearly empty night club in later years. But he's at his peak here, and his peak was pretty good.
Danny Kaye at his best in a fantasy/comedy about a hen-pecked (by his mom
and girlfriend) man who daydreams that he's a hero rescuing a damsel in
distress (Virginia Mayo) from all sorts of perils. In real life he stumbles
across her path and instantly becomes involved in an espionage plot
involving villainous Boris Karloff. It's all played for laughs and Danny
even gets to do a couple of his tongue-twisting musical
Especially enjoyable in the supporting cast are Ann Rutherford as his silly girlfriend and Florence Bates as her overbearing mother. Thurston Hall has fun with his role as Kaye's harried, blustery boss who, while browbeating him, is nevertheless prone to borrowing ideas from Kaye for new sales angles in the pulp fiction market.
Kaye has a field day when his dreams take over, impersonating everyone from a sea captain to a riverboat gambler to a fashion designer--all with his own distinct flair for comic routines. A funny, witty, always entertaining little gem that has somehow been overlooked through the years. Virginia Mayo makes a delightful co-star.
While WONDER MAN and THE COURT JESTER might be more consistently wacky, I thought THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (TSLoWM) brought out the vulnerable side of Danny Kaye, one of my faves since childhood (I never missed any of Kaye's movies on WPIX when I was growing up). It usually gets on my nerves when I see movie characters allowing themselves to be as put-upon and henpecked as Kaye's Walter is here, but there was a sweetness about him that made me root for him instead of merely growling, "Oh, tell 'em all to go to hell already" -- and as a result, it's that much more satisfying when Walter finally does tell off his obnoxious so-called friends and loved ones (unlike such "comedies of cruelty" as MADHOUSE, where the last 10 minutes of Revenge Against The Oppressors are the only entertaining parts of the movie)! Although James Thurber, another of my faves, reportedly tried to buy off producer Samuel Goldwyn to keep the film from being made and hated the finished product, I think perhaps Thurber wasn't being quite fair. First off, books and film have different storytelling requirements, and second, the first 10 minutes are almost straight from Thurber's story (except it's Walter and his nagging mom instead of a nagging wife :-), and it seemed to me that the characters and performances had very Thurberesque qualities about them. Boris Karloff and Konstantin Shayne are delightfully unctuous villains (Fun Fact: their henchman, Henry Corden, later became the voice of Fred Flintstone!). As Walter's literal and figurative dream girl Rosalind van Hoorn, frequent Kaye co-star Virginia Mayo was thoroughly beguiling and never looked lovelier (and hey, the radiant Mayo was a size 12 and nobody considered *her* a "plus size," thank you very much! :-). TSLoWM also contains two of my favorite Kaye/Sylvia Fine musical numbers: "Symphony for Unstrung Tongue" (am I the only one who finds the line "He gets so excited that he has a solo passage" to be subtly salacious? :-) and "Anatole of Paris." To top it all off, it takes place primarily in my hometown and favorite city, New York City, and is set in one of my favorite milieus, pulp magazine publishing! My hubby and I like to think that Uncle Peter's grand home must be located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where we used to live, since it looks like the kind of homes we used to see while walking around in the Fieldston area and it didn't seem to take horrifically long for Walter and Rosalind to drive there from the Flatiron district of Manhattan! :-) (Interestingly, the interior of the van Hoorn home looks a lot like the interior of evil Bruno Anthony's home in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN; anybody know if these scenes might have been shot in the same house/set?) I wish the DVD extras had included deleted scenes (there's a bit in the trailer with Karloff and Corden in a pub that I definitely don't recall seeing in the finished film), but it was nice to see Virginia Mayo still alive and well (and bigger than "size 12," but on her it's pleasant plumpness, in my opinion! :-) in the intro and outro, even though she only had time to say one line about most of her co-stars ("Ann Rutherford was delightful...Fay Bainter was a consummate actress...").
First I have to admit that Danny Kaye was completely unheard of to me before I saw this movie. During the summer one year, the 'Morning Movie' featured 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.' A wonderful surprise for me was the actor Danny Kaye who I had never heard of before. Instead of another boring movie that I would have to watch because there is nothing else to watch. Danny Kaye became the actor I needed to see more of because I couldn't stop laughing. Unquestionably, this movie is full of characters that complement Danny Kaye, but he is the 'star' that makes this movie shine. The variety of the storyline is well written, but not just any actor could lead this cast. If you are looking to see what a real funny movie should look like, check this one out. The movie is good, but Danny Kaye is what makes it great.
