Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Mitchell, 5. April 2007, 21:29

1939, Robert Donat and Greer Garson

This is traditionally THE movie about a beloved teacher, and I’ve been waiting for decades to see this. See, 1939 was quite a year for films, and I’ve wondered how films like The Wizard of Oz, Dark Victory, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington could be beaten so handily by Gone with the Wind (which I still haven’t seen) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It’s one of those canonical films, and I’m pleased to have finally crossed this one off the list.

Donat plays a shy, beloved teacher at an all-boys prep school in London. The story is episodic and shot in flashback, and shows us how Chips progresses from scared, overwhelmed beginning teacher to dearly loved school institution. Sort of a cross between Mark Twain and James Stewart, Chips has a winning personality and it didn’t take long for me to love him as much as the students love him.

But the thing that makes the film is his courtship and relationship with the Greer Garson character. This is the first I’ve ever seen of Garson, and I can see why she still shares the record for most consecutive Best Actress nominations (five, with Bette Davis). She is the epitome of the Hollywood movie star, but with a certain vulnerability and sweetness you don’t see in Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn. She’s definitely more like Ingrid Bergman’s strong-but-sweet character in Casablanca, and you can really see how she’d be taken in by the overly shy Mr. Chips, and how the two characters are so good for each other. Donat won the best-actor Oscar; Greer was nominated but lost to Vivian Leigh.

This is a classic, a definite must-see for those interested in the Hollywood canon. It’s perhaps not The Godfather or It’s a Wonderful Life, but it deserves at least a mention on anyone’s best-ever list, if for no reason other than Greer Garson.

9 out of 10. A true classic.

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