Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Walter Mitty's Weirdest Dream

In dreaming up The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), producer Sam Goldwyn's screenwriters sketched out a number of daydreams for Danny Kaye that never made it to the screen:  the infamous filmed-but-deleted Irish fugitive dream, the firing squad dream, the courtroom dream, the Dutch dike dream, the Inspector Mitty of Scotland Yard dream, the submarine pilot dream, the medieval knight dream (featuring a swordfight between the dashing Sir Walter Mitty and villain Boris Karloff that foreshadows the climax of The Court Jester), an Austrian psychiatrist dream—all detailed in that amazing new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters.

All of these dreams would have made fascinating set pieces for Kaye, although there was one more unused dream that has always struck me as peculiar:  a “serial hero” dream. Inspired by the Saturday matinee action serials that ended each week with an over-the-top cliffhanger, the sequence was included in the first full screenplay by Everett Freeman and Ken Englund (November 14, 1945), after the scene where Walter and Rosalind return to Uncle Peter’s house to hand over the black book.

But when Uncle realizes Rosalind is on to him, he gives Walter a spiked drink. Our hero is knocked out and begins dreaming...

... he’s an Indiana Jones-type adventurer, who finds himself battling little green space aliens in the jungle. He narrowly escapes, and sprints down a forest path, crashing through a hidden passageway and into a dungeon. There, a black-cowled figure has Rosalind tied up and sets a pack of gorillas loose on our hero. The villain then is about to administer a deadly hypodermic needle to Rosalind ...

… just as Walter awakens in Van Hoorn’s home, who informs two henchman, pretending to be cops, that this young man burst into his home looking for his niece—but he has no niece.

And this sequence must have had next to no chance of being filmed. Goldwyn promptly contacted James Thurber to try to get his writers back on track.

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