I haven't seen this movie in years yet just thinking about it, I can vividly recall parts that make me bust out laughing. You can tell the cast worked hard to keep their composure during some of Danny Kaye's antics. You can actually see them working to keep from busting out in laughter. They demonstrated a lot of professionalism. I can only imagine what the out-takes are like and how the crew might have had to be muzzled to keep from ruining miles of film footage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is generally known that this, the best known film made from a purely
James Thurber story (THE MALE ANIMAL was a collaborated play) was not
liked by Thurber. One can understand why. The actual short story is not
at all like the film, except that the central figure (Mr. Mitty) keeps
having extremely odd day dreams where he does all kinds of heroic
things that are totally at odd with his humdrum life. He is married,
and obviously is hen-pecked. Every incident of the story sets off one
of his day dreams, and (in the conclusion) he is heroically facing a
firing squad. A sort of perfect conclusion as his fantasy life mirrors
the deadly control of his real life by his wife.
The movie's Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) is not married, but he lives with his bossy mother, works for an overbearing boss who steals his ideas (Thurston Hall - he publishes Mitty's dime store adventure stories), has an overbearing girlfriend with an overbearing mother, and has a male "friend" (Gordon Jones - "Mike the Cop" on Abbott& Costello's television show) who is a loud mouth and overbearing. Mitty tunes them all out to make his life bearable. He sees himself as a great surgeon, a captain of a ship rounding Cape Horn in a typhoon (and steering with a broken arm), as a Mississippi gambler, and as the great Parisian couturier "Anatol of Paris".
Then one day he runs into a blonde woman (Virginia Mayo) who is trying to flee from a gang of desperate men, including Boris Karloff (as the head of an asylum). They are trying to get her to reveal a valuable secret that will net them all millions. Mitty is dragged into this, and finds himself being pursued by the gang, and trying to fend off the interference or criticism of his mother, boss, girl friend, etc.
One can understand Thurber's anguish, as the Goldwyn film mangles the mood conciseness of the original story. It is really a comic mood piece, commenting on the living hell Mitty has that only his imagination can free him from. The movie altered this into an adventure film dealing with a milquetoast who finds his level of real bravery. As a real artist, Thurber could only regret the changes in the story. But the film was first rate entertainment, and is among the best movies in Kaye's comedy career.
To find out how Walter finds his guts at the end, and what the "poketa, poketa" machine and sound is all about, watch this delightful comedy. Then reach for the Library of America volume on Thurber, and read the original, to see how the material was originally put down on paper.
In New York, the clumsy Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) is the publisher of
pulp fiction at the Pierce Publishing house owned by Bruce Pierce
(Thurston Hall). He lives with his overprotective and abusive mother
(Fay Bainter) and neither his fiancée Gertrude Griswold (Ann
Rutherford) and her mother (Florence Bates) nor his best friend Tubby
Wadsworth (Gordon Jones) respects him. Walter is an escapist and
daydreams into a world of fantasy many times along the day. When Walter
is commuting, he stumbles in the train with the gorgeous Rosalind van
Hoorn (Virginia Mayo) that uses Walter to escape from her pursuer.
Walter unintentionally gets involved with a dangerous ring of spies
that are seeking a black book with notes about a hidden treasure.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1947) is a hilarious comedy about a clumsy daydreamer that gets into a dangerous ring of spies. Last Saturday I watched the annoying "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013) with Ben Stiller and I decided to seek the original 1947 movie that is better and better, with many gags. Danny Kaye is very funny performing the clumsy and coward Walter Mitty. Forget the 2013 remake and prefer to see the original 1947 comedy. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): Not Available
Danny Kaye plays Walter Mitty a meek, mild man who has been pushed
around all his life by everybody. He takes refuge in elaborate
daydreams where he is always the hero. Then he runs into beautiful
Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo) who is involved with spies and
secret codes. He gets involved...but starts to wonder...is she real or
just another day dream?
I'm never seen a Danny Kaye movie in my life and he seems to be forgotten today. If this movie is any indication of his talent he deserves to be rediscovered. He was very good in his role--the one liners came fast and furious and he was also a very good physical comedian. I admit I didn't find everything funny but I was never bored. Mayo was undeniably a very beautiful actress with limited acting ability. Still she was OK. Boris Karloff pops up as one of the bad guys and gently kids his bad guy image. Very quick-moving movie, quite funny at times and (in the print showing on TCM) in just beautiful, bright Technicolor. Unfortunately they're doing a remake with (God help us!) Jim Carrey! See this--avoid the remake (if it's made). The author of the short story this was based on (James Thurber) HATED this movie. Too bad he was wrong.
The only debit for me were two LONG songs by Danny Kaye. There was nothing very wrong with them but they come out of nowhere and bring the movie to a screeching halt. For that I'm only giving this film a 9.
Danny Kaye is wonderful as the nervous and overlooked Walter Mitty in this classic film. The short story it is based on is nowhere near as spectacular as the movie, but still shares a special glow with it. Virginia Mayo sparkles as the damsel in distress that Walter must save from numerous recurring villians and hazards. Together, they bring this story of a simple man with fantastic daydreams excellently to the screen. A very good film to watch with family.
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