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 focus entirely on his escapades involving a woman caught in a web of helplessness. In an 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 of today’s generation. In the past week, I have the opportunity to retro-analyse this theme of Walter Mitty. Having got impressed with Ben Stiller’s direction, I watched the 1947 version of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. 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 a 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 public. Though the business element has not changed much, the preferential treatments of the same subject across different eras have evolved immensely.

Right from the scene one in the original movie, the storyline and characters introduced are different from the short story. Barring for few dream sequences, the small plot of the original story has been stretched to suit the major feature film standards and the constant connection that holds the book and the movie is the adjective -Mittyesque, a condition given to unrealistic flights of fancy and escapist day dreams which the title character suffers from, possibly due to his profession of being a editor for a book publishing firm.

The narration is simple, interwoven with Walter’s frequent tendencies to dream about him being a symbol of heroism. Be it any profession – 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 woman, who is his ‘dream girl’ and by coincidence turns out to be real and ends up being Mrs. Walter Mitty. 

The movie is an entertainer and the managment in tandem with script writers ensure there is a constant supply of comedy, idiosyncratic pantomimes and songs most suited for a actor like Danny Kaye. It is his journey in the real world – where he is constantly bossed around by his mother Mrs. Eunice Mitty, his idea-stealing boss Bruce Pierce, his kid-wit fiancée Getrude Griswald, her loud-mouthed mother Mrs. Griswald and Tubby Wadsworth, who woos Getrude constantly and shamelessly. 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 interesting turn when he meets a mysterious woman, Rosalind van Hoorn who coincidentally fits and resemble the girl of his dreams perfectly. Rosalind works with her uncle to recover the lost treasure of Dutch from WW II and Mitty accidentally becomes an important part in this rescue mission. His boring life becomes interesting and adventurous – stuff of his dreams. With all the courage previously unknown to him, he helps Rosalind and also 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 the character created by Benchley 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 and the script was modified as the producer Samuel Goldwyn demanded the movie to be written to showcase Danny Kaye’s talents.

Thurber, who by this time 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 treatment given to the subject. However, the 1940’s 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 musical-comedies of yesteryears, then I suggest this movie to be entertaining, if not a master piece! 

The Bishop’s Wife

If there is one particular theme I like in movies, it is the theme of Christmas. Movies with such a theme instill a sense of belief and gives a lot of people some hope. A hope to lead life. If it wasn’t through life, it was through movies, people found hope and even today, movies is widely considered to be a medium where people find hope.

After a long gap, Loretta Young (The Bishop’s Wife) is sharing 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 the role of a bishop whose role is mainly limited to ambiguity between the funds for the new cathedral, family and his 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 its an opinion or a thought restricted to ourselves. But when a feel good thought comes as a suggestion from others, we normally pick it up and on a higher percentage scale apply them. In short, people who are optimistic about 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 cross roads. Professor, The bishop’s wife, Mrs Hamilton and few others are the ones who had lost hopes in their respective lives and the same were restored by an angel. Dudley says, “Angel can be anyone on the street. Someone you dont 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 mortal messenger of the almighty. He was so adamant in building the cathedral, he even went to the extent of compromising his principles to raise the funds.

His true prayers (raising funds) were finally answered; though not in a way he wanted. But who would question the method of an angel? He certainly did, but did’nt succeed to over power 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 prayers of the Bishop. Strange method indeed. The problem of funds were never looked in, and this movie epitomises the true human nature emphasising the importance to win over someone’s heart in order to get what we truely 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 to build his dream, the cathedral, a place 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

I always wondered, why life has lot to give to us when least expected. Is it its own way of testing one’s response? In any case, this movie gave an insight as to 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 sudden death of his father, 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.

Just to give a glimpse of what this movie is about:
Few days before Christmas, disaster strikes and some part of 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 shutdown for the loss of money, 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 was if he hadn’t been born. The town would have been in shambles 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 did re-consider his suicide and also 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 also that of Frank Capra. This was starring debut for Donna Reed who plays Mary Bailey.

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 technical front, this film did innovate a unique method of creating snowfall.

Released in 1947, this movie will go down as one of all time classics not to have won any Oscar.

Personally, this movie was one of the first Black ‘N’ White movies I had seen as a college student. It did have a positive impact on my life then. 4 years hence, I still feel the same vibes when I think about this movie.
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 party is on, sound from Christmas bells…
Zuzu Bailey: Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
George Bailey: That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy, Clarence.