He lives in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) does. Although he works as a proofreader, a profession that requires intense concentration, he's a world-champion daydreamer, lapsing off at the most unexpected times.
For example, while driving with his domineering mother, Eunice (Fay Bainter), he lapses into a daydream where he's captain of the Sea Drift, guiding his sailing ship (that goes “pocketa-poketa-pocketa”) through a storm, with a lovely woman (Virginia Mayo) by his side.
His boss, Bruce Pierce (Thurston Hall), initiates a new genre – hospital love stories – which sets him off on another daydream, with a lovely nurse (Virginia Mayo again) in the OR, and a complication only he can solve. A medical instrument goes pocketa-poketa-pocketa, and Pierce keeps taking credit for Walter's ideas.
His childish fiancée, Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford), her loud-mouthed mother (Florence Bates), and her doggie, Queenie (who doesn't like Walter), come by for dinner. While stoking the furnace, Walter daydreams about being a WWII Spitfire ace for the Royal Air Force. Pocketa-poketa-pocketa goes the warplane's engine. On the ground, in the club, Mitty does a musical interpretation that's funneeeeey. And yes, a lovely harem dancer (Virginia ... well, you know) enters.
Then, one day on the train, a beautiful woman named Rosalind van Hoorn, takes the seat next to him. It's Virginia Mayo, who played all the lovely women in his dreams. Suddenly, his life takes a turn into the realm of his fantasies when she asks him for help.
Oh, what complications arise: Forgotten briefcase, stolen Dutch Crown jewels, Nazis, murder, disappearances, a little black book. Rosalind's uncle, Peter van Hoorn (Konstantin Shayne), explains a lot, and tells Walter that his life is in danger because he witnessed the murder of Karl Maasdam (Frank Reicher). It's a real-life adventure, and he can't tell anyone.
Walter's life turns hectic; he's being pursued by a man named Hendrick (Henry Corden), and has a valuable little black book that ends up being stolen by Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (Boris Karloff).
But he continues to daydream. In one, he's a riverboat gambler (the paddle wheels go pocketa-poketa-pocketa) taking Gertrude's obnoxious suitor, Tubby Wadsworth (Gordon Jones), for everything he owns, including a plantation that he returns to a lovely Southern belle (guess who).
The good thing is that he grows a pair in the process.
Empire Magazine ranked The Secret Life of Walter Mitty number 479 on its 2008 list of greatest all-time movies. It should have been ranked higher – Danny Kaye is so talented and magnificent. The film was remade in 2013 with Ben Stiller both directing and taking on the lead role.
The film was based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story that appeared in his book, My World and Welcome to It. According to Thurber, the Mitty character is based on writer Robert Benchly. It is reported that Thurber offered producer Samuel Goldwyn $10,000 not to make the film. Thurber hated the film and said that Danny Kaye didn’t portray the Mitty character correctly at all.
Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo reprised their roles in a 1947 30-minute adaptation in a radio broadcast of “The Screen Guild Theater.”
"I know a way to kill a man, and leave no trace." – Dr. Hollingshead (Boris Karloff)
“The clock didn’t strike. I definitely heard it not strike.” – Mrs. Eunice Mitty (Fay Bainter)
“Your small minds are muscle-bound with suspicion. That’s because the only exercise you ever get is jumping to conclusions.” – Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye)