Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969)

GoodbyeMrChips1969Suggested by Brad Nelson • An aged teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school recalls his career and his personal life over the decades. His life changes when he meets Katherine Bridges, a music hall actress and a woman with a questionable past. She affectionately calls him Mr. Chips.
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3 Responses to Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969)

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This was originally brought to my attention by Timothy. I hadn’t seen it before. And this is quite different from the 1939 version which I had seen before. (I think. It all becomes a blur after several thousand movies.)

    This is an outstanding movie in every way with one large weakness: Peter O’Toole isn’t much of a singer. His rough singing, in some respects, reflects his character, especially in contrast to Dame Clark (who can indeed sing), so I guess it works on that level.

    Dame Clark is saddled with an unattractive doo for most of the film. When she is “older” she has a better hair style. Siân Phillips is barely recognizable. It’s an over-the-top role. More of a bon mot than anything. It’s part of the slight incoherence of this picture, an opportunity slightly lost. This could have been a major classic instead of a minor one.

    The chemistry between O’Toole and Clark is forced. All that said, O’Toole is good playing the shriveled up disciplinarian for whom the beauty and magic has gone out of life. We don’t get much back-story on Katherine Bridges, which is part of the weakness of the film. She states her case but we often don’t feel it — not like we feel the isolation and rote drudgery of dull-as-ditch-water Ditchy.

    Despite the plot and characters that are not as fleshed out and vibrant as they could be, the poignancy of Mr. Chipping’s existence and the vibrancy of the addition to his life (and his school) of Katherine Bridges goes a long way. There are at least a half dozen scenes that are truly magical, including the scene where Katherine Bridges (then Mrs. Chipping, I believe) is in the auditorium with the faculty and students. They are singing one of the school songs. Her vibrant pitch-perfect voicing takes this school act from somewhat dreary tradition to earnest life.

    There are some charming scenes of Mrs. Chipping breaking a few minor rules (such as calling children by their first name) and adding some warmth to a cold, grey school…the feminine touch. This could have been played up more and to more comic effect as well. But the movie, despite running 152 minutes, stills seems unfinished or too succinct here and there.

    There are some nice songs in this. One of the best is sung by the students as they are marching back to school, and not too pleased to do so. The highlight of the movie is when Mr. Chipping and Miss Bridges meet by coincidence in Italy. She is bored of her guided tour, take off on her own, and runs across Mr. Chipping eating his lunch near the top step of an old Roman theatre alone. They decide to see the sites together.

    The many great scenes such as this make this movie very much worth watching. But to be picky, this movie is a bit too much dependent upon great scenes rather than weaving them together into a richer whole. As good as this movie is, that may seem a quibble. But I do believe there were some lost opportunities…which is quite appropriate given the theme of this film.

    What this movie never is is pompous. Even in its imperfections, it has an approachable charm. It whispers these lives to you (other than Siân Phillips, of course). It doesn’t hit you over the head as so many modern movies do. It is easy to love, as it is easy to love Dame Clark.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The scene in which the new Mrs. Chipping makes a startling impression in singing the school song is an excellent one, which I mentioned in previously discussing the movie. It’s a great singer at her finest.

      And, technically, I believe the correct British usage would be Dame Petula, just as Sir Alec Guinness would be Sir Alec.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Dame Petula it shall be henceforth. But I don’t think I’ll take the time to change it.

        Although I sound critical of this movie, I sat in rapt attention for its entire 152 minute run time. It just seemed perhaps like two movies in one. Or three. There comes a moment well into the movie (an hour and a half?) when it seems as if it could have ended on a happy note. But that was not to be.

        Dame Petula floats into and out of Mr. Chipping’s life. And she is so effective and central that the bits that come before her and after seem extraneous. And I don’t know why I fixate on the hair, but it needn’t have been long. Give me the hair in this video, for example. Her hair in the movie said “Settled, married woman” when she was anything but. Can’t credit the hair stylist for doing her job on this. (I’ll take this hair as well.)

        I’m a Peter O’Toole fan. For whatever reason, many people dismiss him. They look at Lawrence of Arabia and just scratch their heads. (Probably the Transformers or Spider-Man 3 crowd.) But I would have been pleased if they cast a man who could really belt out a tune. But he does play his part well.

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