James Thurber wasn't too happy with the Sam Goldwyn film adaptation of his 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the Technicolor musical comedy proved to be a cash cow at the box office. Danny Kaye stars as Walter, a milquetoast proofreader for a magazine publishing firm. Walter is constitutionally incapable of standing up for himself, which is why his mother (Fay Bainter) has been able to arrange a frightful marriage between her son and the beautiful but overbearing Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford). As he muses over the lurid covers of the magazines put out by his firm, Walter retreats into his fantasy world, where he is heroic, poised, self-assured, and the master of his fate. Glancing at the cover of a western periodical, Walter fancies himself the two-gun "Perth Amboy Kid"; a war magazine prompts Walter to envision himself as a fearless RAF pilot; and so on. Throughout all his imaginary adventures, a gorgeous mystery woman weaves in an out of the proceedings. Imagine Walter's surprise when his dream girl shows up in the flesh in the person of Rosalind van Horn (Virginia Mayo). The girl is being pursued by a gang of jewel thieves headed by Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (Boris Karloff), a clever psychiatrist who manages to convince Walter that he's simply imagining things again, and that Rosalind never existed. At long last, Walter vows to live his life in the "now" rather than in the recesses of his mind: he rescues Rosalind from the gang's clutches, tells his mother and Gertrude where to get off, and fast-talks his way into a better position with the publishing firm. Substituting the usual Danny Kaye zaniness for James Thurber's whimsy, Secret Life of Walter Mitty works best during the production numbers, especially Kaye's signature tune "Anatole of Paris."
by Hal Erickson synopsis