Friday, June 10, 2011

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

MGM, 1939

Principal Cast:  Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, Paul Henreid
Director:  Sam Wood
Producer:  Victor Saville
Screenwriters:  R.C. Sherriff, Claudine West, Eric Maschwitz
Cinematography:  F.A. Young

Awards & Nominations:
Academy Awards
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Robert Donat

Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Greer Garson
Best Director - Sam Wood
Best Writing, Screenplay - R.C. Sherriff, Claudine West, Eric Maschwitz
Best Editing 
Best Sound Recording

American Film Institute
#41 on the 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains (Arthur Chipping in the "Heroes" category)

Cannes Film Festival
Golden Palm Nominee

Arthur Chipping, or "Mr. Chips," a classics teacher, remembers his long teaching career at the Brookfield Boarding School for boys.  It starts with him as a young man in late 19th Century England and follows his career throughout his entire life.  At first, Chips is stuffy, old-fashioned and uptight, which does not gain him respect nor admiration from his rowdy students.  When he meets Katherine, his first and only love, he gradually he begins to change as he has a positive impact on his outlook on life.  As the years go on, Chips slowly becomes the best, most respected and loved teacher in the school, all while encountering tragedy and adversity along the way.


I thought I heard you saying it was a pity... pity I never had any children. But you're wrong. I have. Thousands of them. Thousands of them... and all boys.

Make no mistake about it:  Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a very pleasant film.  It's not controversial in any way. It wasn't ahead of its time.  And it wasn't revolutionary... neither in story nor visuals.  And you know what?  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as it is done well.  Sometimes, all one wants to do is sit back and enjoy a good story.  This film does that.  It has a bit of everything:  drama, some comedy, character development, tragedy and, so things don't get boring, a little adversity.  Sometimes, that is all you need.

This is the definition of a "feel good" film.  It's hard to walk away from this film without smiling.  As mentioned earlier, there is a major tragedy that hits Mr. Chips towards the middle of the film.  If I have a criticism of this film, it would be that this particular incident is handled somewhat awkwardly.  It still is quite touching to see how Chips is affected by this, however.  On top of dealing with this tragedy, the Chips character is developed as an exceptional leader by keeping the boys distracted while their country is torn by the war, almost literally right outside their doors.  When one looks at this film through the context of history, Great Britain was less than a year away from the German bombings of World War II at the times of this film's release, which makes these scenes all the more poignant.

Of course, you can't speak of this film without mentioning Robert Donat's Oscar-winning performance.  He starts the film as a young, fresh-faced teacher and ends the film as a crotchety old man.  The transformation of the character over the years is a lot of fun to watch, especially in his older years.  IMDB doesn't have any information on the make-up artist for this film, but the make-up is amazing.  Combined with Donat's superb acting you truly believe that this (at the time) 35 year old man is in his 80s.  
Overall, is Goodbye, Mr. Chips a little outdated and oftentimes corny?  Yes, by today's standards it would be (especially that final shot.)  But it doesn't matter, it's a fun, well-told inspirational story with excellent acting.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips is one of the best "inspiring teacher" films ever produced.