Monday, November 21, 2022

#2,866. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) - Peter O'Toole Triple Feature


By the time MGM released Goodbye Mr. Chips in 1969, big-budget musicals were already on their way out. But that didn’t stop the studio from giving this movie their all. With scenes shot on-location in Italy and England, combined with first-time director Herbert Ross’s grand approach to the material (there are sweeping helicopter shots and one or two large-scale song-and-dance numbers), Goodbye Mr. Chips received the “epic” treatment, complete with an entr’acte and Intermission.

It was undoubtedly an expensive film to make. And it’s a shame, too, because most of that expense wasn’t even necessary. When you think back on this movie, you won’t remember the picturesque landscapes of Pompeii, or the oft-tired musical sequences. The heart and soul of Goodbye Mr. Chips lies in the chemistry between stars Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark, and on that level – and that level alone – it is a smashing success.

Opening in 1924 and concluding in the days just after World War II, Goodbye Mr. Chips relates the unlikely romance that blossoms between Brookfield public school’s Latin teacher Arthur Chipping (O’Toole) and showgirl Katherine Bridges (Clark). A novice at romance, Chipping can’t understand why a woman as exuberant and outgoing as Katherine would ever fall in love with him. But she does, and before long the two are married.

Wedded bliss proved hard to come by in the early days. Katherine’s “questionable” past (she was romantically linked to a number of young men during her stage career) caused quite a stir, with Brookfield’s chief financial donor Lord Sutterwick (George Baker) threatening to withdraw his support if Katherine was permitted to reside on school grounds. But Chipping stood by his wife, who, as the years progressed, became quite popular with the boys of Brookfield.

With WWII looming on the horizon, Chipping (now called “Chip”) and Katherine do what they can to maintain the status quo at Brookfield. But the war will prove more costly than either of them could have ever known.

Goodbye Mr. Chips has the look and feel of a “big” film. The Italian sequences are gorgeously shot, and the musical number that first introduces us to Clark’s Katherine, a rousing, patriotic sequence titled “London is London”, is well-staged. In fact, “London is London” is one of only two songs that I actually liked, the other being “When I Am Older”, a humorous montage performed by the boys of Brookfield, imagining a time when they will finally be free of the school’s strict regulations.

Ultimately, Goodbye Mr. Chips is a flashy, large-scale movie that tells a small, intimate story, and its ambitious presentation might have easily overpowered it had it not been for O’Toole and Clark. This movie works because we believe “Chip” and Katherine are truly in love, and watching their relationship develop over time is the film’s single greatest attribute.

O’Toole, who has always been one of my favorite actors, is perfectly believable as both the boring, stiff Mr. Chipping in the film’s opening scenes and the man in love who dominates the second half. The surprise, though, is the marvelous performance delivered by singer Petula Clark, who even manages to steal a few scenes from her more experienced co-star; she owns the entire Italy sequence, and the scene where she breaks into tears after Chipping explains why he loves being a teacher had me tearing up as well.

As a big-screen epic, Goodbye Mr. Chips leaves a lot to be desired. As a screen romance, it’s a winner through and through.
Rating: 7 out of 10

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