Goodbye, Mr. Chips Reviews
Greer Garson as his wife changes his life
I had hopes for Goodbye Mr. Chips. Released in what many consider to be Hollywood's Greatest Year (a year filled with greats like The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Stagecoach), but nope; Goodbye Mr. Chips is not the moving, touching melodrama that I should be.
Based on some novel that I have zero interest in reading, the film is about a shy but strict British teacher named Mr. Chipping (Robert Donat), or "Chips" who dedicates himself to teaching generations of schoolchildren. Greer Garson makes her debut appearance as Chips' lovely wife that dies after childbirth.
What's wrong with the film? Well, first I could never care for the Chips character. While not a completely horrific character per se his traits are handled in the blandest way. I'm not familiar with actor Robert Donat, but he didn't convince me. I admit the makeup was good, but he didn't convey the traits that should have made the character a fantastic one. Take the scene where he loses his wife for example. Donat fails to convey any single emotions in this scene. I also didn't care for the so-called attempt at comedy in the picture. His jokes are almost unbearable and especially unfunny. In a very forced WWI subtext, where firing is heard in the distance, Chips says something like, "There's nothing as scary in the past like these walls," and every single kid laughs. I admit that's nowhere as bad as let's say dog sex in Transformer 2, but you got to do a better joke than this!
What annoys me about Donat's role is that he won the Oscar for it, beating out Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith. I don't know about you, but I think that Gable and Jimmy are far better actors than someone not-so-great like Donat.
And that leads to my next point, and that it's hard to relate to any of the kids. The pacing seems extremely rushed and because of that, I never cared for any generation of children. Also it looked like the same kids were playing each generation, which was very irritating.
As obvious, the drama just didn't work for me. I've enjoyed b&w melodramas in the past (Casablanca is in my Top 20 Greatest Films of All-Time), much of the drama just felt too forced or too syrupy for my liking. As mentioned, Donat's emotions for his wife's death was severely lacking, and the WWI subtext was completely forced and a painkiller in pacing. Other moments turn from what should have been moments of inspiration into unintentional funniness, such as Donat running after a train with Garson in it and Donat in his deathbed. Seriously, if this was made today and colorized (cause you know children today don't care at all about no b&w), this would be your weekly Hallmark Channel movie. I guarantee that last statement.
But unlike your traditional Hallmark movie, there's one thing that makes me appreciate the film, sort-of, and that's Greer Garson. In her relatively small screen-time, cause (IT'S BEEN SPOILED ALREADY) her character dies, Garson shows more serious things in what's truly called acting than anything actually aired on Hallmark. Unlike so-called acting in Hallmark films, which involve Joey Lawrence riding a horse throughout the traffic of NYC to impress a girl and Carla Gugino "abducting" her sister's children to get away with it, Greer Garson (my first experience from her, by the way) virtually nails anything bad about my experience.
But despite Garson's short-lived attempt to make the film more interesting, I couldn't care less. Goodbye Mr. Chips is an utterly boring melodrama. The dramatic material is either forced or syrupy, the characterizations are one-dimensional, the comedy is horrid, and Robert Donat gives an extremely bland performance as the title character, one that should not, I repeat SHOULD NOT have won the Oscar, especially when greats like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable were nominated the same year. 1939 may have been "Hollywood's Greatest Year", but Goodbye Mr. Chips is not Hollywood's greatest movie.
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