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HTF REVIEW: Goodbye Mr. Chips.



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#1 of 16 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted January 20 2004 - 02:32 PM

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Goodbye Mr. Chips


Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1939
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 115 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.98
Package: Snap Case





The Feature:
On February 3rd, Warner Bros. is poised to release seven Academy Award winning films. Goodbye Mr. Chips was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert Donat) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Greer Garson). Only Robert Donat was victorious. Greer Garson would have to wait three more years to collect her statue in another film, Mrs. Miniver, which is also among the winners to be released with this group.

Goodbye Mr. Chips is a beautiful account of a dedicated man, who, for sixty-three years, devoted his life to the school and the students he taught. Mr. Chipping (played by Robert Donat) comes across as a stiff, almost stodgy, old gentleman who teaches at England’s Brookfield Boys School. Though he initially had difficulty earning respect from his students, he eventually went on to become one of the most beloved figures of the school. Never afraid to take on the establishment, the sometimes mutinous teacher also earned the respect of his colleagues as well.

The story starts off during present day, when he finally meets Mr. Jackson his replacement, as he imparts some of his wisdom upon the eager but naive successor. Mr. Chipping falls asleep and, as a result, his life story and successful career while teaching at the academy is reflected upon by way of flashback.

Practically blindsided by naiveté, his very first day in class is a veritable free-for-all. After a stern warning “or else” from the Headmaster, Mr. Chipping realizes that he needs to get his class under control and very quickly gains the respect that’s needed. Unfortunately, he has become such a favorite of his students and fearing those qualities would be missed, he is even by-passed for an upcoming promotion of Housemaster.

During his summer vacation, the frustrated young man decides to take a trip with one of his colleagues, Mr. Staefel (played by a very young Paul Henreid interestingly credited as “Paul Von Hernried”) to Austria. During his trip, he meets a vivacious young woman by the name of Katherine (played by Greer Garson) who he falls in love with and eventually marries. Unfortunately, the love and companionship he so longed for would be very short lived when Katherine and their newborn child would pass away during the delivery. Devastated by the loss, Mr. Chips (as he would become affectionately referred to by Katherine) returned to his classroom and his students. Though, the relationship was a brief one, it would be the turning point that would change the life of Mr. Chips forever.

The years pass, and only due to the looming World War, does he eventually get the promotion he’s always dreamed of. Unfortunately, he’s become quite old and doesn’t have anyone to share it with other than the picture of his late wife Katherine which he still keeps on his desk. He becomes even more disheartened when he’s forced to read the names daily, of his former students who have lost their lives while serving their country. Sadly, in his final hours, he overhears one of his colleagues comment on the sadness of the lonely man not having any children, whereby Mr. Chips quickly responds by proclaiming “you’re wrong, I had thousands of them… thousands of them… all boys”.

What an absolutely moving and touching film…!!



Video:
Every once and awhile, it’s good to be humbled. It makes us appreciate the finer things and keeps us from taking them for granted. Such is the case with this video transfer. There have been very few WB transfers that I have admonished during my reviews. Unfortunately, this is one of them. And to be fair, I have no idea what condition the original elements were in, but I can only assume they were terrible.

Let me start with the good, since there isn’t a whole lot of it. The black levels were exceptional. Unfortunately however, that might be the very cause for much of everything else looking rather murky and downright dull. The contrast and grayscale levels were poor at best which rendered a rather flat non dimensional picture. There were occasional scenes that looked somewhat detailed, but for the most part the image was soft at best.

I know “grain” has been the center of many discussions as of late, but the amount of grain on this transfer was particularly bothersome. That, coupled with what appeared to be excessive artifacting, made the image less than appealing at times.

As we would expect for a film of this age, there were scratches and evidence of dirt as well as light speckle and shimmer – much more than I anticipated.

We’ve been spoiled. We’ve come to expect every WB classic film to look like the new Casablanca SE or The Bad And The Beautiful which simply isn’t fair nor is it realistic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept when a transfer like this comes along.



