Monday, August 5, 2013

'Walter Mitty: The Motion Picture'

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,"
from My World -- And Welcome To It
by James Thurber
(Harvest Books)

     My first encounter with James Thurber was the marvelous (in memory, at least) 1969-1970 TV show My World and Welcome to It, which combined a family sitcom with Thurber's (animated) illustrations and stories, but my second encounter with him was probably the Danny Kaye film version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (At the time, I was probably most interested in the film because of Boris Karloff's presence as a villain.) The story is little more than a succession of daydreams by a henpecked husband as he goes about his day. Naturally, a film version has to add quite a bit of story to flesh it out to 30 minutes, and since wimpy protagonists aren't interesting as lead characters, he becomes the man of his daydreams, and trades in his shrewish fiancee for a beautiful and more affable woman.
     Now there's a new film based on the Thurber story soon to be released, this time starring Ben Stiller, and Kirsten Acuna of the online site Business Insider is confused by its trailer, stating that "it plays like a bunch of wacky dream sequences." Well, that's a fair description of the source story, so I can only assume that Business Insider hasn't read the story or seen the earlier film, though Acuna does cite the film, noting that this film is a "remake." 

     I doubt it. I don't consider a film a remake unless it replicates significant parts of the previous film that are not present in the source material. For example, last year's Total Recall is a remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven-Arnold Schwarzenegger film, in my opinion. This Walter Mitty seems completely different.
     That doesn't mean it will be good. I enjoyed the Kaye film as a child, but the bits and pieces I've looked at since don't look appealing. I'm intrigued by the trailer though, which depicts Stiller's Mitty as a man harassed and beaten down at work, attracted to a woman in the building but without the gumption to say anything except in his daydreams, who suddenly embarks on a real adventure or journey. It may bear even less relationship to the events of the story than the earlier version, but it looks promising. Something to look forward to.
     In the meantime, you could pick up a copy of Thurber (the Library of America has a nice hardbound collection, James Thurber: Writings and Drawings) or read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" online. (The TV series is not available on DVD, alas.)


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