I keep getting reminded of how unreliable memories can be, especially about things that happened a long time ago. While forgetting details and even entire incidents are common, more concerning is when we ‘remember’ things that did not happen. The latest such incident occurred when a few days ago I was watching the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Danny Kaye. I was a huge fan of Kaye’s comedies as a boy, which often showcased his ability to sing comic songs, and this film had two of them. I recall watching it a long time ago and enjoying it so when I saw that it was streaming, I decided to take a second look.
The film is about a timid, milquetoast of a man who is bullied by his mother, his boss, and his fiancee and who escapes into daydreams where he is the hero of adventures. Like so many films that we recall from our childhood, it did not age well. (It was remade in 2013 with Ben Stiller in the title role). I would have stopped watching after about ten minutes but what kept me going was that I distinctly recalled that right at the beginning, while he is waiting at a traffic light, he daydreams that he is the pilot of a military plane that is flying through a major storm. Despite the dangerous conditions and the plane being buffeted by the strong winds, he remains calm and collected and his crew admiringly tell each other that they are confident that he is the one person who can pull them through. In the background, the engine makes a ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa sound, a recurring background machine sound in almost all his daydreams.