Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)

MGM (UK)

 

British actor Robert Donat gives a strong, Oscar-winning performance as a shy, retiring British schoolteacher, who instructs generations of boys at Brookfield Boys School.  Spanning decades, the saga begins in the late 1800s, following Charles Chipping, nicknamed “Mr. Chips,” from his first days as an unpopular instructor to his final years as the school's admired and respected professor.

 

Reportedly, James Hilton wrote the original story in 1934 as a novella for a magazine. The screenplay was adapted from the novel by R. C. Sherriff, Claudine West and Eric Maschwitz.

 

In 1933, Mr. Chipping, a retired schoolteacher, is in bed suffering from a cold. Concerned and disturbed by a new boy who is pranked and tormented by the older students, he invites him to his house and proceeds to tell him his 58-year career, which is seen in flashbacks.

 

Charles Edward Chipping, age 22, first arrives as a Latin teacher to Brookfield Public School in 1870, where he becomes a target of practical jokes. He reacts by imposing strict discipline in his classroom, which grant him respec but also makes him disliked.  Later, his rigidity and stiffness cost him a promotion.

 

Fearing he might not be a good teacher, Chips worries about his future, but German teacher Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), saves him from despair by taking him on holiday to Austria. While mountain climbing, he rescues Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson), an English suffragette on a holiday. They meet again in Vienna, and dance to the Blue Danube Waltz.  Though she is younger and more vivacious, she falls in love and marries him. They return to England, where Kathy takes up residence at the school.

 

Their marriage proves short and tragic, when Kathy dies in childbirth, along with their baby.  But during that time, she brings her hubby out of his shell and even helps him to become a better teacher.  With time, Chips becomes a beloved instructor with a warn rapport with his students.  He takes pride in tradition, the fact that he teaches the sons and grandsons of his earlier pupils.

 

Under pressure from more the headmaster, Chips retires in 1914 at age 65, but is called to serve as interim headmaster because of the shortage of teachers during WWI.  In one touching scene, during a bombing by a German zeppelin, Chips insists that they all continue with their Latin class, selecting the tale of Julius Caesar's battle against Germanic tribes.

 

As the War continues, Chips takes it upon himself to honor the dead by reading every Sunday into the school's Roll of Honor the names of the former students and teachers who had died in service.  When Max dies fighting on the German side, Chips proudly reads his name out in chapel. 

 

Chips finally retires in 1918.  Back at present, he is on his deathbed, when he overhears his friends talking about him. He responds, “I thought you said it was a pity, pity I never had children. But you're wrong, I have. Thousands of them, thousands of them, and all boys.”

 

The screenplay is intelligent and the direction by the reliable pro Sam Wood subtle, but is Robert Donat who elevates this bittersweet tribute into an emotionally touching tale. Donat won the Best Actor Oscar over tough competition from Clark Gable in “Gone With the Wind” and Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  The film introduced to American audiences Greer Garson, who become MGM's major star in the 1940s.

 

End Note

 

Stay away from the 1969 musical remake starring Peter O'Toole.

 

Cast

Mr. Chips (Robert Donat)

Matherine (Grer Garson)

Wetherby (Lyn Harding)

Max Staeffel (Paul Henreid)

John Colley (Terry Kilburn)

Peter Colley as Adult (John Mills)

Sir John Colley (Scott Sunderland)

 

Oscar Nominations: 6

 

Picture, produced by Victor Saville

Director: Sam Wood

Actor: Robert Donat

Actress: Greer Garson

Screenplay: Eric Maschwitz, R. C. Sheriff, and Claudine West

Film Editing: Charles Frend

Sound Recording: A. W. Watkins

 

Oscar Awards: 1

 

Actor

 

Oscar Context

 

“Goodbye Mr. Chips” vied for the top Oscar award with nine other films: “Dark Victory,” “Gone With the Wind” (which won), “Love Affair,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Ninotchka,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Wuthering Heights.”

 

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