Warner Bros. // 1969 // 154 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 5th, 2009
The musical that fills the world with love.
"One doesn't laugh at people just because they're funny. Not some people."
Arthur Chipping (Peter O'Toole, The Ruling Class) is a very reserved and proper man. He has been a schoolmaster for years and years, and finds a great deal of satisfaction in his job. His students don't particularly care for him all that much. They call him "ditchy," short for "ditchwater," as in "dull as ditchwater." Chipping (or "Chips" as he is called by his colleagues) cares a great deal about his students, and wants nothing more than to give them a good education. This is an English boarding school in the 1920s, and Chips cares a great deal about maintaining the rules and regulations in what seems to be a changing time. Other schoolmasters are willing to bend their standards for political reasons, but Chips never wavers. If he needs to prevent the son of the school's biggest donor from playing in a tennis tournament in order to teach him a lesson, that's precisely what he's going to do.
Chips doesn't get out on the town very often. He's interested in art and culture, and is greatly anticipating a forthcoming trip to visit some archaeological ruins. However, one night a former student convinces Chips to check out a show. Chips despises the musical comedy that he witnesses, but later that evening, he meets the star of the show. Her name is Katherine (Petula Clark), and she finds Chips a rather intriguing figure. Months later, while Chips is taking his precious vacation in Pompeii, he runs into Katherine again. The two strike up a friendship, which turns into a courtship, which turns into a marriage. Some of Chips' colleagues are horrified by this and attempt to have him dismissed from the school for marrying a young stage actress. Will Chips survive this persecution? Will he ever manage to connect with his students? Will his marriage last?
I'm a fan of the 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which features a wonderful performance from Robert Donat in the title role. It's a good story, and someone apparently decided that it needed to be told again. The decisions made in this remake proved to be a mixed bag. On the positive side, the story is successfully given a new time period and benefits quite well from being set in pre-WWII England. On the negative side, whoever decided that Goodbye, Mr. Chips would work as a lavish Hollywood musical was obviously on some sort of crazy hallucinogen. It's an uneven viewing experience, but ultimately a reasonably satisfactory one.
I find the casting of Peter O'Toole in the role of Mr. Chips rather curious. To be sure, O'Toole is a splendid actor, and this film was made when he was in his prime. However, casting Peter O'Toole as Mr. Chips was more or less the equivalent of casting Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. It works beautifully, but this is a character that is almost a direct opposite of O'Toole's screen presence. At that time in particular, O'Toole was a master of playing devious, sexually charged, worldly characters who were defined by their gleeful carnality. Mr. Chips would be appalled by the real-life O'Toole. Chips is restrained, proper, courteous, serious, and absolutely a model citizen in every single way. O'Toole seems to be holding everything back here, which seems an appropriate fit for a man who always seems to feel a little awkward and uncomfortable internally while seeming very composed externally.
Many have criticized the casting of pop singer Petula Clark as the female lead. I really don't see why. Clark has an infectious screen presences that serves as a lovely counterbalance to Chips' reserved propriety. She's also responsible for singing the vast majority of the songs, and she does a rather fine job with them, forgettable though they may be. Katherine is a very interesting character in the film. She's a very nice woman, but her very presence causes chaos. Katherine has an unpredictable joy that seems positively horrendous to many members of the school. To you and I, Katherine may just seem like an ordinary human being, but to the folks at the school, she comes across as an anarchist attempting to tear down the unofficial-yet-important social order.
The film was given a huge budget, which wasn't particularly necessary. Sure, it means we lots of wide shots of the school featuring hundreds of extras. It may seem a bit superfluous, but the film is still quite a pleasure to look at. This DVD sports a reasonably solid transfer. Blacks are deep, flesh tones are accurate, and the gentle color palette is rendered in a very pleasing manner. However, sometimes the image is a bit too soft, even becoming blurry on occasion. The audio is clean but has a few volume issues. O'Toole's voice seems a bit soft in contrast to everyone else's, and the music wobbles just a bit on occasions. The only extras included are theatrical trailers for both versions of the film.
Making Goodbye, Mr. Chips a musical was a horrible, horrible idea. The songs hamper the film in a variety of ways. First off, they ruin the pacing of the film more often than not, grinding the story to a halt in favor of providing an obligatory tune. Second, the songs push the film out by 30 minutes, making it a bit of a slog to get through. Third, Peter O'Toole may be a remarkable talent, but his musical numbers here are just embarassing. While his singing voice worked just fine in the savagely satirical The Ruling Class a little later, his singing really damages a serious, sensitive film like this one. Fourth, the songs just aren't any good, despite receiving ornate orchestrations from none other than John Williams.
I also object to the way the Tragic Dramatic Moment late in the film is handled. There is a single shot that easily stands as the single worst decision of the film. I'll give you a hint: it involves a bomb. The students in the film all seem rather interchangeable, despite some effort on the part of the film to make certain students stand out a bit. Finally, why aren't there more extras included on this disc?
It sure has taken a long time for this incarnation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips to get a DVD release. It's inferior to the original, but still worth a look despite being uncomfortably forced into the musical genre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.20:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 154 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Theatrical Trailers