(1969) Having myself taught in schools for three decades, and being married without my own offspring (though intentional in my case), I can't help but find in this musical remake, directed by Herbert Ross, of the original and wonderful 1939 film a connection (for two years I instructed in a British curriculum) that turns a "persnickety old man" (as one of Chipping's colleagues called him) sentimental and moist-eyed. However, though Peter O'Toole is an excellent choice for the role of Arthur Chipping, the songs (most of which are sung offstage) by Leslie Bricusse (music and lyrics) I could have done without.
The scene opens in 1924 at Brookfield Boys School outside London and concludes about thirty years later. Housemaster (and formerly a student on the same campus in his youth) Chipping - though he takes his vocation teaching Latin and Greek as a solemn duty, being true and honest, firm but fair, his boys disparagingly refer to him as "Ditchie," a simile for "ditch water, dull as" - wonders in a tune: "Where did my childhood go?"
Accompanying his friend Johnnie Longbridge to a music hall (though he'd have preferred seeing Medea) to watch and hear the soubrette of the musical comedy Flossie from Fulham, Katherine Bridges (Petula Clark), whom Johnnie expects to marry, and afterward to the Savoy for dinner where Katie shows up with her beau Bill Calbury, Arthur pedantically describes the evening's entertainment to her and receives the sobriquet of "Mister Chips."
Their second, unexpected encounter occurs in Pompeii inside a Greek amphitheater where Katie asks: "Would you be my guide, Mr Chips?" In confessing to having been thrown off by Cadbury and that her last name is actually Brisket, she discovers to her delight the schoolteacher's utter decency and unwitting manner of bringing out her laughter. He shares with her his disappointment that his students ("unfeeling little monsters") express such distaste for him and his subject matter.
Back in London, she takes the initiative of calling him for a date (tickets to Medea); he further proves he's a man "very up to form." When she proposes marriage - "When you love, you don't choose, do you?" - at first he questions their having anything in common before being won completely over: "Apollo has willed it!"
Everyone from the headmaster (Michael Redgrave) down to the boys is astonished by Chipping's youthful bride - some questioning her "suitability" (a word in Webster's but not the Oxford dictionary, objects Arthur), especially the wealthy benefactor Lord Sutterwick, who raises an objection to her moral character on the campus by blackmailing the board of governors in his refusing to provide funds for playing fields unless Chipping is denied his house. Running off when she learns of the scandal attached to her reputation, Katie tells Mr Chips that she'd promised never to disgrace him.
But Sutterwick has a past he wishes kept secret as well when Katie's friend, the famous actress ("The part is greater than the whole") Ursula Mossbank (Siān Phillips), appears on the scene with her talent for tactless tattling. Objections are dropped and Mrs Chips takes up residence, opening up a world of sunshine and flowers, color and beauty, for her husband and the entire school. Her relaxed, approachable, appealing demeanor - taking a personal interest in the boys' hobbies and achievements - takes getting used to in the fusty academic atmosphere, such as allowing some older students to call her Katherine and addressing little "Robinson minimus" as simply Freddie.
Fifteen years later, as the Germans drop buzz bombs on London and its environs, disappointment (denial of the headmastership due him) and tragedy (anyone so well-acquainted with the Greek classics should not expect the gods to ignore one so blessed with happiness) befall Arthur. Nevertheless, when the chips are down, the old chap rises above "the wine-dark sea" of calamity "brave, strong, and true" into the calm of his retirement in which his students remain the boys of his memories.
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