Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Goodbye, Mr. Chips</strong> (1969)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) If anyone wonders what caused the movie musical to go bust in the late 1960s and 1970s, you can point at the changing nature of New Hollywood and at many wrong-headed examples of the form. Perhaps the most egregious of them was the run of musical adaptations of downbeat stories, often remaking perfectly good movies that had no business being remade at all, let alone as semi-musicals. Case in Point: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the infamous tear-jerking boarding school story tracing the path not of students, but a teacher at the school through love and heartbreak from his first year at the school to retirement. The story itself is solid (if merciless at making its protagonist suffer), but transforming a beloved 1939 movie in a 1969 colour musical was not the way to go. The beginning of the film is particularly trying, what with a pompous teacher as a lead. He learns to be humbler, but it’s a rough start to a film that does itself no favour through musical elements that are not particularly enjoyable, needed or well integrated. The film eventually fights its way back into the audience’s good graces, but it’s a long slog in more ways than one, with musical numbers interrupting the story more than illustrating it. It doesn’t help that director Herbert Ross makes everything feel dreary and dull, with the final tear-jerking sequences being more trying than satisfying. Neither Peter O’Toole nor Petula Clark bring much to the film. While I do like Goodbye, Mr. Chips for taking a slightly different tack from most boarding school stories (namely, following a teacher through decades rather than students through a few months/years), it’s still a bit too downbeat, and overcooked as a musical. [July 2020: Seeing the original film further sinks the remake for me—the original feels as if all the pieces are better balanced, and the tone far more appropriate to the story it’s telling, tragic death included.]

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