Goodbye, Mr. Chips: Review
Goodbye Mr. Chips is the original story of the old school master who has devoted his life to the education of young children. But it also has one of the sweetest and most endearing love stories nestled away right smack dab in the middle of it. The success of combining these two disparate plots lies mostly with the unequalled talents of the two leads, English matinee idol Robert Donat and British born Greer Garson in her very first screen role.
Acclaimed Director Sam Wood (A Night at the Opera, The Pride of the Yankees, Kings Row), directed many actors to Oscar nominations (Gary Cooper, Ginger Rogers, Ingrid Bergman), and contributed greatly to Donat’s sensational achievement by casting him against type. Donat plays a buttoned down, stick in the mud schoolmaster who, with the aid of a devoted young wife, learns to bend to changing ways and accept the faults of human nature. Donat’s surprisingly dead on and lovingly nuanced performance snatched the prized OScar for Best Actor of 1939 away from fan favorite and predicted recipient Clark Gable, who was expected to win for his performance in Gone With the Wind. This was an amazing accomplishment.
Due to this being his most popular performance it is difficult to conceive of Donat in any other guise. However, a quick glance at his resume reveals dashing turns as the lead in The Count of Monte Cristo and Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. One can only imagine what a surprise it must have been for audiences to see Donat as the aging Mr. Chips, let alone the impression that the remarkable change of character must have left upon his fellow actors.
Greer Garson’s performance not only earned her an Academy nomination for her supporting role, but it cemented her personae for which she was known throughout her years as an MGM staple. It was the same basic kindhearted and hopeful wife character that would garner her a Best Actress Oscar in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver.
I can’t imagine Mr. Chips being made today. No studio, let alone production company would find enough value in the delightful charms of such a seemingly bland character and prosaic storyline. And there lies the superiority that the Golden Age of Cinema has over the films of the modern age. Because they had to produce so many films to keep up with public consumption and had to compete for the everyday moviegoer and not just the sensational needs of a weekend or holiday audience, filmmakers were willing to pour every resource they had into creating a movie of quality. Even if that quality came at the price of revenue, studios often conceded the losses for what they deemed to be a prestige film that might garner an Academy Award they could flaunt in front of the other studios.
Today, it is always quality that is sacrificed for the sake of the almighty dollar, and that is one of the main reasons you will never see another Goodbye Mr. Chips, let alone a year like 1939.