"Goodbye, Mr. Chips; who could hang a name on you when you change with every new day? Still, I'm gonna miss you!" Oh no, wait, this isn't the musical adaptation of the James Hilton classic, and besides, if it was, I doubt that it would be featuring The Rolling Stones, because "Ruby Tuesday" is by no means an especially well-sung song, and plus, in 1969, The Stones were too up-and-coming to already have movie deals. Granted, Mick Jagger did "Performance" in '68, but the point is that Herbert Ross' "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is a remake, and it's still been around about as long as The Rolling Stones, so you know that this film is old. Man, this film is so old that it still featured Jackie as the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer logo lion (Learn your film history, kids), and yet, many of the annoyingly nostalgic critics prefer the younger film than this one. Well, to be fair, people just might not remember this film, which is so forgotten that it's emphatic about its starring Robert Donat, whose only had "The 39 Steps", "The Private Life of Henry VIII"... and 1934's "The Count of Monte Cristo"... within a three-year span... starting at his second year in the business, going for him. Hey, I guess Donat was a pretty big star, which is good, because as this film will tell you, he was pretty talented, though not so much so that he could make you forget the final product's flaws.
It's not exactly pip-pip cheerioing and whatnot, but this film is still mighty British, complete with a dry approach to things that is often very charmingly witty, but holds a tendency to leave the atmosphere to get a bit limp, with kick limitations that cause pacing to suffer and leave some disengaging blandness to ensue. Sure, the film is generally entertaining, or at least not as dry as it could have been, but there are still those fair deal of slow spells that throw you off and give you time to think about how the film is, well, kind of aimless. Driven by meandering filler that quickly gets to be repetitious, the film's storytelling wanders about with limited direction that isn't so thin that you don't get the occasional sense of progression, but is ultimately thin enough to make this film's runtime more palpable than it should be. The film is by no means terribly long, at least when you compare it to its 1969 musical counterpart, so it's not like storytelling drags its feet for ages, but make no mistake, the fact of the matter is that plotting's structure is something of a mess that meanders along repetitiously and, well, is to be expected, because, really, where does this story have to go? Okay, the film's story is hardly needled-thin, but it is thin, with a limited sense of meaty consequence and direction that may be intentional, but is still kind of problematic, pumping the final product with natural shortcomings that it doesn't simply fail to dilute, but makes all the more glaring with the aforementioned issues in atmospheric and structural pacing. There's really not much to this film, and sure, what it does right is done very well, but quite frankly, that isn't really enough for you to not notice the issues so much, to where the final product ends up falling as underwhelming, if not kind of forgettable. That being said, when the film is occupying your time, rather than struggling to occupy your memory, it keeps you going, having plenty of issues when it comes to storytelling and conceptual intrigue, but just enough strength to entertain adequately.
Needless to say, this film is hardly as driven by its musical aspects as its 1969 counterpart, and makes sure to remind you by underusing Richard Addinsell's score, which, upon actually being used, is typically not fleshed out to the fullest, and is all too often tainted by a degree of conventionalism that further disengages, but ultimately does only so much damage to Addinsell's efforts, which are still spirited enough and recurring enough to play something of a hefty part in breathing some liveliness into this generally dry project. The film's score is decent and reasonably complimentary to color, but really, outside of the musical aspects, as well as the occasional handsome spot in Freddie Young's cinematography (Sorry, Freddie Young fans, but this is no David Lean epic), there's really not too much artistic punch-up to this film, thus storytelling single-handedly takes on the burden of keeping you going with the film, something that storytelling has only so much power to charge. As I said earlier, this film's storytelling aspects are flawed, with dry spells, aimless structuring and even a story concept that is lacking in meat, and that shakes the final product's grip on you, but doesn't quite leave you to completely slip out, because as underwhelming as this film's story is in a lot of way, it is very charming, with an endearing heart and certain intriguing spots in subject matter that open some opportunities for those translating James Hilton's story. Needless to say, screenwriters R. C. Sherriff's, Claudine West's and Eric Maschwitz's interpretation of Hilton's story gets to be questionable, structuring plotting in an aimless fashion that dilutes kick that was never to be too rich, but all but compensating for its shortcomings with a sharp wit that adds to charm and a fair degree of entertainment value. When I said that the film hits particularly bland spells, I really did mean it, though I'd be lying if I said that the film ever slips into downright dullness, thanks to an adequate degree of colorful wit within Sherriff's, West's and Maschwitz's screenplay, which, at the very least, delivers on engaging characterization that is made all the more engaging by the portrayals of the characters. Okay, quite honestly, several of the unevenly used younger performers hardly help their characters' obnoxiousness with improvable performances, but when it comes to the more seasoned talents who primarily drive the film, they deliver on plenty of charisma, with leading man Robert Donat really standing out, not just with charisma that is particularly potent, but a human subtlety to layers that leaves Donat to firmly bond with his titular role, whose aging throughout the film is sold by a sense of gradually developing wisdom that Donat sells effortlessly. Whether he's charming by his own right or sharing sharp chemistry with his peers, Donat carries this film, though isn't the only one breathing color into the final product, for although this project was never to be too much, what it ultimately is is endearing, witty and generally entertaining, even though it's not especially memorable.
When it is finally time to say goodbye, you leave behind a film with slow spells that emphasize storytelling aimlessness, which emphasizes natural shortcomings within this thin story concept, which ultimately renders the final product kind of forgettable underwhelming, but not so much so that it doesn't keep you going during its course, as there is enough decency within Richard Addinsell's score, charming heart within James Hilton's story, wit within R. C. Sherriff's, Claudine West's and Eric Maschwitz's script, and charisma within the performances - especially that of thoroughly convincing leading man Robert Donat - for Sam Woods' "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" to stand as a decent, if somewhat messy charmer of a study on the life, times and lessons learned by an educator.
2.5/5 - Fair