Monday, August 24, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

I always wondered how a simple and sentimental movie about a school teacher could net Robert Donat a Best Actor Oscar in one of the most hotly contended Oscar years ever. Well, now I have watched it and now I know.

Elderly Mr. Chips at the beginning of the movie

Robert Donat, same year, will someone explain to me how this young man came to look like the elderly man seen above?!?!?

I am probably the last person on earth to just get 'round to watching this one, but in case there is one more out there, here's the plot. The movie opens with an elderly Mr. Chips (Robert Donat) reflecting back on his life from the point that he was travelling to take his appointment as teacher at a prestigious private school. Is shows him as an almost painfully shy young man, desperate to do a good job and have his student like and respect him, but he can't seem to break out of the shell of shyness. After approximately a decade on the job, and being passed over for promotion, he finds himself on a trip to Austria. It is here that he meets Katherine (Greer Garson) and they fall in love, marry, and he brings her back to school. It is Katherine that helps ease him out of his shell and helps give him the confidence to become the man and teacher he always wanted to be.

Robert Donat is so completely believable as the 83-year-old man. Not only does he look different, but he carries himself completely different. He sounds completely different. When he delivers the somewhat teasing and grumpy old man line of, "Enough of your loathsome statistics woman, go about your business" you certainly can't imagine that coming from the younger version of himself. What a difference in demeanor and presence between the older Mr. Chips and the young, shy instructor who speaks slow and looks so awkward. I would have sworn on my life that they hired an old man to play the part. How on earth - in 1939 - did they make a 34-year-old Robert Donat look so different and believable as an 83-year-old?

I also want to mention Greer Garson's role too. It is amazing how skillfully and gracefully Katherine helps ease his uncomfortableness at social situations and teaches him how to interact with confidence. I think I have fallen for Greer Garson in this role. She is peaches and cream, delightful ... perfection.

This movie is a testament to storytelling. Chips isn't an extraordinary man really, he is someone that we can identify with - a shy person who learns to reach out. Give good actors and a good director a wonderful, simple story to tell without all of today's over-the-top trappings and this is what you often get - magic. I highly, highly recommend this one if you haven't already seen it.


kda0121 said...

This is a fantastic movie and Donat was perfect.

Jennythenipper said...

I'm in za real Robert Donat phase right now (see two Donat movies in a row on CinemaOCD). This is the movie that made me a fan. It's an amazing performance. The love story with Greer Garson, however brief is my favorite part.

AbbyNormal said...

Jenny - I know! And I am such a dork because I haven't seen either. I know - a Hitchcock one I haven't seen yet. Shame on me. :-(

I agree with you about the podcast thingy. I have tried to write a few blogs lately and haven't gotten very far.