Friday, February 21, 2014

indelible moment: Ross's "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

Perhaps I'm a cynic but only a precious few sad films manipulate me. I'm too aware of the mechanations to be reduced to tears. But Herbert Ross's 1969 musical remake of James Hilton's "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" never fails to tear me up. Perhaps I relate to the delicate acting duet shared by Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark, respectively introverted and extroverted here.

Hilton's 1934 novel (also the source of the 1939 Sam Wood film with Robert Donat and Greer Garson) is an incredibly sad tale of a man (O'Toole), a reserved teacher at a British boys' boarding school, who is fated to be alone. For one brief moment, a woman (Clark), a music-hall entertainer, comes into his life, igniting it, but her presence proves to be wrenchingly brief. Mr. Chips' life ends the way it began - in solitude.

Hilton aptly described his tale as "a long short story."

The shot of Mrs. Chips speeding off in a jeep to participate in the war effort as entertainer to the troops, waving a seeming temporary farewell to her husband is fleeting. It will be Chips' last image of his beloved wife. She will never return. It is a genuinely sad, truly indelible moment.

O'Toole brings immense dignity and feeling to his reading of Terence Rattigan's dialogue and Leslie Bricusse's lyrics. Clark, meanwhile, demonstrates that she was made to be a leading screen soubrette. Alas, that never happened. Much like her character in the film, this is one of the last times we would see Petula Clark. At least, on screen.


Beth said...

A lovely film. It always overwhelms me. Peter O'Toole's performance is achingly beautiful, one he should have received more credit for. Bravo.

Jeff Cashill said...

Ross's version of "Chips" is so beautiful, thoroughly imbued with ambiguity and enigma: ambiguity of tone, of character and of theme. The moment you mention is a good example of all this.

Mitch Croft said...

I generally steer clear of films whose intent is to make one weep. But Ross's version of this story is amazingly told and structured, thanks in large part to Terence Rattigan's script and the subtle score by Leslie Bricusse. The scene you mention in particular is an incredible document of heartbreak. This is the first of two films in which Ross experimented with film musical format, the other being "Pennies from Heaven."