Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939 film)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a 1939 British romantic drama film directed by Sam Wood and starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. Based on the 1934 novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton, the film is about Mr Chipping, a beloved aged school teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school who recalls his career and his personal life over the decades.[2][3] Produced for the British division of MGM at Denham Studios, the film was dedicated to Irving Thalberg, who had died on 14 September 1936. For his performance as Mr. Chipping, Donat received the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1939. At the time of its release, the picture appeared on FIlm Daily's and the National Board of Review's ten best lists for 1939, and received the "best picture" distinction in the Hollywood Reporter Preview Poll of May 1939.[4]

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySam Wood
Produced byVictor Saville
Screenplay by
Based onGoodbye, Mr. Chips
1934 novel
by James Hilton
Music byRichard Addinsell
CinematographyFreddie Young
Edited byCharles Frend
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 15 May 1939 (1939-05-15) (UK)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$3,252,000[1]


For the first time in 58 years, retired Latin[5] master Mr Chipping (Robert Donat) misses a first-day assembly at Brookfield public school, founded in 1492. The doctor has told him to stay at home with a cold, and, as the headmaster tells the school, "a cold can be a serious thing for a young fellow of 83." But Chips is not home in bed, as the doctor ordered. He is sitting outside the locked door of the great Hall with a new boy, who also did not make it in time. When the assembly disbands, boys pour out the door, greeting Chips, who knows all their names and interests and compares them to their fathers and grandfathers. A new young master admires his facility with the boys and Chips replies wistfully that it was not always so; it took him a long time—too long—to learn the secret, and someone else gave him that secret. That afternoon, he falls asleep in his chair by the fire—a lavish tea is waiting for any boys who come by—and his teaching career is shown in flashback.

When Charles Edward Chipping first arrives as a Latin master in 1870, he is 24 years old, fresh from university, and full of dreams of building a life at Brookfield—and even becoming headmaster one day. He has a superior degree in Classics (the film never says which university he attended), but no teaching experience at all. Agonizingly shy and obviously tentative in dealing with boys en masse, he becomes a target for the younger students even before the special train for Brookfield leaves the station. The only master in a compartment full of boys, the kind-hearted Chipping tries to console an unhappy youngster who bursts into tears; the other boys assume that Chipping kicked him.

As the newest master, he is assigned to lower school prep on his first evening. Fellow masters warn him that the large group of restless boys will be prepared for "blood sports". They begin by knocking his hat off and he meets his first Colley, John (Terry Kilburn plays all the Colley boys), who helpfully dusts off his hat with the chalk eraser. The class moves on to embarrassing questions about Elizabeth I (Chipping cannot bring himself to say "The Virgin Queen") and ends by rioting. Headmaster Wetherby (Lyn Harding) comes in and swiftly restores order, instructing every boy to report to his office for caning on a precise schedule. Later, in his office, he questions Chipping about his vocation, but the young man begs for another chance. Outside, two of the masters offer their condolences on the disaster and Chipping says ominously, "They will not do it again."

Some time later Wetherby is addressing the entire school in the dining hall. Before him is the elaborate silver cup that Brookfield must soon defend from a rival school in a hotly contested cricket match. He pauses in the middle of his rousing speech when he realizes that the entire student body is sitting silently, heads bowed. Chipping steps up to explain. He had forgotten about the cricket match (a confession that startles masters as well as students) and the boys in one class were so rude about it that he told them they will have to stay in. The punishment has dire consequences—the school's best batsman is in the class he has punished.

Wetherby has no choice but to support Chipping's authority. The classroom looks out on the playing field, and the sound and sight of Brookfield's loss is excruciating for the boys and for Chipping. Chipping apologizes to the class and dismisses them, but he is right when he observes that he may have lost the boys' friendship. He is, however, very good at teaching Latin, making him highly respected. Years pass, shown on screen as paper chases, football games, cricket matches, and boys tipping their top hats and school caps as they enter assembly in alphabetical order, calling their last names for the roll. (The latter scene recurs throughout the film, with style of clothes and headgear changing with the times.)

Wetherby has died, in 1888, as we see by his monument. It is end of term, and the chaplain sends the school forth with a blessing on their summer holidays. There is a look of longing in Chipping's face every time he tries to strike up a conversation with a student, but although he is treated with respect, no one lingers to talk with him. He is spending his vacation at Harrogate, as he has for years, walking through the countryside, alone.

Senior master

Chipping is now the senior master and hopes, on that basis, to be appointed housemaster for the following year. He is disappointed but not really surprised when the headmaster tells him that "with your unusual gifts for getting work out of the boys" it will be better if he continues to teach, leaving another, less senior man to be housemaster. He knows that the other man possesses an ability to make friends with the boys that has eluded him. Chipping returns to his room and stands in the dark, looking out the window at a bleak future, a look of blank desolation growing on his face.

Then his life changes, forever. The kind and energetic German master, Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), saves Chipping from his routine vacation by inviting him to share a walking holiday to Staefel's native Austria. Staefel refuses to be put off, and the next thing we know, they are at a modest inn in the mountains. There is mist on the peaks: Staefel is worried about Chipping and an Englishwoman named Flora (Judith Furse) is worried about her friend, Katherine Ellis. The innkeeper assures them that if their friends stay still until the mist clears, they will be quite safe. Moving about, on the other hand, could be deadly. On the mountain, Chipping hears a woman's voice and assumes she must be in danger. He makes his way along a precarious path, calling, and then a woman speaks, quite close. Out of the mist emerges the face of Kathy (Greer Garson in her first appearance on screen) She is a beautiful, intelligent young Englishwoman, independent but by no means militant, with a delightful sense of humour. She is horrified when she realizes that Chipping risked his life when she was in no danger at all. They share her sandwiches and his coat, and get to know each other during the hours of waiting. Eventually the mist clears and they go down, meeting the torchlit search party, with Flora and Staefel among them. Back at the inn, the assembled guests and others toast Chipping, and then he excuses himself and goes to bed. The party eventually ends, and sitting on the balcony with his pipe, he hears Kathy talking to Flora about him. Flora clearly thinks he is a stuffy old thing, but Kathy sees more. She feels for shy people and their loneliness. Then Staefel comes up and talks about how much the gathering wanted to give Chipping an evening. Abashed, he confesses that he did not understand.

Kathy and Flora continue their cycling holiday early the next morning, and for the rest of their travels, the two men keep an eye out for the ladies, for Chipping is very interested in seeing Kathy again. They look for the bicycles, which leads to a ludicrous encounter with two imposing Englishwomen, one of whom (Martita Hunt) loudly accuses Chipping of having designs on her virtue.

They take the steamer that runs on the Danube to Vienna, not knowing that Kathy and Flora are on the same boat. Staefel observes that the Danube does not appear at all blue, and Chipping remarks that the story is that it only appears so to those who are in love. On another part of the deck, Flora makes the same comment to Kathy, that the Danube is brown; Kathy looks at the river and tells her friend that it is blue. The four meet on the gangway and spend the rest of their time in Vienna together, seeing all the sights. On the girls' last night, they go out for a celebratory dinner, and Kathy persuades Chipping to dance—for the first time in years—to the Blue Danube Waltz. The skill that he posessed in his college days returns as they whirl around the ballroom. (This piece of music is used as a leitmotif, symbolizing Chipping's love for her.) The next day the girls board the train that begins their journey home to England. At the last minute, Kathy kisses him, and while Chipping runs along the platform and she leans out of a window, they proclaim their love and desire to marry. The train pulls away and Chipping is distraught; he does not know how to reach her. Staefel consoles him. Flora has all the arrangements for the wedding in hand, including the date, the time and the church.


At Brookfield, the masters are assembled in the Common Room, cross-examining Staefel about Chipping's bride. He refuses to reveal much. They are indignant when he tells them that Chipping wants to bring Kathy into this male preserve, but one by one, with stars in their eyes, they melt when she comes through the door. Her beauty and sweet charm captivate them all and her transformation of Chipping's life at school begins when she calls him "Chips". Of course, his colleagues cry, "Why didn’t we think of it?" They boys who are lurking outside the door are equally enchanted and Kathy takes her second step in Chips' rehabilitation by inviting them all to tea, which will be held at their house every week.

Kathy takes up residence at the school, charming everyone with her warmth. Chips watches her with the boys, learns and blossoms. She brings him out of his shell and shows him how to be a better teacher by taking an interest in the things that occupy the students. She encourages him to share his flair for Latin puns with the boys, and the first attempt is a roaring success.

At Christmastime, they learn that Chips is going to be housemaster next term. Kathy is thrilled because this particular house has a room that will be perfect for a nursery. But their marriage will be tragically short. After a long and difficult labor, she dies in childbirth, along with their baby. The whole school mourns her loss.

As the years pass, Chips becomes a much-loved school institution, developing a rapport with generations of pupils. In 1909, he is pressured to retire by a new and more "modern" headmaster, who, among other issues, insists that Chips teach the new Latin pronunciation. Chips insists that it is a waste of time when all the rest of their lives they will use the old form, and pronounce Cicero as SIS-er-ro, and not as KEE-kir-ro. The boys rally their families, and the board of governors of the school—most of whom are former students—take his side of the argument and tell him he can stay until he is 100. However, Chips does concede the issue of the new pronunciation.


Chips finally chooses to retire in 1914 at the age of 69, but is asked back to serve as interim headmaster because of the shortage of teachers resulting from the participation of almost every able-bodied man in the war. He remembers that Kathy had predicted he would become headmaster one day. During a bombing attack by a German zeppelin, Chips insists that the boys keep on translating their Latin - choosing the story of Julius Caesar's battles against Germanic tribes, which describes the latter's belligerent nature, much to the amusement of his pupils. As the Great War drags on, Chips reads aloud in the school's Roll of Honour every Sunday the names of the many former boys and teachers who have died in the war. Upon discovering that Max Staefel has died fighting on the German side, Chips reads out his name in chapel, too.

He retires permanently in 1918, but moves into rooms across the road from the school at the home of Mrs Wickett (Louise Hampton), attending morning assembly, participating in the life of the school and having boys over for tea. Chips wakes from his nap to welcome his last such visitor, new boy Peter Colley, the fourth generation of Colleys to come under Chips' influence. (Chips was particularly close to Peter's father (John Mills), who was killed in the last few days of the war.) They have a smashing tea and as Colley leaves he turns back at the door to smile and say goodbye.

Chips is on his deathbed when he overhears his colleagues talking about him. He responds, "I thought you said it was a pity, a pity I never had any children. But you're wrong. I have! Thousands of 'em, thousands of 'em ... and all ... boys." The screen floods with boys of different generations, tipping their hats and caps and boaters and calling their names as they enter the hall for assembly, and at the last, young Peter Colley as he turned to say, smiling, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips!"

Time discrepancy

The film does not follow the same timeframe as the novel. In the book, Mr Chipping is 22 when he arrives at Brookfield, with a birth year of 1848, and Chips is 85 when he dies, in 1933. His age when he first comes to Brookfield is not stated in the film, but the Franco-Prussian War is under way, which sets the date of his arrival in September 1870. He retires at age 69 in 1914, making his birth year 1845, so in the film he arrives at Brookfield in 1870 at age 24 or 25. He develops the cold and misses assembly—and dies soon afterwards—at age 83, which must be in 1928. This also fits with his 58-year record for attendance beginning on the day he arrived: 1870-1928. The only evidence in the film that the year of his death is 1933 comes from Chips saying to young Colley that he has been teaching 63 years, but if that were true he would have arrived at age 20, which is impossible given his credentials.


  • Robert Donat as Mr. Chips M.A. (Cantab.). The 34-year-old Donat begins playing a man 10 years younger than himself and ages over the course of the film to the mid-80s. He remarked: "As soon as I put the moustache on, I felt the part, even if I did look like a great airedale come out of a puddle."
  • Greer Garson as Katherine. Garson was initially offered a contract for MGM in 1937, but refused all the minor parts she was offered until she was given this role. The AFI Catalog reports that, according to modern sources, Garson was personally signed for the picture by M-G-M studio head Louis B. Mayer after Mayer saw her in a London stage play.
  • Terry Kilburn as John Colley, Peter Colley I, II and III (several generations of pupils from the same family taught by Mr. Chips)
  • John Mills as Peter Colley (as a young man)
  • Paul Henreid as Max Staeffel M.A. (Oxon.), the German master (credited as Paul Von Hernried)
  • Judith Furse as Flora
  • Lyn Harding as Dr John Hamilton Wetherby D.D. (Cantab.), headmaster of Brookfield when Chips first arrives
  • Milton Rosmer as Chatteris
  • Frederick Leister as Marsham
  • Louise Hampton as Mrs. Wickett
  • Austin Trevor as Ralston
  • David Tree as Mr. Jackson B.A. (Cantab.), new history master at Brookfield
  • Edmond Breon as Colonel Morgan
  • Jill Furse as Helen Colley
  • Scott Sunderland as Sir John Colley
  • David Croft as Perkins - Greengrocer's boy (uncredited)
  • Simon Lack as Wainwright (uncredited)


The opening credits contain a card that reads: "To Sidney Franklin...For his contribution in the preparation of the production...Grateful acknowledgement,"

The opening credits also contain a dedication to Irving Thalberg, who died in September 1936. It reads:

"We wish to acknowledge here our gratitude to the late Irving Thalberg, whose inspiration illuminates the picture of Goodbye, Mr. Chips"— James Hilton, Victor Saville, Sam Wood, Sidney A. Franklin, R. C. Sherriff, Claudine West, Eric Maschwitz

The AFI Catalog reports that Thalberg purchased Goodbye, Mr. Chips from galley proofs; he originally assigned Sidney Franklin to direct. After Franklin became an M-G-M producer, Sam Wood replaced him as director. [4]

Filming locations

The exteriors of the buildings of the fictional Brookfield School were shot at Repton School,[6][7] an independent school (at the time of filming, for boys only), located in the village of Repton in Derbyshire, whilst the interiors, school courtyards and annexes, including the supposedly exterior shots of the Austrian Tyrol Mountains, were filmed at Denham Film Studios[8] near the village of Denham in Buckinghamshire. Around 300 boys from Repton School—as well as members of the faculty—stayed on during the school holidays so that they could appear in the film.[9]


The lyrics to the Brookfield School song were written by Eric Maschwitz.

