30 June 2008

Please Don't Hold the Mayo

I had to do it, I just had to I tell ya.  I'd somehow missed (avoided?) watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty until today.  This 1947 film stars Danny Kaye in the title role and it's no surprise I'd never watched the whole blessed thing before because I've seen very little of Kaye.

Danny Kaye was a very funny man and his performance in Walter Mitty is proof. Comedy is all about timing and he had that in spades. Kaye had the physicality of a Red Skelton who could sing and dance.  He combined verbal along with physical gymnastics. I guess you could say that Kaye had a motor mouth, but one with clear elocution that made for some funny bits. Kaye was perfect for film because he had such an likable, agreeable face.  If I had Jewish aunt she'd say: "What's not to like?"

The film itself is a pleasant enough diversion.  Some of the humor is a bit broad, especially by today's standards. The premise of a man stuck in a hum drum existence who daydreams fantastic adventures was tailor-made for film.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was based on a James Thurber story.  The author was apoplectic when he saw the film. The cinematic telling added real adventure to the story, thus, in Thurber's mind, diluting the fantasy.

The film is very pretty all gussied up in technicolor with elaborate sets for the fantasy sequences and real shots of 1940's New York melded into the story. In addition to Kaye, there's a delightful cast featuring Boris Karloff, Thurston Hall (once again playing a boss), Ann Rutherford, Fay Bainter, Reginald Denny, Fritz Feld (you may not recognize the name but Feld was a regular presence in movies and TV from the 1930s through the 1980s –  usually as a waiter or Maitre D' constantly making a popping sound with his mouth and hand, supposedly being very European, definitely being very officious) and last, but certainly not least, the delicious Virginia Mayo (pictured above with Dany Kaye).  Mayo plays Mitty's love interest. He's engaged to the drab Ann Rutherford but with Mayo our star gets adventure, heroics and real romance.

Mayo is a terribly underrated star perhaps best remembered as James Cagney's gun moll in White Heat. She was also part of a stellar cast in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and was heart breaking and gorgeous opposite Joel McCrea in Colorado Territory (1949).  She played the wonderfully-named Colorado Carson.
Mayo was tough, smart and sexy all rolled into one.  She'd have been a star in any era –  including this one. Mayo saved the oft-times silly Secret Life of Walter Mitty for me.

Norman McLeod, who twice directed Marx Brothers films and was at the helm for the original Topper, directed Mitty and it's hard to find fault with his him.  Action, sight gags and transitions were all artfully done. 
According to IMDb a remake is in the works, which in itself is not a bad idea but Mike Myers is supposedly writing it and set to star which is a horrendous idea indeed.  In my opinion, Myers has lost his way since the second Austin Powers movie and he's liable to become a very bad toilet-humor version of Jerry Lewis.

Meanwhile, the original Mitty is available on DVD and is occasionally aired by TCM.  It's decent enough fun and the kids may like it if they've a taste for "older" films.  I've got the experience out of the way and it was painless _ as anything is with Virgina Mayo.

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