Audio:
From one extreme to another… This DD Mono track has no business sounding as good as it does and it delivers to perfection.

There was a slight amount of hiss throughout the film, however, it was miniscule. There were also a couple of occasions when I noticed some slight crackle but thankfully it was short lived. The track sounded as though it was unrefined and retained its original tonal qualities.

Dialogue was always as clear as could be, always remaining intelligible. During his trip to Austria, there were many occasions of Strauss’ beautiful waltzes accompanying the film which sounded impressive on both ends of the scale. Another good example of the mono track displaying some oomph was a Christmas scene with the choir and a pipe organ as well as a bombing raid that took place over the school. We’d have no business expecting a 65 year old mono track to do a better job.

Very impressive..!!



Special Features:
You know when the box describes the special features as “Languages” and “Subtitles”… that there aren’t any… None..!!



Final Thoughts:
It seems as though, lately, there has been a resurgence of rebellious teacher films. It’s no doubt that this film was the precursor for such films as The Emperor’s Club, Dead Poets Society and perhaps even to some extent, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. Fortunately, Goodbye Mr. Chips relies solely on great acting and lacks the sentimentality and melodramatics of its contemporary copies.

While the audio portion of this transfer is as good as can be expected - and then some, the video portion is somewhat of a disappointment. That’s not to say it’s terrible, but it certainly has its fair shares of problems. To be clear, my only reason for not assigning a Highly Recommended tag is due to the video portion - it’s an absolutely terrific film! Just know going in that the video presentation isn’t quite on par with what we’ve become accustomed to.

Recommended..!




Release Date: February 3rd, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 16 ONLINE   Steve...O

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Posted January 20 2004 - 02:54 PM

Another great review Herb. Thanks.

Regarding the transfer, I've never seen this film on TV when it didn't look bad. Most showings have looked cloudy. My guess is that there are no decent original elements left. However, I'll leave that determination for someone who knows the history of this film. I would venture to say that although considered a classic, Warners didn't think this would sell well enough to warrant a "Casablanca" style restoration (assuming one was even possible).

Sometimes one has to enjoy the film for the story and acting and not get hung up over A/V quality, and this would be one of those times.

Steve
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#3 of 16 OFFLINE   StevenFC

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Posted January 20 2004 - 05:39 PM

Man, I hope Mrs. Miniver and Mutiny on the Bounty are good transfers. I'll be really bummed if they aren't. They're two of my favorites. I have faith that Warners won't let me down. Mr. Chips is a second tier movie In my opinion, so I wouldn't expect them to break the bank to restore it. But it does leave me a little concerned about the others. Only special editions get the restoration treatment. I sure hope they had some good elements on hand.
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#4 of 16 OFFLINE   Richard Carnahan

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Posted January 20 2004 - 05:58 PM

I'm afraid the problem is with the existing elements and not the transfer. The laserdisc of GOODBYE MR. CHIPS doesn't look all that great either.

#5 of 16 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted January 20 2004 - 07:15 PM

for some reason, our local PBS station has been running a lot of WBs classic catalog titles shortly before they street on disc(last week they showed both versions of Gaslight, and not too long before that Meet Me In St Louis).
they played Mutiny a few months ago, and from the looks of the print, the dvd should at least look very good.
i've already seen a review of the disc that confirms it looks good.
from my memories of the Mrs Miniver ld, i would say that title also should look fine.

apart from still using EE when its not needed, i can rarely find fault with WBs product.

although dvdfile is reportedly saying Best Friends, which streeted yesterday doesn't look very good at all.

#6 of 16 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted January 20 2004 - 08:50 PM

I'm certainly looking forward to this film. While the transfer will no doubt be disappointing, as long as it isn't Madacy like, I'll get drawn into the film quickly enough and won't even notice.
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#7 of 16 OFFLINE   Amy Mormino

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Posted January 20 2004 - 09:27 PM

Goodbye Mr. Chips is one of my favorite classic films. Its one I would watch with the whole family growing up. My mother and I had a debate once on whether Donat (who won) or Clark Gable should have won the Best Actor. I say Donat, but my mom is an ardent Gone with the Wind and Gable fan. This is probably my favorite school-set movie ever.

