Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I have a shocking lapse in my film buff background: I have yet to see all of GOODBYE MR. CHIPS; I've seen bits and pieces, maybe even an entire 20 minutes, but it's one of those movies I know so much about, I feel like I've seen it several times already so I never plunk myself down to watch the whole thing. However, I have now spent time with what is undoubtedly the female version of Mr. Chips in Miss Bishop and I feel even less inclined to view the original. This film covers fifty years in the life of the college English teacher of the title (Martha Scott) starting in the 1880's with Scott as a freshman at a newly established school, Midwestern University. Fired up by a speech given by college president Edmund Gwenn, Scott decides to become a teacher. Delivery boy William Gargan is sweet on her, but she puts him off to devote all her energy to her studies and then, after graduation, to her career teaching at Midwestern U. Her students, of course, all love her right away. One evening, while putting candy out on the roof to cool, she gets locked out and has to depend on the kindness of a passing stranger (Donald Douglas) to get back in. He's a lawyer, new in town, considered "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," but Scott falls for him anyway (much to Gargan's hidden dismay). Unfortunately, just before their marriage, he confesses that he's fallen in love with Scott's cousin (Mary Anderson) and he marries her instead. The humiliated Scott decides to leave town to take a job as a librarian, but when a pregnant Anderson returns home after her husband leaves her, then dies in childbirth, Scott stays to raise the child.

The movie skips the next 18 years, during which time I guess nothing at all happens to Scott (except the child grows up to become Marsha Hunt), and then she falls in love again, this time with new teacher Sidney Blackmer, who is in the midst of a divorce. However, that romance falls though as well. More years pass, Gwenn retires, Hunt marries and has a daughter (who goes to Midwestern U), and we're brought up to the present day at a surprise retirement dinner for Scott. Gargan has remained loyal to her even though it never seems like he gets much out their relationship, and the film ends (as it began before entering flashback mode) with Gargan and Scott going over old days. Scott is fine in what is basically a colorless role, as is Gargan, who despite co-star billing has little to do. Sterling Holloway plays the college gardener who is involved in a tedious running gag about his flower beds which keep getting trampled. Also with Dorothy Peterson, John Archer (father of actress Anne Archer), and Rosemary DeCamp in her first movie role. There are two quotes I enjoyed. One, which is the point of the movie, comes from a poem that Blackmer reads to Scott: "The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another." The other comes from Scott when being ushered out to her surprise dinner and told she looks "snappy"; her curt reply: "I must above all things be 'snappy.'" A little more of that kind of bite would have made this movie more interesting. [TCM]

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