Kaye's a Daydream Believer
It is rumoured that not only did author James Thurber try to persuade Samuel Goldwyn from making this movie but he also disliked Danny Kaye's interpretation of Walter Mitty. The irony is that "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a wonderful movie and whilst Danny Kaye may not have delivered Thurber's vision of Walter Mitty it is his masterful comic performance which makes it so good. And it is because of Danny Kaye's performance that whilst "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is more than 60 years old is still fantastic entertainment.
Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye - The Five Pennies) is a bit of a day dreamer, capable of escaping to a fantasy world at the drop of the hat and at the most inopportune times. In some ways it is a gift as it makes him great at his job as an editor at a publisher of pulp fiction novels but it also means that he is not only occasionally accident prone but pushed around by the women in his life especially his mother. But Walter finds himself living one of his fantasies when he meets the attractive Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo - Westbound) who says she is being followed and before long Walter is not only being followed but finds himself in possession of an important black book pertaining to the location of the Dutch crown jewels.
I've never read James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" so I don't know whether producer Samuel Goldwyn and director Norman Z. McLeod have done it justice or come up with a more comedic interpretation. But the basic storyline of a day dreaming fantasist drawn into a wild adventure with shady men trying to kill him and a beautiful woman to save is so much fun. It is not just the basic idea because it is also the characters and from Walter's domineering mother to his blustering boss they are all part of this amusing adventure.
But the truth is that whilst Thurber's storyline is great it is Danny Kaye who makes "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" such a great movie even now over 60 years later. And the simple reason is that Kaye was not just a movie star, he was an entertainer and all these fantasy elements where Walter imagines himself either a WWII hero or a gambler on a steam boat work because of Kaye's fantastic comic ability. It has to be said that Kaye has some wonderful dialogue to work with, from amusing lyrics in the musical numbers to the clever writing when it comes to elements of real life moulding his fantasies but it is Kaye's delivery, the quickness and face pulling which is still fantastic and unmatched by modern movie stars.
Whilst Danny Kaye is the star of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" he is aided by an equally wonderful cast with Boris Karloff delivering some wonderfully ominous scenes as Dr. Hollingshead, especially the introduction to him in Walter's office. But it is Virginia Mayo as Rosalind van Hoorn who gets closest to stealing scenes away from Kaye, not just because she radiates beauty but also because she sets so many great scenes up for Kaye.
What this all boils down to is that "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" maybe over 60 years old and as I write this a new version with Ben Stiller is in the making but thanks to Danny Kaye the 1947 version is still great. Kaye's ability as an entertainer brings this movie to life and it is his great comic timing which makes it so memorable.