Sunday, December 17, 2006

Goodbye Mr. Chips...

I enjoy classic old films and Turner Classic Movies outdid itself today with some really awesome films. The film du jour was "Goodbye Mr. Chips" from 1939 with Robert Donat and Greer Garson. Mr. Chips is a somewhat shy, socially awkward man who begins teaching at the prestigious Brookfield School outside London in the 1870's. For much of his life doesn't realize the tremendous positive impact he has on his boys. Early in his career, he attempts to bond with his new young students when he is reprimanded by the strict conservative old fashioned headmaster who believes in strict discipline and the idea that humor and fun have no place at the school.

While on vacation with a friend, Mr. Chips meets a young woman, Katherine Ellis, a young, charming and vivacious woman who teaches him how to have fun and changes his life. They get married shortly after they meet and his demeanor changes, he lightens up and defies the administration by becoming friendly with the students and gaining their trust.

Mr. and Mrs. Chips are highly regarded by the teachers and most importantly their students. A few years after they are married, Katherine and her baby die during childbirth and while Chips is never the same, he continues mentoring hundreds, thousands of boys as they pass through the school from young boy to manhood. He teaches at least three generations from several families whose sons attend the school. Several of his former students serve in the first World War and are killed. He is asked to resign because of his age and difference in teaching style but he refuses. Eventually he serves as headmaster temporarily when the official headmaster decides to go off to war. Five years later he retires on his own, with 63 years at the school, and a man known as an "institution" at Brookfield. The headmaster who once urged him to retire, regrets his eventual decision to leave but is very happy he stayed on five more years and proved him (the headmaster) wrong about his style of teaching. The teachers, current and former students are sad to see him go. He is after all as much an institution as the institution itself.

Eventually he becomes sick and as he lay dying in his bed he hears the headmaster who is back from war and in charge of the school again, standing in his bedroom talking to a man, one of Chips former students from many years before. The headmaster comments that it's a shame Mr. Chips was so lonely and never married or had children. Mr. Chips former student tells the headmaster that long ago he was married, something many people new to Brookfield did not know. And finally the headmaster remarks it was such a shame Mr. Chips never had any children. At this point, Mr. Chips, very ill but still somewhat coherent, wakes up and reminds them he had many children, thousands of them, all boys, and he smiles and the screen fades to all of the young faces who passed through his classroom and office over the past 6 decades.

Robert Donat who was only 34 years old at the time the movie was filmed, was incredible in the role, portraying a man from his thirties to his nineties. The acting, directing and makeup were superb. The story is timeless, reminding us that we all have a purpose and that the little things we do every day can have a tremendous positive impact on others for generations to come.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12/18/2006

    I've never seen the movie, but I started reading the book. I found it depressing, so I stopped reading. You make it sound sweet, but I know I would cry like a baby if I watched it.--ST