Friday, May 25, 2007


In a sign of how the word "classic" is indiscriminately applied to any movie more than 20 years old, Variety's report on Mike Myers' upcoming remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty refers to "The Danny Kaye Comedy Classic." Kaye's Secret Life of Walter Mitty is no kind of classic; as a movie, it's no better than okay (like most of his Goldwyn movies, it's too polite and plush to make good use of his talents), and as an adaptation of James Thurber's story, of course, it's a travesty. (Though in fairness to the adaptors, a "faithful" adaptation of the original story would last about twenty minutes; they had to come up with a new plot in order to make it a feature.)

The article doesn't say what approach the new movie will take, or whether it will be closer to the original story. A problem with adapting "Walter Mitty" today is that the techniques Thurber used, which made the story unique at the time, are over-familiar today. Fantasy sequences were nothing new when Thurber wrote "Walter Mitty," but what was new was the elaborate way he connected the fantasies to the real world (having some real-life thing transition Mitty into his fantasy, and having something in the fantasy merge back with reality) and the connections between the various fantasies (like the running gag of having a sound described as "Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa" in each fantasy, coming from a different machine each time). It made the story a flowing, effortless whole instead of a series of unrelated sequences. This stuff was immediately influential; the 1945 Broadway play Dream Girl, by Elmer Rice, uses exactly the same techniques in moving from the real world to the heroine's fantasy world. And now they've been used so often that they no longer set "Walter Mitty" apart. Meaning that all you're left with, in adapting the story, is a wimpy guy who fantasizes about being a hero -- and that's not the most original premise; it never was.


Anonymous said...

There was also a Broadway musical production of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" that debuted in 1964. It wasn't even as successful as Kaye's film, with the best-known thing to come out of it being the song "Confidence", which CBS used for a number of years as their opening theme to Sunday afternoon National Football League telecasts.

Andrew Leal said...

I should see the Mitty film again, if only for the utterly odd "Anatole of Paris " number (Thurber was right, Mitty dreaming of being a lady's hatmaker was a complete reversal of the original point), the chance to see Karloff and Kaye in the same film, and Henry "Poor Man's Alan Reed" Corden as a thug. (The thing which annoyed me at the outset was making Mrs. Mitty his mother rather than wife, to allow for the romantic subplot).

Even though it transfers the entire story to Scotland, "Battle of the Sexes," based on of "The Catbird Seat," is a better Thurber adaptation. I confess, I have absolutely no confidence in a Mike Myers Mitty.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat south of this topic, didn't the Thurber estate successfully sue Filmation over THE SECRET LIVES OF WALDO KITTY cartoon show?