Thursday, April 21, 2016

Walter Mitty Goes Dutch

Humorist James Thurber loved Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty of the daydreams, so spent several years encouraging the Studio include more and more dreams.

As is well documented in my book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters, James Thurber hated the Danny’s filmed version of his short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” He hated the musical and specialty numbers, the broad comedy, the melodrama, the Goldwyn Girls, everything—except the dream sequences. He considered them to be closest in tone to that of his writing and, when screenwriter Ken Englund spent 10 days with Thurber crafting script version number four (of an eventual 13), the humorist concentrated most of his efforts on Thurber-izing the existing dreams and adding as many new ones as they could find a place for.

One Thurber suggestion, which made it into the January 18, 1946, script, was a Dutch Dream. They inserted into the wedding scene. Walter is standing at the altar, as his arranged fiancee Gertrude (Ann Rutherford) is walking down the aisle. The electric fans in the background dissolve into windmills in Holland, rotating to the echoes of “ta-pocketa, ta-pocketa.”

Walter is transformed into a Dutch Boy in a field of tulips, with Rosalind (Virginia Mayo) as his Dutch bride. Merry villagers pelt the lovers with tulips, accompanied by a “very brief song and dance which is not a musical number, but only a four-line snatch of a corny folk turne to show that everybody’s happy.” (Thurber’s emphasis)

Narrator: “And there is no happier lad in all the country by the Zuider Zee than Walter Van Mitty as he embraced is betrothed Rosalind Van Horn, the fairest maiden in all tulip land. Little did he realize that at that very moment grim tragedy lureked and that this was to be his last kiss—”

Walter looks down and sees a trickle of water by his wooden shoes.

Walter: “The dyke! There’s a leak in the dyke!”

They run to the dyke and Walter shoves a finger in the hole.

Walter: “Rosalind, run! Save the town!”

Rosalind: “But you’ll drown!”

Walter: “No matter—”

He clutches her. She sobs. They kiss.

Walter: “No, you must.”

Rosalind: “Just give me something to place by my heart.”

He hands her his wooden shoes. She runs off as he blows her a kiss. The dyke breaks, and an avalanche of water consumes Walter.

We then return to the chapel, just as Walter goes to fish Gertrude’s wedding ring from his pocket and instead pulls out Rosalind’s little shoes, confirming to him that’s his dream girl is not just a dream.

After Englund returned to the Studio and submitted the revised script, it was handed over to one of Kaye’s comedy writers, Phil Rapp. The fatalistic Dutch Dream was the first to be cut.