Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

A Chip off the Old Block

After ill health prevents the 83 year old Mr. Chips attending the first assembly of a new term he retires to his lodgings across from the school where in front of a roaring fire drifts off to sleep. His dreams take him back to 1870 and as a 23 year old the then Mr. Chipping arrives at Brookfield school for his first teaching position. Naive and inexperienced he soon falls foul of the students who intimidate him but after being lectured by the then Headmaster becomes a strict disciplinarian with the hope of one day progressing to headmaster. But when 18 years after starting his career he finds himself passed over for the promotion he takes a walking vacation in the Tyrol where he meets Katherine (Greer Garson) who after a whirlwind romance marry and return to England. But the love of Katherine changes Mr. Chipping as he takes the pet name of Chips, as she calls him, and becomes a more friendly teacher and bringing guidance for one generation after another through good times and bad.

What have Richard Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Matthew Perry and Robert Donat all got in common? They all have in their time starred in movies about teachers making a difference in the lives of their students and becoming much loved in the process. Now with that in mind "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", Robert Donat's contribution to the teacher student movies, does have some similarities to more recent movies but it is more about Mr. Chips rather than the students.

Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Now "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is an incredibly simple movie as it Mr. Chips' memories of his life as a teacher at Brookfield and how he becomes a much loved and respected teacher both by his pupils and the fellow teachers. We get to see how over the years he teaches one generation of a family after another and gets to know each and everyone personally whilst also dealing with the guardianship of the pupils as the war commences and both students and teacher enlist, giving Mr. Chips what he always desired when he is made Headmaster. All of which is incredibly sentimental but that is the point and you will be hard pushed to watch such a charming movie which has stood up so well to the passing of time.

Much of why "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" works is down to the casting of Robert Donat as he was such an expert in playing amusing characters. The opening scenes as we see an aged Mr. Chips with his bushy moustache and face full of creases is comically perfect and the sort of character which you instantly warm to because he exudes warmth. And that is the key because not only does Donat make Mr. Chips an amusing character but one who you quickly warm to and wish had been one of your own teachers. That is not to say the writing or directing lets the movie down as it is first rate but "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" works because of the skills of Robert Donat.

What this all boils down to is that "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is a little gem of a movie and one which despite now being 75 years old is as entertaining as ever. It is very much down to the performance of Robert Donat which makes the movie and is the sort of movie which once you've watched it once you want to watch again and again.