Warner's December 10, 2013 DVD release of the 1947 classic film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is part of the "Danny Kaye Centennial" that celebrates the 100th anniversary of this truly unparalleled genius' birth. Unreal TV's review of "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" is the first entry in a series of posts on recent DVD releases of his films. A review of the release "Danny Kaye Double Feature" will wrap up this series before this celebration ends.
This release of "Mitty" also provides folks who are eagerly anticipating the Christmas Day opening of Ben Stiller's remake a chance to see what Stiller is up against. World-class sofa spuds may also remember the Mittyesque 1983 six-episode sitcom "Reggie," which starred "Soap's" Richard Mulligan.
Both films and the sitcom are based on the well-known 1939 short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by uber-awesome humorist James Thurber. The Kaye film does a great job using the concept of a middle-aged man escaping his problems by entering vivid daydreams to showcase Kaye's talents.
Kaye's Mitty is a mild-mannered proofreader for a publisher of pulp-fiction magazines that offers scifi, crime, horror, and "true romance" publications that are typical of the day. His home life consists of living with his constantly badgering mother and regular visits with his fiancee through what is essentially an arranged marriage.
Triggering the daydreams requires a stressful situation, such as Mitty's boss once again claiming one of his ideas as his own or his mother nattering on about errands that she wants him to run on his lunch hour, and a stimulus for the setting of the daydream. An image of an 19th century sailing ship mentally transports Mitty to piloting such a vessel through a very violent storm, and reading about a flying ace leads to Mitty imagining himself easily shooting Nazis out of the sky.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Mitty's" trailer offers a glimpse of every fantasy sequence and provides a sense of the great fun of the film.
The flying ace segment particularly provides Kaye a chance to shine. An evening of drinking with his comrades-in-arms leads to said Ace doing a wonderful impersonation of a heavily accented music professor who is using song, dance, and clowning to instruct his class on the components of a symphony. This is very reminiscent of a scene from "Up in Arms" in the "Goldwyn" set in which Kaye uses an extended musical number to relay the entire plot of a film.
Another particularly amusing fantasy sequence has Kaye imagining himself as a flamboyant French hat designer. His singing the line "I hate women" and designing a hat with a model of a home on it are hilarious.
One constant of the daydreams is that the persona that Mitty adopts inevitably becomes the hero of a gorgeous blonde, played by regular co-star Virgina Mayo. As the "Goldwyn" review states, Mayo should always be held but never excluded.
Fantasy and reality quickly intersect when Mayo's Rosalind van Hoorn and Mitty are strangers who meet on a commuter train. van Hoorn's attempt to escape a pursuer soon ensnare Mitty in real life intrigue. Aside from dodging assassins, Mitty faces the challenge of convincing the people in his reality that the real-world perilous adventure in which he has embarked is not a fantasy.
In addition to telling a wonderfully entertaining story in glorious technicolor, "Mitty" offers the fun casting of Boris Karloff as a very sinister member of the criminal gang who is after Mitty, and the chorus that makes up the Goldwyn Girls who appear in several Kaye films show up as models.
This film is as fun one to watch over the holidays either while snowed in or during a period in which a prolonged visit with family makes thinking about escaping into a fantasy world very appealing.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Mitty" or Kaye is encouraged to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.