Tuesday, October 10, 2006

(appears at number eleven on my top 100 countdown)

Ah 1939. It was a very good year. Not only did this great cinematic year turn out such great classics as Gone With the Wind, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Women, The Wizard of Oz, and Goodbye Mr Chips, but these classics all held universal appeal and still remain hugely popular worldwide. There are a few movies that I've seen that move me just as much after repeat viewings as they did at first. This is one of them. Granted, I was much younger when I saw it initially, so it was inevitable that I would appreciate the depth of the story more as an adult. So help me it STILL makes me swoon.

Arthur Chipping is a integral part of Brookfield school. But when he arrived as a young man , he was the school's straight-laced, reserved Latin professor. After making a few stumbles in the disciplinary area, he became universally unloved by most of his students and therefore his dreams of becoming Headmaster seemed unreachable. After years of strict and cold teaching, watching all the other professors receive gifts and accolades from the boys, he is somewhat jaded. Reluctantly, he agrees to go along with a fellow teacher on a walking tour of Germany-completely aware he was only asked out of pity. Surprisingly, the trip changes his life in every way when he meets beautiful Katherine who soon becomes his loving wife. Their relationship transforms 'Mr Chips' , as she calls him, to the point that by the end of his life he has become the school's most beloved and legendary personage.

This is a love story. Though there is little physicality to their relationship, or even a lot of screen time devoted to it, the connection between Katherine and 'Chips' is timelessly involving. It makes you think about all the relationships in your life, not just the 'significant other'. It's about support and loyalty and fawning looks that go straight to the heart. It's also about the wonderful effects of change that love can have on a willing heart. The way that the prude, unworldy Mr Chipping melts beneath Katherine's understanding eyes and insinuates himself almost unknowingly into kind and witty 'Mr Chips' is something that we can all appreciate and enjoy.

Without Robert Donat, the movie would fail. He is miraculous to watch. We actually forget we are watching the same man, since the progression of his age is so believeable and it is, after all, a movie. He becomes an old man effortlessly. The looks, the voice, the walk (that crazy-good make-up also helps) all just completely convince. His attitude at the beginning as he stammers through this foreign environment is discomfitting at the it should be. But his complete ease when he finally opens up is even more wonderful. It's just a beautiful piece of work. Greer Garson is so lovely and loveable that words cannot express. She has never been prettier or more endearing. Supporting characters are also memorable, especially young Terry Kilburn who plays three generations of Peter Colley. All three 'Peters' are different and equally precocious.

In addition to the great acting, the direction by Sam Wood is loving and deliberate-focusing solely on developing the central character. It is a character study, after all-a life story- and without this approach it just wouldnt work. The music is also very moving, especially the lovely choir piece that serves as the Brookfield school anthem. The eventual placement of World War I is handled very well and we feel its effects without ever leaving the school's campus.

This is a beautiful movie and a wonderful story. You will be entertained and amazed ...and I dare you not to cry.

My Rating: 10/10


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