Monday, January 13, 2014

Secret World

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: based on the short story by James Thurber, written by Philip Rapp, Everett Freeman, and Ken Englund; directed by Norman Z. McLeod; starring Danny Kaye (Walter Mitty), Virginia Mayo (Rosalind van Hoorn), Boris Karloff (Dr. Hollingshead), Fay Bainter (Mrs. Mitty), Ann Rutherford (Gertrude Griswold) and Thurston Hall (Bruce Pierce) (1947): Hit film of 1947 follows James Thurber's short story almost verbatim for the first 20 minutes or so until it (necessarily) expands into a narrative involving spies, art theft, and a Nazi mastermind named The Boot.

The patience of some people (including James Thurber) was tested by the inclusion of several musical set-pieces for star Danny Kaye. Fast-paced, comical, tongue-twisting songs were Kaye's speciality, and he performs two here in their entirety. If you hate them, fast forward.

Kaye plays well-meaning, eternally day-dreaming Walter Mitty with real charm. The rest of the cast is solid as well, with Virginia Mayo as a love interest who pulls the engaged and somewhat infantilized Mitty into the world of espionage and, ultimately, adult-hood. Boris Karloff makes a great villain, as always, and ubiquitous character actor Thurston Hall sputters and fulminates nicely as Mitty's magazine-editor boss.

One of the things that marks this as a non-contemporary Hollywood movie is that Mitty's awakening doesn't turn him into a superheroic Everyman. He has to use his brains and a bit of luck when the plot reaches full boil. Adulthood didn't require hypercompetent ultraviolence in 1947. Recommended.

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