Richard Addinsell's score for the film has been included in a CD of his work. The liner notes of the CD include the lyrics for the Brookfield School song which is heard over the beginning cast credits as well as throughout the film itself. The lyrics in the body of the film are all but unintelligible, but per the notes, the lyrics are as follows:

Let the years pass but our hearts will remember,
Schooldays at Brookfield ended too soon.
Fight to the death in the mire of November,
Last wicket rattles on evenings in June,
Grey granite walls that were gay with our laughter,
Green of the fields where our feet used to roam.
We shall remember, whate’er may come after,
Brookfield our mother and Brookfield our home.

Box office

According to MGM records the film earned $1,717,000 in the US and Canada and $1,535,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $1,305,000.[1]


In May 1939, The New York Times’ critic Frank S. Nugent praised the film at length, particularly the adaptation and the performances of Donat and Garson, among others.[10]

In December 1939, Variety staff summed up the film as “ A charming, quaintly sophisticated account [from the novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips! by James Hilton] of the life of a schoolteacher, highlighted by a remarkably fine Performance from Robert Donat... The character he etches creates a bloodstream for the picture that keeps it intensely alive.”[11]

At the time of its release, the picture appeared on FIlm Daily's and the National Board of Review's ten best lists for 1939, and received the "best picture" distinction in the Hollywood Reporter Preview Poll of May 1939. [4]

The film was re-released in the United Kingdom in 1944 and again in 1954. [12]

In 1999, Goodbye, Mr. Chips was voted the 72nd greatest British film ever in the British Film Institute Top 100 British films poll.[13]

In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked Mr. Chipping the 41st greatest film hero of all time.[14]

On, Leonard Maltin gives the film 3.5 stars out of 4.[15]

Academy Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards: for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound.[16] It was up against Gone with the Wind in all seven categories; Robert Donat won for Best Actor, beating Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable and James Stewart, though Goodbye, Mr. Chips lost to Gone With the Wind in five of the six remaining categories, while Mr. Smith Goes to Washington won Best Original Story. (Best Sound went to When Tomorrow Comes.)

Outstanding Production Nominated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Victor Saville, producer)
Winner was Gone with the Wind (Selznick International Pictures (David O. Selznick, producer))
Best Director Nominated Sam Wood
Winner was Victor FlemingGone with the Wind
Best Actor Won Robert Donat
Best Actress Nominated Greer Garson
Winner was Vivien LeighGone with the Wind
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated R. C. Sherriff, Claudine West, Eric Maschwitz
Winner was Sidney HowardGone with the Wind
Best Film Editing Nominated Charles Frend
Winner was Hal C. Kern and James E. NewcomGone with the Wind
Best Sound, Recording Nominated A. W. Watkins
Winner was Bernard B. BrownWhen Tomorrow Comes

1969 remake

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was remade as a musical in 1969, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark. The James Hilton novel has also been adapted for television twice as serials in 1984 (starring Roy Marsden) and 2002 (starring Martin Clunes).


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Variety film review; 17 May 1939, page 12.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; 17 June 1939, page 94.
  4. "AFI|Catalog Goodbye Mr. Chips, History". Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  5. The Classics page is the Wikipedia page that best describes what Chips taught and why it was so vital to the curriculum. For more on the language itself, as he taught it, see Classical Latin, Click here for information about New Latin, a form used "between c. 1375 and c. 1900. Modern scholarly and technical nomenclature, such as in zoological and botanical taxonomy and international scientific vocabulary, draws extensively from New Latin vocabulary." Contemporary Latin describes the form in use from the end of the 19th century to the present, and provides links to information about various kinds of contemporary Latin, including the use of Latin as a language in its own right as a full-fledged means of expression.
  6. Movies made in the Midlands, accessed March 2011
  7. Repton, Derbyshire, accessed March 2011
  8. Goodbye, Mr Chips, accessed March 2011
  9. "Repton Schoolboys To Take Part In Film". Arts and Entertainment. The Times (48078). London. 20 August 1938. p. 8.
  10. Nugent, Frank S. (16 May 1939). "THE SCREEN; Metro's London-Made Version of 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' Has Its Premiere at the Astor Theatre At the Fifth Avenue Playhouse". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  11. Staff, Variety; Staff, Variety (1 January 1939). "Goodbye, Mr. Chips". Variety. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  12. "Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) - Misc Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  13. "BFI Top 100 British films - Wikipedia". Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  14. "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 7 August 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  15. "Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  16. "The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 11 August 2011.

Streaming audio

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