Goodbye, Mr. Chips Reviews
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.
Although a little slow to start, (but I guess just setting it up for the story it was) once Chips meet Greer Garson's character then it was off. I assume the book was very well written.. although the film was directed very well indeed granted there was a wonderful interesting charcter/story to work with.
The film effectively touched on quite a few areas, love, romance, teaching, anti-war themes, lonliness and ultimately the power of connection. I was so impressed how the story juggled them with Donat's character. A real pleasure to watch....a must see in that wonderful string of hits from the late 30's cinema....hollywood at it's goldest....
We are closing in on the last of the Great Films of the Golden Year of 1939--any I've missed, I'll probably get to in 2014! Just looking at the list of movies this was in competition against for the Oscars that year is a good way to find some of the greatest films in Hollywood history. (Which, frankly, makes me wonder all the more why Greer Garson was nominated in the leading category. It's not as though there were some shortage of great roles to fill it.) Much fuss is being made this year about the seventieth anniversary of, frankly, the one I'd most like to see remade--no, I don't actually think [i]The Wizard of Oz[/i] is as great as everyone else seems to, and though it'll never happen, I'd like to see a real adaptation of the book. There's also a classic we'll get to later in the week which is getting a pretty good release, though far less fuss. I don't expect the same amount of attention paid to the lesser classics, but I'm hoping that, in five years, we get attention paid.
In 1870, Charles Chipping (Robert Donat) starts as a Latin teacher at Brookfield School. He isn't much liked, being a stern and vaguely unpleasant man who isn't much good with children. Time passes, and class after class of boys are taught by Mr. Chipping. Because he's not well-liked, he is passed over for housemaster. He is concerned about the prospect of his future career, and he lets German teacher Staefel (Paul Henreid, probably best known as Victor Lazlo) talk him into going to Austria on the holidays. There, he meets the lovely young Katherine (Greer Garson), who loves him despite his stuffiness. And, with her love, he becomes less stuffy himself. Eventually, he is beloved by his students. However, Katherine dies in childbirth, and it is only the relationship he has with the boys which sustains him, and he never goes back to his old ways. In 1913, he is forced into retirement, only returning upon the outbreak of World War I and only then as long as he is needed.
The only Oscar the film actually won was Donat's Best Actor award. Frankly, I can see how he deserved it. Arguments can, of course, be made for four of that year's nominees--I haven't seen the Mickey Rooney movie, but it was a Mickey Rooney movie. For one thing, the movie takes place over the course of over fifty years--the image on the poster is chronologically impossible. There was no makeup award that year, but if there had been, this would have been, based on what I've seen, a strong contender. (It probably would have gone to [i]Hunchback[/i], though.) The story is rather saccharine and nothing terribly extraordinary, but Donat rises above it. Despite the fact that, obviously, Young Mr. Chips was how he looked without the makeup, he seems more natural in his middle-aged state. The first joke he tells isn't all that funny, but Donat plays it just right; he is hoping that they'll think it's funny and maybe start liking him some, and he's never been worried about being liked before. Except by Katherine, and being liked by her has opened him to the rest of the world.
It's interesting that a boy in the movie plays four generations of the same family. Obviously, Mr. Chips, as Katherine begins calling him, knows whole lineages. A professor at a British public school (which we would call private; it's weird) would get to know families, because schools are often family traditions. The Colley family (four boys of which played by Terry Kilburn) would be just one. Anyone who reads many British novels will get the feel for this; even Terry Pratchett invented a school or two along those lines, not least of which is the Assassins' Guild. (Not everyone goes after the Dark Curriculum.) What is perhaps a little more surprising is that, when Mr. Chips is reading off the list of the school's dead from the War, he lists Staefel, who had died fighting for--well, they say Germany, but it's more likely to have been Austria-Hungary, given that he was from Vienna. It's also worth noting that the changing of time is often explained through the changes in history, a helpful device when the same kid is in school for fifty years.
On further thought, the nomination for Greer Garson seems to have been along the lines of that of Sir Anthony Hopkins for [i]Silence of the Lambs[/i], inasmuch as her existence changes the course of the story and the case of the main character's life. The difference, here, is that her place could have been filled by just about anyone. Or anything. The only purpose she fills is to make a difference between who he was and who he became. She's sweet and charming, and she's a bridge between him and the boys. They start liking him, because she helps him like them. She is sweet and charming and pretty, and it set her up for a great career afterward. However, that's pretty much just what she's there for. Sweet and pretty. Apparently, that's all it takes to change his life entirely. Who this says bad things about, I'm not sure, but in part, I think that, if that's all it took, he could have figured it out for himself some time before.