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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Classic Film Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars Danny Kaye as the titular character, a daydreamer who has always been pushed around but suddenly finds himself involved a real-life conspiracy where he is unfortunately himself and not one of the suave, muscular men he imagines himself to be in his daydreams. He crosses paths with Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo) who is trying to keep a highly important book about hidden treasure from nefarious men trying to get their hands on it, including the exceedingly creepy Boris Karloff as Dr Hollingshead. Rounding out the cast is Fay Bainter as Mrs Mitty, Ann Rutherford as Walter's fiancée Gertrude Griswold and Florence Bates as Mrs Griswold.

This is a very vibrant film, making full use of colour and light, particularly in the dream sequences. However, what frustrated me about the dream sequences is that, while they were fun and useful towards the beginning demonstrating Walter's inner life in comparison to his real one, once the actual action had got going and he was in the middle of a real-life adventure, they were no longer necessary. After that they just seemed an excuse for fancy costumes and a few songs.

Danny Kaye was wonderful as Walter though. The put-upon, 'yes, Mother', forgetful character really flourished throughout and there are few actors who match Kaye for facial expressions and the ability to deliver hilarious one-liners. He's also a very good physical comic, as evidenced by the windowsill scenes amongst others. I can't think of another actor who could've done this role as much justice as Kaye did.

The rest of the cast was superb too. Virginia Mayo played the mysterious blonde to perfection, though I did want to know more about the character, and Ann Rutherford and Florence Bates created quite a little double act as their growing apprehension about Walter's impending marriage to Gertrude made itself known. There's a brilliant scene where Walter is trying to keep Rosalind's presence in the house unknown so it appears he's acting completely insane and Gertrude and Mrs Griswold's reactions to this are hilarious. Fay Bainter also works well as Walter's mother but, then, she is an excellent actress generally.

If the dream sequences had been pared back, I would have completely enjoyed this film. As it was, I was shaken from the action at unnecessary moments which irked a little. However, overall, this was a brilliant, colourful film that relied on the charisma and hilarity of its leading man to produce a vivid impression. Well worth a watch.

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