Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
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MGM invaded England and conquered the hearts of the world when it transferred one of production chief Irving G. Thalberg's last projects to the studio - recently acquired studios in Denham. Although owning a studio in England must have had a special charm for studio head Louis B. Mayer, a renowned Anglophile, the move was purely economic. England operated under a quota system that required a strict balance between British and imported films. By shooting some films in England, MGM could get more of its pictures into the sceptered isle.
Denham had already given MGM two hits in 1938: A Yank at Oxford, starring Robert Taylor as an American student abroad, and The Citadel, with Robert Donat as a young doctor led astray by riches and social prestige. The latter was such a big hit, that Mayer chose Donat over Brian Aherne and Charles Laughton for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Donat had appeared in American films, but only sporadically, following his international success in Alfred Hitchcock's 1934 The 39 Steps. But ill health had cost him the lead in Captain Blood (1935) while his devotion to the stage led him to refuse other offers. With Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which allowed him to age from 25 to 83, he had the part for which he would always be remembered. It even made him a surprise Oscar® winner in 1939, the year when Gone With the Wind swept the Academy Awards®, and Clark Gable was considered a major contender for Best Actor.
To play Chips' wife, Kathy, MGM needed an actress with just the right combination of gentility and high spirits. Elizabeth Allan, who had played the mother in David Copperfield (1935) was originally considered for the role. Then Rosalind Russell was assigned the female lead in The Citadel, a role first assigned to Allan. The actress sued for breach of contract, effectively ending her Hollywood career.
With no leading lady in mind, director Sam Wood started looking through old screen tests. Then he spotted the test for a beautiful Irish actress Louis B. Mayer had discovered in London. Greer Garson was already on the lot, but had had nothing to do since signing with MGM. She thought she'd soon be headed back to England a total failure, but instead returned as the star of a major motion picture. The film would establish her as MGM's top female star and win her the first of seven Oscar® nominations (she would win in 1942 for another British story, Mrs. Miniver).
Goodbye, Mr. Chips did location shooting at the Repton School, founded in 1557. This was considered such a great honor for the school that students and teachers gave up their summer vacations to appear in crowd scenes and otherwise help out on the production. Their sacrifice was amply rewarded when the film became the biggest hit yet from the Denham studio.
Director: Sam Wood
Producer: Victor Saville
Screenplay: R.C. Sheriff, Claudine West & Eric Maschwitz
Based on the Novel by James Hilton
Cinematography: Freddie A. Young
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: Richard Addinsell
Principle Cast: Robert Donat (Charles Chipping), Greer Garson (Katherine Ellis), Terry Kilburn (John/Peter Colley), John Mills (Peter Colley as a Young Man), Paul Henreid (Max Staefel), Judith Furse (Flora).
BW-115m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Frank Miller