1939; a year that many people have considered the “Golden Year of Film”. As I mentioned in my editorial, What the Code Means to Me: Breen, Hallmark, and Me, it seems like there was something for everyone at the cinema. Several films that are well known today were able to find success in the box office in 1939. One of those films was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I had planned on reviewing this film exclusively for The Robert Donat Blogathon. But because July is Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Clean Movie Month, I decided to review Goodbye, Mr. Chips for that event as well. Like last year, I will be writing about films that were released during the Breen Code Era. Some of my other submissions for upcoming blogathons will also double as entries for Clean Movie Month. Now, it’s time to read this review of the 1939 movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: This was my first time watching any of Robert Donat’s performances, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, I was impressed with what I saw! Robert did a good job using a multitude of emotions at various moments in the film. Even when he wasn’t speaking, his performance still carried emotional weight. A great example is anytime something bad happened to Mr. Chips, as his facial expressions alone show how emotionally exhausted he can become. Despite appearing in the film for a limited amount of time, Greer Garson gave a pleasant performance as Katherine Ellis! Not only did she have a good on-screen personality, but she also had good on-screen chemistry with Robert Donat. One of their best interactions took place on a mountain in Austria. As they exchange witty banter, it is obvious to see that both actors enjoy each other’s company. Because most of the story takes place at the Brookfield school, many young actors are present in various scenes. Even though the movie doesn’t favor one child or a small group of children, the acting from the young actors was very on-point for what those scenes called for. On April Fool’s Day, the students are excited at the idea of pranking their teacher. As soon as one of their fellow classmates shares some unfortunate news about Mr. Chips, their happy expressions quickly turn somber. This collective acting quality shows what these young actors are capable of talent-wise!
The set design: A visually appealing aspect of this film was definitely the set design! The Brookfield school alone boasted several eye-catching design choices. One of those was the ornate detailing found on wood surfaces, such as doors and walls. In the Headmaster’s office, you can even see these details over the marble fireplace. Exposed stone walls are a consistent feature at the school, bearing the old-world charm found in structures with a long life-span. These design elements reminded me of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series. Brookfield is not the only place that highlights fine details. The ballroom in Vienna was a showstopper! Like the Headmaster’s office, there was ornate wood detailing found on the walls. It also showcased sparkling chandeliers and a spacious layout. All of the combined elements gave this room a grand and larger-than-life personality!
The dialogue: Throughout the movie, I was very impressed by the characters’ dialogue! As I mentioned before, the banter between Mr. Chips and Katherine was witty. But it’s also important to point out how the dialogue was written with care and thought. During a private gathering, one of the fellow teachers of Brookfield states that he read a book by H.G. Wells. Another teacher comments about H.G. Wells’ short-term success, saying that his works are too “fantastical” for a lasting career. Earlier in the film, Mr. Chips falls ill. When his housekeeper tells him to address his medical concerns to the doctor, Mr. Chips says he’ll give the doctor “a piece of his mind”. The film is based on a pre-existing novel, so I’m not sure if some of the dialogue can also be found in the book. However, the lines in the movie were memorable and, at times, thought provoking because they were crafted so well!
What I didn’t like about the film:
Little to no impact on the students: In stories about teachers playing a role in the lives of their students, the audience comes to know the students as characters while witnessing their growth as young scholars and individuals. Since there were so many students at Brookfield, there was no possibility for this to happen. Even when this opportunity arose in the story, it was not taken advantage of. When Mr. Chips reflects on his past, he remembers meeting a new student that was so upset, he ends up crying on the train. Several scenes and years later, this same student visits Mr. Chips to thank him for changing his life. This exchange would have been emotionally affective had we seen this character evolve from a scared child to an independent young man.
Some parts feeling rushed: I know there is only so much a movie can accomplish in an hour and fifty-four minutes. But this should not be an excuse to rush through important parts of a story. When Mr. Chips starts looking back on his past, he recalls his time as a new teacher at Brookfield. After a montage featuring students during various sporting activities, the story progresses by several years, making Mr. Chips a seasoned teacher. Personally, I don’t feel this was a smooth transition between the two points in time, as it made the story feel like it was in a hurry to reach its destination. What would have helped instead was showing a title card with the year before a new part of the story started.
A weaker plot: Before watching Goodbye, Mr. Chips, I knew the story would be about Mr. Chips’ life. While this was the case, it made the story straight-forward. The straight-forwardness of the narrative left little to no room for intrigue. Like I mentioned earlier in this review, the evolution of the students was not shown. This means that the ways Mr. Chips impacted his students or how his lessons affected the people around him wasn’t put on display. There was never an opportunity to wonder how Mr. Chips would accomplish his goals or what would happen to the students. Instead, the story put more emphasis on his private life than his career as a teacher.
My overall impression:
This is the first movie of Robert Donat’s I’ve ever seen. As I said in my review, I didn’t know what to expect, so I approached this film with an open mind. Now that I have seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips, I can honestly say that it was a fine film. There are definitely elements that help make the project a likeable picture. These are the strengths of the movie, from acting performances that come across as believable to dialogue that is clever and witty. But it does contain flaws that hold Goodbye, Mr. Chips back from being better than it was. Parts of the story were rushed and the plot was on the weaker side. This film is mostly Breen Code friendly. However, I was surprised by some of the language used in the movie. One example is when some of the students say the word “ass” as a swear word. I’m aware of how Gone with the Wind was able to include the word “damn” in their script. But I guess I was naïve to think that was the only exception in the Breen Code Era.
Overall score: 7 out of 10
Have you seen either version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips? Are you looking forward to my Clean Movie Month reviews? Let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!