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Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Goodbye Mr. Chips:' 'Harry Potter' for the 'Downton Abbey' Set

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Robert Donat's Charles Edward Chipping, a.k.a Mr. Chips, lacks magical powers and does not teach his students how to cast spells and make potions, but is an integral part of life at the roughly 450 year-old English boys boarding academy Brookfield School where he teaches for roughly 60 years. (There is no mention of athletic competitions against Hogwarts.) Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1939 classic film "Goodbye Mr.  Chips" tells the extraordinary story of this ordinary character's life just in time for back to school.

The thoroughly awesome "Chips" also has parallels with Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece "Citizen Kane" in that it starts with scenes of Chips near the end of his life in the 1930s and then brings us back to his starting his Brookfield career in 1870; like an early scene in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the newly hired Chips takes a special train to Brookfield. Alas, unlike the Hogwarts Express, boarding the Brookfield Express does not require using an enchanted railway station track.

This classic film then does its legendary job showing how Chips evolves from making rookie mistakes to becoming the beloved educator who classic film fans have adored for decades.

Although Donat won a well-deserved Oscar for depicting Chips at every stage in his life, a strong argument exists for giving the academy the same caning as unruly Brookfield students for denying co-star Greer Garson a win for best actress for her theatrical movie debut in this film and "Chips" itself a win for best picture.

Garson's  Katherine is the love of Chips' life and truly his personal and professional savior. (The scene in which they meet is must-see film.) The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, provides a sense of her awesome performance.

Donat's and Garson's perfect performances are only a small part of what makes "Chips" so special. It is a perfect melange of heart, humor, and history.

The depiction of Chip's rowdy students does not change much throughout the 60 years; a little rascal tries to get the embarrassed Chips to refer to Queen Elizabeth I by her nickname "the virgin queen" on Chip's first day on the job, and one of the final scenes has students tricking a new boy into ringing the bell of the elderly Chips. The contrast regarding how Chips handles these pranks demonstrates that he has come a long way baby.

The movie additionally shows Chips' particularly special relationships with three generations of boys from one family. Along a similar line, a former student of Chips' returning years later as Brookfield's headmaster has parallels with America's oldest boarding school Governor's Academy, nee Governor Dummer Academy, recently appointing alum Peter Quimby (also known as "Headmaster Petey") to lead that institution.

The history part relates to events such as  Brookfield's faculty commenting that newly published author H.G. Wells lacks any chance of establishing a strong following. A longer and more detailed storyline focuses on Brookfield faculty members and students going off to fight in what was first known as the Great War and later as WW I.

The larger theme, and one that makes "Chips" so enduring, is that Chips is a model Englishman who keeps calm and carries on throughout the whole film no matter what fate and world events place in his path. It makes one wish that this"ordinary bloke" truly was everyman.

Any muggles with questions or comments about "Chips" are welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.