As I have been watching a lot of Danny Kaye movies for the first time this year, I have realized that “A Danny Kaye Picture” involves him playing both a mild-mannered character and an outrageous one that uses outlandish behavior to get out of untenable situations. In The Inspector General he is a pauper mistaken for a powerful government official and must play the part and play it up and in Wonder Man, he plays long-separated twins, one introverted and one extroverted, with the former taking the place of the later after his brother is killed off by gangsters. In this sense, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has to be the definitive Danny Kaye movie, and is the perfect showcase for his insane amounts of talent.
Kaye plays the title character, an editor at a pulp publishing firm and is constantly daydreaming of stepping into the heroic characters that appear in the pages of his books, while being badgered by his overbearing mother (Fay Bainter) and timid fiancée (Ann Rutherford). When he helps a young woman (Virginia Mayo) during his daily commute, he is caught up in a real-life adventure involving a murderer impersonating a doctor (Boris Karloff). The short story by James Thurber was a good vehicle for Kaye, but numerous scenes, most of them musical, were added to show how versatile he could be as a performer, prompting the exasperated author to call the film “The Public Life of Danny Kaye.” Despite Thurber’s grudge against the film, Kaye is simply amazing in how much he can do. Boris Karloff seems to have fun in a rare comedic role and if you look hard, you can spot future director Robert Altman as a background extra.