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Film / Goodbye, Mr. Chips

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Mr. Chips: 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.

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 competitors 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, propelled to stardom by this film. Brookfield School was filmed on location at Repton School. Respected English composer Richard Addinsell was engaged to write the film-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 at the relatively young age of 37 before the release of the film; he is commemorated in the film's main title sequence.


The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best 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 as a rather dreary Musical with Peter O'Toole as Mr. Chipping and Petula Clark as Kathie. Two Live-Action Television adaptations were made, in 1984 with Roy Marsden and Jill Meager, and in 2002 with Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton.

For tropes about the original book, 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).
  • Adorkable: Chipping is fairly awkward when he first becomes a teacher, and has to grow into the job. Also, his clumsy courtship of Kathie is very endearing.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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