The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

Signs of modern chivalry – the protagonist lives in a world, imagines himself to be the saviour and all the adjectives that can be used to describe the man known as a ‘hero.’

Walter Mitty comes across as a simple guy laced with innocence and a penchant to escape from reality, putting himself in extraordinary situations, lost in a world woolgathering with the focus entirely on his escapades involving a woman caught in a web of helplessness.

In the event of hopelessness and adversity, Walter is their go-to man, displaying guts of a bravado, prowess in entertainment, or just about any field – he is a master of it all.

The story was presented last December to the audience repackaged, keeping in mind today’s generation. In the past week, I have the opportunity to retro-analyze this theme of Walter Mitty.

Having got impressed with Ben Stiller’s direction, I watched the 1947 version of Walter Mitty’s Secret Life. Both these movies were based on the character created by ‘James Thurber’. It all started as a short story in 1939 for a New Yorker edition, became popular with the readers, which led to few radio adaptations and a major motion film in 1947.

Watching Ben Stiller and his secret life becoming public with each scene was an unbelievable experience. I was impressed by the screenplay and the breathtaking cinematography – which captured the essence and conveyed the story effectively. He is shown in America, Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan – all this a real visual treat. Though the story was adapted for the present audience, it does remarkable justice to this literary creation.

Comparing two movies of the same theme sixty years apart is not fair. I would have been disappointed if the story had no difference between the two versions. The former movie suited the audience sentiments and the preference of producers post-WW II – keeping in mind movies were business in the form of entertainment to the public.

Though the business element has not changed much, the same subject’s preferential treatments across different eras have evolved immensely.

From scene one in the original movie, the storyline and characters introduced are different from the short story.

The original story’s small plot was stretched to suit the major feature film standards barring few dream sequences.

The constant connection between the book and the movie is the adjective -Mittyesque, a condition given to unrealistic flights of fancy and escapist daydreams that the title character suffers from.

This condition could be from the fact that he works as an editor for a book publishing firm.

The narration is simple, interwoven with Walter’s frequent tendencies to dream about being a heroism symbol. Captain of the sinking ship, a multi-faceted surgeon, a WWII fighter pilot, a gambler, a French designer or a rodeo – he wins the heart of all, and in particular, a ‘dream girl’ who by coincidence turns out to be real and ends up being Mrs. Walter Mitty.

The movie is an entertainer. The tandem management with scriptwriters ensures a constant supply of comedy, idiosyncratic pantomimes, and songs most suited for an actor like Danny Kaye.

Walter is frequently bossed around by his mother, Mrs. Eunice Mitty. At work, it is his idea-stealing boss Bruce Pierce. Walter’s kid-wit fiancée Gertrude Griswald, Gertrude’s loud-mouthed mother, and Tubby Wadsworth, who woos Gertrude repeatedly and shamelessly form his world.

His daily life revolves around them. Not to forget his habit of straying away to a  dreamland, lost in the thoughts and actions, creating his heroic tales only to be climaxed by his transportation back to the real world.

His mundane life takes an exciting turn when he meets a mysterious woman, Rosalind van Hoorn who coincidentally fits and resembles the girl of his dreams perfectly. Rosalind works with her uncle to recover the lost Dutch treasure from WW II, and Mitty accidentally becomes an essential part of this rescue mission. His boring life becomes exciting and adventurous – the stuff of his dreams. With all the courage previously unknown to him, he helps Rosalind and ends up marrying his ‘dream girl.’

Author James Thurber based his character Walter Mitty on his friend, writer Robert Benchley. Thurber said that he got the idea for Mitty from Benchley’s character in a series of shorts that he made for Fox and MGM, respectively, in the 1920s and 1930s.

James Thurber, the author of the short story, acted as a consultant for a brief period to contribute significantly to the plot, which ended up in a bitter fight.

The script was modified as the producer Samuel Goldwyn demanded the movie to be written to showcase Danny Kaye’s talents.

Thurber, who was unhappy, went on record saying that he hated this film and that Danny Kaye’s interpretation of Mitty is nothing at all like he intended the character to be.

How would he have reacted to Ben Stiller’s portrayal of Walter Mitty? The 2013 movie was well made, and I was mighty impressed with the subject’s treatment.

However, the 1940s was a different era, and personally, some of the dream sequences involving Danny Kaye were a bit of a drag, and the editors could have kept it short, keeping in mind this wasn’t a musical in the first place.

Nevertheless, Danny Kaye performs remarkably throughout the movie displaying his repertoire as an entertainer, while Virginia Mayo’s presence as Rosalind and as ‘dream girl’ will not go unnoticed.

