Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a 1939 Metro Goldwyn Mayer film directed by Sam Wood and starring Robert Donat as a much-loved Classical master at an English public school near the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Based on a popular 1933 novel by James Hilton (the author of Lost Horizon, source of another hit film), the film won Donat the Best Actor Oscar in Hollywood's annus mirabilis of 1939 against such competitors as Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights, and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Chips was the pet project of MGM producer Irving Thalberg, who resolved to give the film first-class treatment -- hence, the engagement of an all-British cast (except, of course, for Paul von Hernried (shortly to reinvent himself as "Paul Henreid" of Casablanca fame) as Max Staeffel), including the well-regarded English theatre actor Robert Donat and an up-and-coming young actress named Greer Garson, propelled to stardom by this film. Brookfield School was filmed on location at Repton School. Respected English composer Richard Addinsell was engaged to write the film-score, and the screenplay was prepared by Eric Maschwitz, R. C. Sherriff, and Claudine West under the supervision of James Hilton himself. Unfortunately, Thalberg died at the relatively young age of 37 before the release of the film; he is commemorated in the film's main title sequence.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound, winning, as noted above, in the Best Actor category. Goodbye, Mr. Chips has been voted the 72nd greatest British film ever in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films poll.

In 1969 the novel was filmed as a rather dreary Musical with Peter O'Toole as Mr. Chipping and Petula Clark as Kathie. Two Live Action Television adaptations were made, in 1984 with Roy Marsden and Jill Meager, and in 2002 with Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton.

Tropes used in Goodbye, Mr. Chips include:
  • Adaptation Distillation: Several characters (notably various headmasters) are conflated and somewhat sweetened for the film, particularly Ralston, who in the novel is a hard-driving, vulgarly money-conscious go-getter. Some of the novel's implied Socialist egalitarianism is also soft-pedalled (for instance, the episode of the General Strike in 1926 is entirely omitted).
  • British Accent: An interesting variation is actually a plot-point; new headmaster Ralston insists that Chipping teach using the "New Pronunciation" of Latin (a scholarly re-construction of the 1st century B.C. pronunciation -- e. g., "Cicero" pronounced "Kickero" [actually more like "Keekayro"]), whereas Chips prefers using the traditional English pronunciation ("Cicero" pronounced "Sisserro").
  • Caught In The Fog: How Chips and Kathie meet.
  • Comforting Comforter: Chips and Kathie share his jacket on the mountain.
  • Fired Teacher: Averted in that Mr. Chipping, though ordered to retire for refusing to adopt modern methods (such as adopting the New Pronunciation of Latin and placing emphasis on high marks rather than on character development), is reinstated by the protests of his students and their parents.
  • Identical Grandson: English boy-actor Terry Kilburn plays four generations of the Colley family taught by Mr. Chipping.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Teaching the boys about the Roman Lex Canuleia (which enabled plebeians to marry patricians), Chips tells them that if an aristocrat thereafter told a commoner he couldn't marry her, she could reply, "Oh, yes, you Can-You-Liar."
  • It Will Never Catch On: One of the masters is reading a novel and replies to another who asks about the author: "It's his first. He'll never come to anything. He's too fantastic." The novel is The Time Machine and the author is H. G. Wells.
  • Leitmotif: Johann Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz" (An den schönen, blauen Donau) comes to symbolize Chips and Kathy's love.
  • Latin Pronunciation Guide: Is kickeroed right in the culum.
  • May-December Romance: Chips is about twice Kathie's age when they fall in love.
  • Mistaken Identity: Chipping and Staeffel, hearing of two English ladies hiking through the Alps, assume they must be Kathie and Flora; they turn out to be bloomer-clad battleaxes who accuse the masters of making indecent advances on them.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Averted, in that every member of the cast who is supposed to be English actually is. (Germanophones, however, may notice that Staeffel, who is said to have been with a Saxon regiment, has an Austrian accent.)
  • Poirot Speak: Staeffel very occasionally lapses into this, as when he says he "bursts out of tears."
  • Regional Riff: Chipping and Kathie's sojourn in Vienna is accompanied on the soundtrack by a series of Strauß waltzes.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted -- when Chips goes to rescue Kathie, he finds her very much in command of the situation. They fall in love anyway.
  • Time Passes Montage: Several montages are employed throughout the film, with students in the costumes of advancing periods crossing the screen while making period-topical remarks.
  • Title Drop: The last line in the film, but also said earlier by Kathie at their first parting.
  • Victorian Britain: The bulk of the film takes place in The Gay Nineties; after Kathie's death it proceeds through The Edwardian Era through World War I to the 1930s.