One of the most fondly remembered classics from cinema’s Golden Age, Sam Wood’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips examines a life well lived in a low-key, rather leisurely way making its narrative points and etching its characters so subtly that its sentiment, humor, and nostalgia are as natural as breathing.
The Production: 5/5
One of the most fondly remembered classics from cinema’s Golden Age, Sam Wood’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips examines a life well lived in a low-key, rather leisurely way making its narrative points and etching its characters so subtly that its sentiment, humor, and nostalgia are as natural as breathing. Nominated for seven Oscars during the fabled year of 1939 when Gone With the Wind swept almost everything to be had during award season, Chips nonetheless brought home the gold for its star in one of his greatest and most memorable performances.
Looking back on his sixty-three years as a part of Brookfield public school, Arthur Chipping (Robert Donat) remembers times both good and bad: his rocky first day at the school when an underclass gets the better of him, the succession of schoolboys over the years, each with his own set of problems and priorities; his meeting, falling in love with, and marriage to Katherine (Greer Garson) whose influence on bringing “Chips” out of his shell both for her and for the school are some of the things he recalls. We also see Chips finally gaining his fondest desire: to be named the Headmaster of Brookfield in a time of wartime emergency when unfortunate sacrifices have to be made.
James Hilton’s charming, unassuming little tome Goodbye, Mr. Chips! forms the basis of the movie’s Oscar-nominated screenplay written by, among others, R.C. Sherriff, Claudine West, and Eric Maschwitz. They use the flashback approach, of course, to emphasize Chips’ six decades with the school as we watch his facial hair change, his face crinkle with wrinkles, and his hair turn white. MGM’s most reliable company director Sam Wood helmed the movie at MGM’s English studio with cinematographer Freddie Young achieving miracles galore. Foremost among them are a convincing mountain scaling excursion (all inside studio walls) where Chips happens upon his future wife; with uncanny rear projection, some studio fog, and the craggy set, we’re completely captivated by the entire introductory sequence for Greer Garson (little wonder Louis B. Mayer signed her immediately to an MGM contract). Later on, the film becomes more episodic with less through narrative as the years pass and world events (Victoria’s passing, the Boar War, World War I) take their toll on the school and its adult and youthful populations. But the characters’ personalities have been so carefully and adroitly built that sentiment and wistfulness become natural byproducts to the viewing experience. Unless one has a heart of stone, it’s difficult to watch this story unfold and not give in to one’s emotions.
Without bombast or overt melodramatic tactics, Robert Donat’s Chips is among cinema’s most impressive performances. The character’s natural timidity and inexperience gives way to a fuller understanding of human nature guided by his loving wife and her influence on him getting him to break out of his inward shell and express himself in ways he’d never have attempted before. Greer Garson’s almost too-good-to-be-true Katherine doesn’t appear until almost forty minutes of the movie have passed, and she’s only around for the next thirty-five minutes after that, but her effervescence and joie-de-vivre make an indelible impression both on Chips and on the viewer. It’s really a supporting performance, but so captivated was the public with her work that the Academy honored her with a Best Actress nomination, her first of seven. Cleverly, director Wood has used youngster Terry Kilburn to represent several mischievous generations of Colley boys (one of his Colley incarnations grows up to be John Mills who leaves his family in Chips’ care when he goes off the war; Jill Furse plays his faithful wife in a lovely sequence). German professor Staefel is played by Paul Henreid who is instrumental in making Chips finally feel accepted by the faculty by inviting him along on a European walking tour.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The image is completely clean of dirt and debris, and the encode is solid with no signs of aliasing in the roof tiles or other straight line alignments. Sharpness isn’t always consistent, but the picture is still lovely. The grayscale has solid blacks and crisp whites though occasional shadow detail is murky. The movie has been divided into 34 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical of its era. Dialogue is clearly expressed, and it’s been blended with the Richard Addinsell music and the sound effects quite professionally. There is some soft hiss present pretty much through the entire film, but there are no instances of crackle, pops, or flutter to distract from one’s audible experience.
Special Features: 1/5
Theatrical Trailer (4:05, HD)
A character-based classic of the Golden Age, Sam Wood’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips remains a spellbinding and most enjoyable motion picture. Warner Archive has done what it could with aged and overly worn elements to deliver a beautiful movie on Blu-ray that’s well worth one’s time. Highest recommendation!
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