|Petula Clark wonders what she ever saw in Mr. Chips?|
"Yesterday I was their age. Tomorrow they'll be my age. Sooner, much sooner, than they know."
This version of the classic film Goodbye, Mr. Chips adds technicolor, panavision, music and lyrics, as well as a half hour to the running time, and it still can't compare to the original. Although he gives it -- pardon me -- the old college try, Peter O'Toole is gravely miscast as Mr. Chipping. His performance has some good moments, but by and large he fails to make Mr. Chips anything more than an old fuddy duddy that would hardly endear himself to students, women, or anyone else. In the original, Robert Donat was a fuddy duddy, yes, but he imbued the character with warmth, charm, and humanity, things O'Toole completely lacks. Surprisingly, Petula Clark, better known as the pop singer of "Downtown" and other hits but who also had an acting career, gives a sharp and confident and believable performance as Chips' wife, the colorful entertainer, Katherine. In the original film, Chips' wife, played by Greer Garson, was another more or less genteel soul (although more outgoing than her husband) so her union with Chips never seemed implausible. But in this remake, one can't ever imagine the free-spirited Katherine seriously hooking up with the dense, stuffy and altogether unpleasant school teacher, Chips. If the on-camera relationship works, it's strictly because of Clark. The only scene in this movie that ever comes close to having the quality of the original version is when Chips is in the classroom when he discovers his wife has died -- not in childbirth as in the first movie, but blown up by a German bomb. Otherwise, this movie is not very moving (not even the aforementioned scene, frankly) and seems to do everything it can to avoid even honest sentiment. Except for one incident, WW1 is glossed over as if it hardly happened and Mrs. Chips might just as well have been killed in a car accident. The songs, with both music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, (John Williams also contributed to the score), are hit or miss. There's a lovely boys chorus early in the picture, and an excellent "London is London" production number when Katherine appears in a stage musical before meeting Chips, some mildly pretty ditties, but with few exceptions the lyrics are trite and cliche-ridden. Petula Clark has a perfectly good voice, but O'Toole should have been strongly importuned to have his singing dubbed -- he is, in a word, awful. Herbert Ross' [The Last of Sheila] direction is fairly leaden and it is an effort to even sit through this all the way to the conclusion. Michael Redgrave is okay but nearly invisible as the headmaster; Sian Phillips [Becket] scores as Katherine's friend, the pixilated Ursula Mossbank; as does Michael Bryant [The Ruling Class] as fellow teacher, Max; and there is some very nice work from the boys, especially Michael Culver, Tom Owen, and John Gugolka.
Verdict: Pretty bad remake that seems to get worse the longer it goes on. **.