Director: Sam Wood
Writer: R. C. Sherriff, Claudine West, and Eric Maschwitz
Producer: Victor Saville
Cinematographer: Freddie Young
by Jon Cvack
It was while discussing this film with my girlfriend that I realized the striking similarity to Mr. Holland’s Opus, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that 90s postmodernism even hit so far as the obscure feel good films from the 1930s (though given the Swingers subculture during the period, maybe that makes sense). Mr. Holland’s Opus is one of the most underrated films from the decade, starring Richard Dreyfuss as a high school band teacher, structured within a Forrest Gump style (which came out a year later), though instead of participating in historical events, they occur around him. He sees the impact of the Vietnam War, Rock n’ Roll, John Lennon, and Rise of Hip Hop (from what I remember). It’s not the dominant focus of the story, just simply existing in the background, sometimes discussed, other times acknowledged. Mr. Holland had always wanted to become a great composer, having worked on his Opus all his life, hacking away at it bit by bit throughout the decades.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a film with the near same plot and structure, except with Mr. Chips as a Latin teacher, who one day hopes to be headmaster, never quite reaching that point. We see the impact of The First World War, discover the Waltz, eventually dealing with an officious Headmaster who wants to correct his teaching methods (in a strikingly similar role to the Principal from Mr. Holland’s Opus).
The story begins with Mr. Chipping (aka Mr. Chips; Robert Donat) as a 25 year old, fresh Masters grad latin teacher, as he takes on his first day in the classroom. We know how the story goes, as the kids provide zero respect, acting disruptive and rude - though given when this movie was made, I had zero issue, as this film probably invented the trope. Of course, he starts to earn respect, setting his sights on becoming Housemaster and later Headmaster. However, when he’s passed up for the gig a few years into the job, in disappointment he heads off a trip to Vienna with his friend, where he meets his soon-to-be wife Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson), a progressive feminist and suffragist who pulls Mr. Chips (as she nicknames him) out of his shell. The two soon get married and attempt to have kids, which ends in tragedy as both the child and Kathy die during the birth.
This all occurs on April 1, and in the film’s most moving and brilliant scene, we see the kids plan a prank for their favorite teacher, involving a note full of Chip’s famous latin puns, not knowing about the tragedy that just befell him. Soon a boy comes in, whispering to another what happened. The news passes out the room in the same telephone manner, before all the boys hear it, and we share in their moment of silence as the happy-go-lucky Chips remains quiet, his smile gone.
Stay tuned for Part 2...
BELOW: The trailer for Mr. Holland's Opus, in case anyone was wondering what I'm talking about. Richard Dreyfuss would go on to earn a Best Actor Nomination
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Thoughts on films, old and new
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