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Film / Goodbye, Mr. Chips

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"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."
Mr. Chipping

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film directed by Sam Wood and starring Robert Donat as a much-loved Classical master at an English public school near the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Based on a popular 1933 novel by James Hilton (the author of Lost Horizon, source of another hit film), the film won Donat the Best Actor Oscar in Hollywood's annus mirabilis of 1939, against such heavy competition as Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights, and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Chips was the pet project of MGM producer Irving Thalberg, who resolved to give the film first-class treatment, hence the engagement of an all-British cast (except, of course, for Paul von Hernried – shortly to reinvent himself as "Paul Henreid" of Casablanca fame – as Max Staefel), including the well-regarded English theatre actor Robert Donat and an up-and-coming young actress named Greer Garson, who was propelled to stardom by this film. Exteriors for the Brookfield School scenes were shot on location at the real-life Repton School in Derbyshire. Respected English composer Richard Addinsell was engaged to write the film's score, and the screenplay was prepared by Eric Maschwitz, R. C. Sherriff, and Claudine West under the supervision of James Hilton himself. Unfortunately, Thalberg died of pneumonia at the relatively young age of 37 prior to the film's release; he is memorialized in the opening title sequence.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Editing, and Sound), winning, as noted above, in the Best Actor category. Goodbye, Mr. Chips has been voted the 72nd greatest British film ever in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British Films poll.

In 1969, the novel was filmed again as a rather dreary Musical, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark. Two Live-Action Television adaptations were also made: in 1984 with Roy Marsden and Jill Meager, and in 2002 with Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton.

For tropes about the original novel, see Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Tropes featured in this work include:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Several characters (notably various headmasters) are conflated and somewhat sweetened for the film, particularly Ralston, who in the novel is a hard-driving, vulgarly money-conscious go-getter. Some of the novel's implied Socialist egalitarianism is also soft-pedalled (for instance, the episode of the General Strike in 1926 is entirely omitted).
  • Age-Gap Romance: Chips is about twice Kathie's age when they fall in love. (Which makes the movie poster shown above, with Robert Donat looking as young as Greer Garson, a bit odd.)
  • Caught In The Fog: How Chips and Kathie meet.
  • Comforting Comforter: Chips and Kathie share his jacket on the mountain.
  • Composite Character:
    • In the original story, the colleague with whom Chips goes on holiday and meets Kathie is an Englishman named Rowden, a separate character from the German teacher Max Staefel who only appears in the chapters relating to the War.
    • In the original story, the boy who is sent to knock on Chips's door as a prank is named Linford and is explicitly the first member of his family to attend the school. In the film, it's the latest member of the Colley dynasty.
  • Death by Childbirth: Kathie, along with the baby.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Shyness and some poor experiences early in his career have resulted in Chipping becoming a very stuffy, humourless and withdrawn person. His wife's influence helps him to break out of this and become the much-loved figure he is by the story's end.
  • Fired Teacher: Averted in that Mr. Chipping, though ordered to retire for refusing to adopt modern methods (such as adopting the New Pronunciation of Latin and placing emphasis on high marks rather than on character development), is reinstated by the protests of his students and their parents.
  • Generation Xerox: The boys of the Colley family, all played by the same actor.
  • I "Uh" You, Too:
    Chipping: You kissed me!
    Kathie: I know. It was dreadful of me.
    Chipping: No. But do you? Are we? Oh, this is awful. Look here, you'll have to marry me now, you know.
    Kathie: Do you want to? Do I want to? Do you?
    Chipping:Dreadfully! Goodbye, my dear.
  • Identical Grandson: English boy-actor Terry Kilburn plays four generations of the Colley family taught by Mr. Chipping.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Teaching the boys about the Roman Lex Canuleia (which enabled plebeians to marry patricians), Chips tells them that if an aristocrat thereafter told a commoner he couldn't marry her, she could reply, "Oh, yes, you Can-You-Liar."
  • It Will Never Catch On: One of the masters is reading a novel and replies to another who asks about the author: "It's his first. He'll never come to anything. He's too fantastic." The novel is The Time Machine and the author is H. G. Wells.
  • Leitmotif: Johann Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz" (An den schönen, blauen Donau) comes to symbolize Chips and Kathy's love.
  • Mistaken Identity: Chipping and Staefel, hearing of two English ladies hiking through the Alps, assume they must be Kathie and Flora; they turn out to be bloomer-clad battleaxes who accuse the masters of making indecent advances on them.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The original story never mentioned Chipping's first name. In the 1939 film, it's Charles, and in the 1969 film it's Arthur.
  • Poirot Speak: Staefel very occasionally lapses into this, as when he says he "bursts out of tears."
  • Regional Riff: Chipping and Kathie's sojourn in Vienna is accompanied on the soundtrack by a series of Strauss waltzes.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted — when Chips goes to rescue Kathie, he finds her very much in command of the situation. They fall in love anyway.
  • Scare Dare: A group of boys dare the latest Colley boy to knock on Mr. Chips' door as if showing up for a (made-up) invitation to tea. It backfires on them when Chips warmly invites him in for tea and the better part of a good-sized cake.
  • Stunned Silence: After Chips makes the Incredibly Lame Pun above - having previously been notoriously stuffy and never showing any signs of humour in his teaching whatsoever - his class responds this way for a moment before bursting into roars of laughter.
  • Time-Passes Montage: Several montages are employed throughout the film, with students in the costumes of advancing periods crossing the screen while making period-topical remarks.
  • Title Drop: The last line in the film, but also said earlier by Kathie at their first parting.

