I remember watching this movie when I was a young teenager. I liked it then. It’s a sweet movie. But watching it now was a totally different experience. Now I understand Mr. Chips so much better. We are actually very much alike; we are both slightly shy, rather reserved people who work with young people, but have a very hard time actually connecting to them. Because of this, I could empathize with his experiences, and I spent most of the last half of the movie in tears. It’s not an excessively tragic movie, but life itself is very sad sometimes.
So what’s the story? Mr. Chipping arrives at Brookfield School, a boarding school for English boys, in 1870. Over the next fifty-odd years, he experiences love and joy, heartache and heartbreak, all while teaching classics and other life lessons to the future leaders of England.
The Good: Often in movies that span a lot of time, two actors will play a single part, with one person playing the young man and the other playing the old man. That’s not the case in this movie. Robert Donat plays Chips from his twenties through his eighties — and he does a fantastic job. He walks differently as he gets older, he holds himself differently, he even moves his mouth differently. It’s very impressive. And that’s not all he does. Mr. Chipping changes dramatically personality-wise through the movie. It’s a struggle at first, but eventually being open and loving and caring towards the boys becomes second nature. Robert Donat shows us all of that through his portrayal of Mr. Chips. It’s an excellent performance.
The makeup artists did a very good job, too. They had to, or it would have been silly to pretend that a man in his mid-thirties was really in his eighties. They didn’t just put Donat in a grey wig and call it good(I’m looking at you, Giant!), but they gave him wrinkles and old man eyebrows and everything he needed to convincingly play an old man.
I also like how they showed the passage of time with the boys coming to the school in different uniforms and talking about current events. That was a nice way to handle a lot of years without something conventional like a fluttering calendar and without simply putting the date on the screen.
The Bad: When you are making a sentimental movie, it’s hard not to cross the line into cheesiness. Most of the time, this movie stayed on the right side of that, but the ending was a little much. Superimposing the face of Colley, who represents four generations of students, onto the screen was cringe-worthy. I know, I know, it was the 1930s, and people were less cynical then I think, but it was still a bit much.
This movie also has a slight costuming problem. I was trying to figure out about how old Chipping would have been when he met Katherine, but her clothes and hairstyle don’t quite match any era. Lots of movies throughout the history of movies have had the same problem; the actors are just put into clothes that feel old-timey without being from any specific time period. It can get ugly. Goodbye, Mr. Chips isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it could have been better.
The Ugly: There wasn’t anything ugly about this movie unless you don’t like sweet sentimental movies about the difference one person can make to many. If that’s the case, don’t even bother with this one.
Oscars Won: Best actor in a leading role (Robert Donat).
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Greer Garson); best director; best writing, screenplay; best sound, recording; best film editing.