Monday, January 25, 2010
Movie Review Monday~Goodbye Mr Chips (1939)
DIRECTED BY: SAM WOOD
STARRING: ROBERT DONAT and GREER GARSON
(appears at number eleven on my top 100 countdown)
Ah 1939. It was a very good year. Not only did this year turn out such great classics as 'Gone With the Wind', 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington', 'The Women', 'The Wizard of Oz', AND 'Goodbye Mr Chips'- but these classics all held universal appeal and still remain hugely popular worldwide. There are a few movies that move me just as much after repeat viewings as they did at first. This is one of them. Granted, I was much younger when I saw it initially, so it was inevitable that I would appreciate the depth of the story more as an adult.
Arthur Chipping is a integral part of Brookfield school. But when he arrived as a young man, he was the school's straight-laced and reserved Latin professor. After making a few stumbles in the disciplinary area, he became universally unloved by most of his students and therefore his dreams of becoming Headmaster seemed unreachable. After years of strict and cold teaching, watching all the other professors receive gifts and accolades from the boys, he becomes somewhat jaded. Reluctantly, he agrees to go along with a fellow teacher on a walking tour of Germany- a trip that changes his life in every way. On the journey, he meets the beautiful Katherine, who soon becomes his loving wife. The relationship transforms 'Mr Chips' into the man he always dreamed of being-one of the most loved and respected members of the Brookfield staff.
This is a love story. Though there is little physicality to their relationship (or even a lot of screen time devoted to it), the connection between Katherine and 'Chips' is timelessly involving. It makes you think about all the relationships in your life, not just the 'significant other'. It's about support and loyalty and fawning looks that go straight to the heart. It's also about the wonderful effects of change that love can have on a willing heart. The way that the prude and unworldy Mr Chipping melts beneath Katherine's understanding eyes, and subtly transforms into kind and witty 'Mr Chips', is something that we can all appreciate and enjoy.
Without Robert Donat, the movie would fail. He is miraculous to watch. We actually forget we are watching the same young fellow, since the progression of his age is so believeable . He becomes an old man effortlessly. The looks, the voice, the walk (that crazy-good makeup also helps)-all are completely convincing. His attitude at the beginning, as he stammers through this foreign environment, is likewise a work of genius, making the viewer cringe along with him. But his complete ease when he finally opens up is even more wonderful. It's just a beautiful piece of work. Greer Garson has never been more lovely or charming. Supporting characters are also memorable, especially young Terry Kilburn who plays three generations of Peter Colley. All three 'Peters' are different and equally precocious.
In addition to the great acting, the direction by Sam Wood is loving and deliberate-focusing solely on developing the central character. It is a character study after all,a life story, and without this approach, it just wouldnt work. The music is also very moving, especially the lovely choir piece that serves as the Brookfield school anthem. The eventual placement of World War I is handled very well and we feel its effects without ever leaving the school's campus.
This is a beautiful movie and a moving story. I dare you not to cry.
My Rating: 10/10
Style Factor: Costumes and settings in this film are all worth mentioning. Careful attention must be paid to Greer Garson, in what could likely be the best styling choices of her career. The styles of the early 1900's suit her beautifully. The elegant hairstyles and fantastic hats are especially memoriable, bringing just the right amount of attention to her lovely face.