Tropes featured in the 1969 Musical include:

  • Black Mail: Several cases:
    • Lord Sutterwick threatens to remove his sponsorship to Brookfield due to Mrs. Chipping's background as an actress.
    • Katherine blackmails Sutterwick to drop his threat if she keeps his extramarital relationship with actress Ursula Mossbank secret.
    • The Third Reich successfully coerces Max into returning to Germany by threatening his elderly mother.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Lord Sutterwick calls out Chipping over this.
  • Book Ends:
    • The film begins and ends with a crane shot of Brookfield while the student roll-call is in session.
    • Sadly for Katherine. Her first appearance is performing "London is London". Her last appearance is a reprise of the song at an Army Base when a bomb hits the place.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Chipping keeps missing the point when Katherine offers they enter a relationship. First he thinks she's asking for some indecent affair. She reveals it will be a marriage. Then he tells her he has no intention to be the unemployed kept man of an actress; he's a schoolmaster. She convinces him that she prefers to be the wife of a schoolmaster. He complies.
  • Fate Drives Us Together: Chipping and Katherine believe Destiny have brought them together, via Apollo.
    Chipping: Apollo has willed it!
  • Fight Fire with Fire: So! Lord Sutterwick threatens to remove his funding for Brookfield because he is uncomfortable with Chipping's marriage to an actress? Well, guess Katherine is going to have to invite her actress friend Ursula Mossbank- formerly Sutterwick's mistress- to a Parents Day Gathering! Sutterwick drops his threat.
  • Give Me a Sign: Visiting Apollo's Temple, Chipping tells Katherine about the place being formerly an oracle for fortune. Katherine, dissatisfied with her life, asks Apollo for guidance. Looking for an answer, her gaze falls on Chipping. She realizes that she has fallen in love with him.
  • Identical Grandson: The grandson of Chipping's pupil Sutterwick visits the elderly teacher. Chipping initially mistakes the lad for his grandfather, and then his father, who is revealed never went to Brookfield.
  • Intermission: Part One ends with Chipping chasing after Bridget.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Depressed over being passed over as Headmaster, Chipping talks to Katherine about his failings as a husband, commenting about his failure to give her a child. Katherine retorts that maybe that could be her fault. She further comments that they have plenty of children. All Boys.
  • Only Sane Man: Chipping feels this way while attending Katherine's party.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Despite Lord Sutterwick's longstanding opposition to Chipping (due to his marriage to Katherine), he is finally made Headmaster. Unfortunately, on that same day, Katherine is killed in a bombing raid. Fortunately downplayed, for Chipping carries on as Headmaster to great success.
  • Rescue Romance:
    • When Katherine's former lover shows up at her party uninvited, Chipping shows him the door.
    • Katherine, believing her background will ruin Chipping's reputation, drives out of Brookfield. Chipping chases after her.
  • Romantic Wingman:
    • Despite his best intentions, Chipping does a rather bad job trying to promote his friend Johnny Longbridge to Katherine's attentions.
    • Max pushes Chipping to attend Katherine's party, reciting the address Chipping claims to have forgotten.
  • Secret Test of Character: Although she already has her mind made up, Katherine seeing Chipping firmly escort Bill Calbury out the door confirms that the schoolteacher is the man for her.
  • Setting Update: The Musical updates the story, spanning from 1924 to 1968.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Chipping survives to the end.
    • Subverted for Katherine. In this film she doesn't die in childbirth after a short marriage with Chipping. Instead, she and Chipping are allowed a long happy marriage of twenty years, until her death in a bombing raid.
  • Tormented Teacher: the new young teacher Mr Chips has to deal with the boys playing up during prep.