Musical Monday: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) – Musical #606

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Herbert Ross

Peter O’Toole, Petula Clark, Michael Redgrave, George Baker, Siân Phillips, Michael Bryant, Michael Culver

In a film that begins in the 1920s and ends in the years following World War II, Arthur Chipping (O’Toole) is an unpopular teacher at an all boy’s school. He falls in love and marries a showgirl Katherine Bridges (Clark). The school and its patrons don’t think Katherine is refined enough to be connected to the school.

• Remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. It’s based on James Hilton’s 1934 novella “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” but changes the plot
• Planning for this musical remake was announced as early as 1965. Roger Edens was announced in 1965, as a co-producer for the film, but the film was produced by Mort Abrahams and Arthur P. Jacobs. Richard Burton and “Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews” were announced for the film, according to a Jan. 14, 1966, brief by Harry V. Cohen. Lee Remick as the female lead and that Rex Harrison had already bowed out of the film, according to a Sept. 24, 1967, newspaper article by Norma Lee Browning titled “Lee Remick Returns to Top Film Roles After Stage Stints.”
• Peter O’Toole and his real-life wife Siân Phillips both star in this film. O’Toole and Phillips were married from 1959 to 1979.
• Peter O’Toole hadn’t sung in a movie until this point in his film career.
• Siân Phillips’ character of Ursula Mossbank was based on Tallulah Bankhead, according to Phillips’ autobiography Public Places: My Life in the Theater, with Peter O’Toole and Beyond
• Phillips said she didn’t recognize O’Toole in the canteen when he was made up as an old man, she wrote in her autobiography.
• Score by John Williams
• Big screen directorial debut for Herbert Ross

Notable Songs:
• “What Shall I Do With Today?” performed by Petula Clark
• “Where Did My Childhood Go?” performed by Petula Clark

My review:
Since I reviewed the original, 1939 film version of James Hilton’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” last week, it only seemed fitting to review the 1969 musical remake.

Musicals of the late-1960s can be hit or miss. Musicals were a dying breed and the efforts to revive them involved hefty budgets that left studios in the red.

Petula Clark and Peter O’Toole in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1969)

When I started “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1969), I said a little prayer hoping it would be better than Finian’s Rainbow (1968). I’ll start by saying that it is but will also make the obvious statement that the 1939 original is better.

Replacing the roles of Robert Donat and Greer Garson are Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. This was Peter O’Toole’s first time singing on film, though Petula Clark carries the weight with much of the singing.

I didn’t do any of the research on the musical remake before watching it. And while watching the 1939 and 1969 only a week apart, I was surprised to find that the timeline of the film was different, and so was the story in several ways.

The James Hilton novel and original 1939 film span from 1870 to 1933. Mr. Chipping is disliked by his students until he marries his wife Katherine, who he meets on a walking tour of Europe. They marry and Katherine is beloved by students and school staff. It is Katherine who starts his nickname of “Chips.” Their marriage is brief because she dies in childbirth.

In the 1969 musical remake, the story begins in the 1920s and ends after World War II. I’m not clear if it ends in the 1960s, but mathematically it would work out. Mr. Chipping is disliked by his students, who already call him Mr. Chips. A former student invites Chipping to see a musical starring Katherine (Clark), the woman he is in love with. It’s obvious that Katherine is not interested in the student. Weeks later while on vacation in Pompeii, Chipping and Katherine meet in Italy. They slowly begin a courtship and get married shortly before the school year begins. Since she was a showgirl and has a sordid past, Katherine is not welcomed by the school staff and trustees threaten to take back donations. Eventually, Katherine adjusts to school life, and the couple is married for many years.

I was a little confused at first when the movie began and Mr. Chipping was already an established teacher. I quickly realized we were in a different era than the other film and that the relationship of Chipping and Katherine was entirely different.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips” isn’t your usual musical of the 1960s or 1970s where the whole cast is dancing down the street (See: Scrooge). There actually aren’t any dancing numbers, unless you count two performances as stage performances. This story is all singing, and much of Petula Clark’s slow ballads we performed over a montage.

Though he doesn’t sing much, there is something charming about Peter O’Toole talk/singing and not being dubbed. Petula Clark naturally has a beautiful voice. Unfortunately, most of her songs are slow funeral dirges, and while they are pretty, not very exciting.

This remake is really a new story with really only the school as a thin connection to the original. “This isn’t Mr. Chips, it’s Mr. Pretzels,” my dad said who was in the next room as I watched.

This isn’t a bad movie on its own. It kept my interest and for two hours and 35 minutes, it didn’t feel so deathly long as others. However, when comparing it to the original 1939 film, it pales in comparison.

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