Goodbye, Mr. Chips Reviews
The 1939 version is good, and particularly emotional, especially towards the end. However, it does feel stuffy and stiff. That may just be a function of the era in which it was made and the era it was portraying.
One plus the 1939 version has over the 1969 one is that it isn't a musical, but then that may just be me - I generally don't like musicals!
Performances are OK. Greer Garson shines as Katherine and deserved her Best Actress Oscar nomination. However, I don't know how Robert Donat got the Best Actor Oscar. His performance is OK, but not brilliant. I often found him a bit irritating, in fact. Overly wooden (though his character was such). Yet he managed to beat out Clarke Gable's performance in Gone with the Wind and James Stewart's in Mr Smith Goes to Washington...
Worth seeing, but if you have to choose, see the 1969 version instead.
Robert Donat as Professor Chipping, gives an impressive, multi-decade performance. His character evolves from a relatively ineffectual teacher to one that is widely loved and respected, and Donat makes it look easy. The film style is typical of the 1930's: It's a little overacted and talky, but still intelligent. Greer Garson makes a charming companion to the professor, and although her time with him is short, she changes him for the better. They have some genuinely likeable dialogue that seems very realistic because it's just two people that complement each other. Their first meeting scene is nicely balanced and evolves because of the 'lost' situation they are in. It's interesting in that she's the dominant partner in the romance instead of the male-dominated romances of the time. This kind of character rapport seems very modern in some ways, and the charisma of the two stars certainly helped. The story also provides little cameos of the students re-encountering their old Professor as adults. There's genuine warmth being played on the screen, and it reminded me of times I've gone back and visited teachers of my own. One of the best scenes is a short one, where zeppelins are bombing in the area, (World War I era) and Chips uses humor to keep the boys of his class calm. These kinds of small scenes are well done and help propel the story forward, building on the reputation of Chips as odd or different from the norm of Headmasters at Brookfield. The film was made in 1939, on the eve of another World War, and there's a distinct anti-war sentiment to some of the scenes that probably reflected the opinion that the War to End All wars wasn't going to be allowed to happen. Viewing these scenes now is interesting, especially Chips sentiments about a German teacher, who was his friend.
The ending is the weakest part, and is over the top, but that was the style of the time.
This theme about the school teacher who changes and is changed by his students has been done many times, but Mr. Chips stands out because of its honesty. It doesn't feel contrived or manipulative because it eschews the usual school crisis scenes, and instead allows us to get to know the parade of characters slowly. I'll bet you can pick out the types of students and teachers from your own university experience, even if you didn't go to a British school.
The film somewhat disappeared under the shadow of Gone With The Wind, which accounts for its anonymity today. Although Peter Donat won for Best Actor, the film lost to Selznick's epic in most other categories.
Modern audiences will relate more to the Peter O'Toole version (even with the 1969 penchant for actors trying to sing).
However, this Chips is a nice, gentle ride back to a period long-lost in movie history, when stories didn't have to be great bombastic ones in order to explore the human condition in all its wonder and frailty.