Some daydreams are good for many miles, just like a classic automobile; they keep going for a long time. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about daydreams, and it certainly has been good for many miles. It began as a 1939 short story in The New Yorker by James Thurber. In 1947, Danny Kaye starred in the first of two film adaptations. Ben Stiller starred in the second in 2013. Of course, all three instances of this story are very different. I don’t want to focus on the differences, however. I want to focus on the common threads and the elements that make each adaptation well worth your time to experience.
Walter Mitty is a timid man. To escape a life that he disdains, but cannot find the courage to change, he daydreams. These are vivid and spectacular daydreams in which he is the hero, adored and respected by all. Unfortunately, real-life soon brings Walter back to dismal reality.
All three adaptations feature a bully who picks on poor Walter. In the original story it is his wife. In the Danny Kaye movie, it is his mother and his boss. In the Ben Stiller adaptation, it is a corporate take-over executive. Walter dreams of being a man of fortitude that will stand up to these people, but his real life falls far short of his desires. The way in which Walter responds to the bullies and the circumstances leads to the crisis, climax, and resolution.
If I was forced to give my opinion of which version I liked the best, it would be hard to decide. But I think my vote would go to the movie with Ben Stiller, even over the written page. That is rare for me, but this latest adaptation is visually spectacular. A large portion of the movie was filmed in Iceland and the scenery is breathtaking and stunning. Stiller does a great job turning a short story about a little man into an epic adventure of the greatness buried deep within us all. Perhaps that theme is why the story, in all its forms, has remained relevant through the years.
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