If you can spare 110 minutes of your time and have a hint of inclination towards yesteryears’ musical-comedies, then I suggest this movie be entertaining, if not a masterpiece!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

If there is one particular theme I like in movies, it is the theme of Christmas. Films with such a theme instill a sense of belief and give a lot of people some hope. Hope to lead life.

If it wasn’t through life, it was through movies that people found hope, and even today, films are widely considered a medium where people find hope.

After a long gap, Loretta Young (The Bishop’s Wife) shares the screen space with Cary Grant (Dudley). To be precise, their last movie together was Born to be Bad, released in 1934.

David Niven plays a bishop’s role, whose role is mainly limited to the ambiguity between the new cathedral’s funds, family, and principles.

Why is this movie special? Is it because it has Cary Grant playing one of the most refreshing roles of his life?

Cary Grant, in his role as Dudley, plays the character of an angel. An angel who sometimes resembles our inner voice. In this chaotic world, one hardly listens to our inner voice; since it’s an opinion or a thought restricted to ourselves.

But when a feel-good thought comes from others’ suggestions, we usually pick it up and apply them on a higher percentage scale.

In short, people who are optimistic about their lives listen to such suggestions and go about leading their lives catalysed by such thoughts or ideas.

Even if it is for a short time, it is the jump start one needs to refresh and get out of crossroads. Professor, The Bishop’s wife, Mrs. Hamilton, and few others are the ones who had lost hopes in their respective lives, and an angel restored the same.

Dudley says, “Angel can be anyone on the street. Someone you don’t know but can bring in a lot of change in the way we would like to lead our lives.”

The other side of the coin, cynicism, exists as displayed by the Bishop, who refuses to believe in miracles, though being the almighty’s mortal messenger. He was adamant about building the cathedral; he even went to the extent of compromising his principles to raise funds.

His real prayers (raising funds) were finally answered, though not in a way he wanted. But who would question the method of an angel? The Bishop certainly did but didn’t succeed in overpowering the methods.

Dudley, the angel, spends most of his time with Julia, the Bishop’s wife, and their kid Debby, yet manages to answer the Bishop’s prayers. Strange method indeed.

The problem of funds was never looked at, and this movie epitomises true human nature emphasising the importance of winning over someone’s heart to get what we truly want.

Dudley won the heart of Mrs. Hamilton, who finally relented to the angel’s advice and decided to shed her ego. Donating her money, she helps the Bishop build his dream, the cathedral, which would provide shelter to the needy.

Dudley had to leave once the prayers were answered, but it was tough as he was attached to Bishop’s wife, cursed himself for being an angel; as he realised being an immortal, it was impossible to beat a mortal to win over a mortal’s heart.

Directed by Henry Koster, this 1947 movie was nominated in five different categories, including Best Picture, and it did manage to win one for the Best Sound Recording.

Its a Wonderful Life (1947)

I always wondered why life has a lot to give to us when least expected. Is it its way of testing one’s response? In any case, this movie gave insight into how situations pan out, which are very different from one’s dream.

This is a story of George Bailey (James Stewart) and his altruism. He always dreamt of traveling places. However, due to his father’s sudden death, his plans had to take a back step. Instead, he takes over his father’s loan and building company. Mr. Potter’s (Lionel Barrymore) malicious intentions are always cut short by Bailey’s love and affection for his town and the people.

To give a glimpse of what this movie is about:

Few days before Christmas, disaster strikes, and some part of the company’s money is lost when Bailey’s uncle was depositing in the bank. Mr. Potter, who was well aware of the possible consequences, would hide the money. Fearing about his company shut down for money loss, a frustrated and clueless Bailey contemplates suicide.

His years of goodwill ensured an angel named Clarence, who wants to earn his wings, comes to earth. He shows Bailey how his town as if he hadn’t been born. The city would have been in chaos under Potter’s reign. His family members are either dead or led a life of misery.

This probably made Bailey understand the positive impact he had on people’s lives and re-consider his suicide, and realize what a wonderful life he has had. He did want his life back, and more than ever, he wanted to live again.

This was the first movie I had seen of James Stewart and that of Frank Capra, and it happened to be the starring debut for Donna Reed, who plays Mary Bailey.

The movie has many claims and is widely rated as one of the top films never to have won Best Picture Oscar only behind Shawshank Redemption. On the technical front, this film did innovate a unique method of creating snowfall.

Personally, this movie was one of the first Black ‘N’ White films I had seen as a college student. It did have a positive impact on my life then. Four years hence, I still feel the same vibes when I think about this movie.

In the last scene, when Bailey’s daughter is very apt looking at the situation he had to deal with the angel.

At his home when the party is on, sound from Christmas bells…

Zuzu Bailey: Look, Daddy. The teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
George Bailey: That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy, Clarence.