Its a real pity that this film is in such bad shape print-wise. I would have hoped they could restore it, but I must concede it doesn't have a Casablanca-sized following. The lack of extras is too bad also. Still, I may buy this one purely for love of the movie.

#8 of 16 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted January 21 2004 - 12:17 AM

George... It certainly isn't "Madacy like", it's just not quite on par with what we're used to (at least from WB). And you're right, those watching will quickly be drawn in -- it's just too good a film to have not given it at least a "Recommended" tag.

Steven & Paul... Mrs. Miniver looks great. Just finishing up that one and hope to have it posted later today.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#9 of 16 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted January 21 2004 - 01:19 AM

We've been spoilt rotten by Warners haven't we? And I agree wholeheartedly Herb, the result is that when something crops up now - that would have been considered miraculous 4-5 years ago - that isn't pristine, my immediate reaction is one of disappointment. Which is nuts...

I'll just have to get to terms with the fact that not everything can look as good as Casablanca / Now Voyager / Mildred Pierce!

Love this film, and I can't wait to get it.

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#10 of 16 OFFLINE   TonyDale

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Posted January 21 2004 - 04:38 AM

I'm surprised that a trailer for the musical remake (Peter O'Toole & Petula Clark) wasn't included!
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#11 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen PI

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Posted January 21 2004 - 04:45 AM

This was one title that was filmed in England at the eve of the outbreak of the war in 1938/9. MGM had it's 'British Unit' based at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. I don't know the details of the system that MGM used at the time. When MGM completed their overseas productions, were the original picture and sound negatives shipped directly to Culver City, or did they just receive a 35mm composite duplicating negative or fine-grain positive for the premiere US run and have Denham labs retain the original materials? During the war Denham Studios was damaged in a bombing raid and was wondering if any valuable film was damaged or destroyed. I agree that "Goodbye, Mr.Chips" has not quite measured up to the quality I have seen in US productions. I would be interested to know if Warner might hold records on the history of this film, and other British productions, to see if they did in fact suffer such a fate - I pray not.
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#12 of 16 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted January 21 2004 - 08:46 AM

Can't wait for this DVD. Thanks for the great review Herb. My FAVORITE is the 1970's version so I hope that comes sometime soon (not sure what studio).

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#13 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen PI

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Posted January 21 2004 - 09:04 AM

David, the 70's version belongs to Warner also.
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#14 of 16 OFFLINE   Greg Krewet

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Posted January 21 2004 - 11:14 AM

Yes, I am also looking forward to this and the 1970 version.
Fans of this movie might be interested in the fact that
Acorn Media will release the miniseries To serve Them all My Days which has much in common with Chips.It certainly
is some of Masterpiece Theater finest 10 hours.Release date is Mar 6th, however you can get it now direct from
Acorn.
Best
Greg

#15 of 16 OFFLINE   Jefferson

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Posted January 30 2004 - 06:26 AM

I rarely post these days,
but i must step up to bat for this film...one of my faves.

Nice review,
and I will certainly pick up this disc.

True, it has ALWAYS looked bad...
I've never seen a television or video
version of this film that wasn't falling apart.

I am also a fan of the musical version (although it should be noted that it has a very different story line and is set in a different time period as well)...
But
hope it sees a dvd transfer
at some point...

#16 of 16 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted January 30 2004 - 07:07 AM

Good review.

If you really like the story, there was a version done about a year ago for Brit TV, and starring Martin Clunes in the title role [I don't know how well Mr Clunes is known over the other side of the Herring Pond - he played one of the leads in 'Men Behaving Badly'; his first notable role was as Barmy Fungy-Phipps in the Jeeves and Wooster series]. It's available now in R1.