I saw Walter Mitty first when he was the golden-haired Danny Kaye. He won my heart with his over-the-top imagination (‘A mere scratch, sir, a mere scratch! Set the bone myself!’) and his typically Danny Kaye comedy routines. Virginia Mayo plays his sometimes exasperated but always fond love interest, who is responsible for getting him into trouble to start with and who accompanies him to the bitter end.
In this particular version are murder! mayhem! and spies! Because, yanno- murder, mayhem, spies! There’s the dead body in the car. There’s the little black book with Secret Information. There’s the overbearing mother that Walter lives with. There’s the dotty girlfriend. And of course, there are the men who are trying to kill Walter. It doesn’t take long for Walter to realise that as much as he loves daydreaming about adventure, the real thing is entirely terrifying.
What I loved about this version:
- The screwball comedy. Some of the best of the 40s.
Danny Kaye’s comedy routines, worked brilliantly into his everyday life, and his larger-than-life daydreams.
The hopeful, thoughtful outlook of the entire film.
The fantastic wackiness to it all. And Virginia Mayo so calm and sedate through the madness, trotting in on her elegant high-heels to rescue Danny and push him on again.
I was understandably nervous when the new Secret Life of Walter Mitty was announced. I loved the old version so much that I couldn’t see the new one even coming close to being as good. I thought it might be passable, and decided to give it a go.
In the new version, Walter is a Negative Asset handler for Life! magazine. His job is in jeopardy as Life! magazine goes through the transition from physical to digital, downsizing its human resources as it does so. His new boss treats him with scorn and extreme disrespect, he’s in love with the new girl, Cheryl (who doesn’t seem to know he exists), and his dating profile on e-harmony (set up for the express purpose of ‘meeting’ Cheryl) is plain boring, because he’s never been anywhere/done anything interesting. Instead, Walter day-dreams in gorgeous HD.
In this particular version there are no spies or jewels or black books. Instead, there is a missing negative, the quintessential expression of Life! magazine that is meant to star on the cover of the very last issue. And to find this missing negative, Walter has to track down the photographer who took it, using only a series of moderately unhelpful surrounding negatives. The search for Sean O’Connell, who seems everything that Walter would love to be (adventurous, physically able, rakish, and casually cosmopolitan) occupies a large part of this movie. Walter is pushed out of his comfort zone, encouraged by Cheryl (in daydreams as well as in real life) to keep searching and leaping into the unknown, and finds himself stronger and wilder than he ever believed possible.
Things I loved about this version:
- The use of blue throughout to indicate Walter’s static state, and the likewise eyecatching use of red to indicate life, the seizing of opportunity, and adventure. Visually amazing.
Walter’s realisation that his constant daydreaming (even in the presence of his dream girl!) is stopping him from achieving all that he could be.
The sheer bombasticity of Walter’s imagination, in all its glorious HD ridiculousness.
The point when you realise that as much as Walter admires Sean O’Connell (the wild man, the adventurer, the romantic), Sean O’Connell respects him.
The fact that the plot didn’t make the mistake of ‘Trying To Save The Magazine’. The end was inevitable, graceful, and integral to the storyline.
To conclude: I never thought there would be a point in my life when I would say that the remake of a movie exceeds the original. But I’m saying it now. Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty has all the outrageous imagination that Danny Kaye’s Walter Mitty ever had, but where Danny Kaye’s WM is light and frothy and fun, Ben Stiller’s WM is rich, layered, and intensely satisfying. The more I watch it, the better I love it.
Happy watching, guys.