Most schools have that one old teacher who seems be part of the school and has taught one family member after another. Author of the book the film is based on, James Hilton, created the character Mr. Chips after his old classics teacher at The Leys public school in Cambridge who taught there for over fifty years. Rather than feeling completely specific to one man, Mr. Chips seems to be a character that is made to embody many old favorite teachers.
After getting a brief history on the present Chips (Robert Donat) and his beloved boarding school, we are taken back to his beginning in 1870, seeing Chips as a young man trying to teach his first pupils. The boys see fresh meat, and give Chips a very rocky start to his career. In order to regain control and respect, Chips becomes a disciplinarian, but that doesn’t make him particularly popular among the boys.
Years pass, boys grow, graduate and more arrive. One summer middle-age approaching Chips ventures to Austria with a colleague and meets what seems to be the first and only woman ever interested in him, Katharine (Greer Garson). After having a bit of a mountain adventure to bond over, Chips gets the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. When they arrive back at the school, it seems that life with Katharine reinvents Chips to be more popular with the students. The new couple regularly invites them over for snacks and light conversation. Suddenly, Chips is no longer an old stick in the mud and Katharine seems to be a pillar of encouragement.
Years pass, tragedy occurs, life goes on. By now Chips is well loved by the boys and can recall teaching some of their fathers, but is being asked to retire. When WWI strikes up, a new headmaster is needed, one who knows the school and can lead it well, so they turn to Chips. One particularly sad moment is when the names of his former pupils that have been killed in action are being read off regularly. But as the war ends, life does go on and Chips gets to teach four generations in the same family.
As Chips gets older, he seems to be a model for Dumbeldore in the Harry Potter series, there’s a cheerful glint in his eye behind the aged face. The makeup work goes a long way here. However, the younger Chips is very ridged and unsure of himself, they nearly feel like different people. I guess that can happen over a sixty-three year span in life, and portraying that is deserving of the Best Actor Oscar, but it didn’t feel all that special or invigorating. Personally, I’d be more satisfied seeing Gable or Stewart holding the award for their performances from 1939.
Honestly, Goodbye, Mr. Chips is kinda fun, kinda cute and a sort of heartwarming. It’s like when you coat too much syrup on something that needs more substance and it gets way to sappy toward the end. It’s simply alright, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds. See if if you’re a fan of Robert Donat.
“These dead languages do come to live sometimes.”