Director – Norman Z. Mcleod
Writer – Philip Rapp, Ken Englund, Everett Freeman
Starring – Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo
If you want to have more hoots than a battalion of tawny owls, and to witness comedy genius at its best, then this is an adventure story for you.
Made almost sixty years before Ben Stiller’s recent remake, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars the vivacious and effervescent Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty, an absent-minded, yet highly imaginative proof reader who works for a firm that publishes sensational pulp magazines. Constantly hen-pecked by his mother, insipid fiancé, boss and vile in-laws, Walter spends most of his time having lurid day-dreams of being a classy, infallible hero. In a series of beautifully stylized scenes, breathlessly interlaced within the over-arching narrative, we get to watch Danny Kaye flexing his comedy, acting and singing muscles as a master surgeon, swanky old time gambler, effete French hat designer, singing fighter pilot, and pugnacious cowboy.
However, quite by accident, Mitty finds himself ensnared in a genuine conspiracy adventure when he sits next to a beautiful blonde (Virginia Mayo) on the train one day, whom he had previously only seen in his fantasies. Quickly embroiled in some intrigue involving a cabal of murderous art thieves, Mitty, the bumbling buffoon, must swiftly learn to bridge the gap between his own clumsy pusillanimity, and the wicked grace of the heroes he imagines himself as.
The result is spell-bindingly silly and side-splittingly funny. Danny Kaye has a physical comedy style unmatched since the early silent comedians. Every scene is crammed with as many gags as it can reasonably contain without become excessive, each one perfectly timed in its execution. I really am amazed that I have never come across this actor before, as he has all the energy and comic integrity of the three Marx Brothers combined. He exhibits more flexibility and ingenuity than most actors display in their entire careers, and I was quite concerned that I might stop breathing for want of laughing at him so much!
Of note, especially, are the two musical numbers that have been squeezed in, giving Kaye an opportunity to exhibit his frenetic energy to the fullest, without having to worry about being too silly. He reminds me very much of Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain, with maybe an extra pinch of cocaine for moral support.
One of the film’s magical numbers – Can be found here.
Another nice touch is the surprise appearance of Boris Karloff as a sinister hoodlum disguising himself as a benign psychiatrist and homicide expert. “Did you know that if you impale a man’s brain with an icicle, you can kill him quite satisfactorily without leaving a trace?” he asks Mitty, not long before he pushes him out the window!
Why this movie isn’t a comedy classic I don’t know. A surprising and colourful fantasy adventure of comedic grace, with genuine moments of Hitchcockian terror and farce, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is likely to capture the laughter of even the most absent-minded of viewers.
Final Rating – 4.7