Movie Review: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
“He is a shy schoolmaster. She is a music hall star. They marry and immediately have 283 children…all boys!”
Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969)
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Petula Clark, Michael Redgrave
Synopsis: A shy schoolteacher at a boys school falls for a showgirl.
The film begins in 1924 with Mr Chipping (Peter O’Toole – Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu Dawn) forcing his class to attend an additional lesson to go over where they went wrong on their exams while the rest of the school is celebrating the last day of term before the summer holidays. We all knew a teacher like that, and this one has acquired the nickname of Ditchy because he’s as dull as ditch water. That summer, Chipping goes on holiday to Pompeii, where he meets his future wife (Petula Clark), an actress. The pair makes an unlikely couple, but her influence encourages Chipping to look at life differently while he provides her with a stability that was previously missing from her life. By the end of the film, Chipping is a much-loved fixture at his school…
At first glance, this didn’t look too promising. An unnecessary remake of a classic picture, with a collection of mostly dodgy songs clumsily shoehorned into the story which is updated to a different time era from the original, and a leading man playing against type. But the truth is it holds up pretty well, and by focusing more on the relationship between Chips and his wife, the film probably devotes more attention to the central theme of how opening one’s self up to others enriches our lives even when our circumstances might suggest otherwise than the original did (although it’s a long time since I saw Robert Donat’s version).
Peter O’Toole can’t sing for toffee, but he gives a nice performance otherwise, playing against type as the diffident school master, and pulls off the big emotional scene with skill. Petula Clark acquits herself well in a rare screen role, and shows an unexpected comic touch when called upon. They’re supported by a number of familiar faces – Michael Redgrave (Dead of Night), Sian Philips (Mrs O’Toole at the time), George Baker, Michael Bryant (Gandhi), etc – all of whom are called upon to do very little but at least do it very well.
In the final analysis, the 1969 version doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, if for no other reason than its ill-advised attempt to turn it into a musical – especially one with such unmemorable songs. Most of them could quite easily be cut from the film without it losing anything, which would help trim its overlong running time.
(Reviewed 26th November 2011)