In 1933, Mr. Chipping, a retired schoolteacher of 83, is kept home by a cold, unable to go to Assembly. However, ignoring his doctor’s advice, he manages to go but arrives late and he finds the assembly hall locked. After arriving back home, he falls asleep and his 58-year career is related in flashback.

When 25-year-old Charles Edward Chipping (Robert Donat) first arrives as a Latin teacher to Brookfield Public School in 1870, he becomes a target of many practical jokes. He reacts by imposing strict discipline in his classroom, making him respected, but disliked.

Realizing he is not good at his profession, he glumly ponders his future. However, the German teacher, Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), saves him from despair by taking him on holiday to his native Austria. While mountain climbing, Chipping "rescues" Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson) (even though she did not actually need to be saved). Kathy is a feisty English suffragette on a cycling holiday. They meet again in Vienna and dance to the Blue Danube Waltz. Max points out that the Danube River appears blue, but only to those who are in love. As Chipping looks at the river, he notices that it is blue. Even though Kathy is considerably younger and livelier than Chipping, she loves and marries him. They return to England, where Kathy takes up residence at the school, conquering everyone with her personal warmth.

During their tragically short marriage (she dies in childbirth, along with their baby), she brings ‘Chips' out of his shell and shows him how to be a better teacher. He acquires a flair for Latin puns. As the years pass, Chips becomes a much-loved school institution, developing a rapport with generations of students; he teaches the sons and grandsons of many of his earlier pupils.

In 1909, when put under pressure to retire from a more 'modern' headmaster, he argues and the board of directors takes his side of the argument and tells him he can stay until he is 100. Chips finally retires in 1914 at age 66, but is summoned back to serve as interim headmaster, because of the shortage of teachers resulting from World War I. He remembers Kathy had predicted he would become headmaster one day.

During a bombing attack by a German zeppelin, Chips insists that the boys keep on construing 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 into the school's Roll of Honor every Sunday the names of the many former boys and teachers who have died in battle. Upon finding out that Max Staefel has died fighting on the German side, Chips, symbolizing the decency being consumed by the slaughter, reads his name out in chapel. Mr. Chips retires permanently in 1918.

Chips awakes in 1933. He is on his deathbed when he overhears his friends talking about him. He responds, "I thought you said it was a pity... pity I never had children. But you're wrong. I have thousands of them ... thousands of them ... and all boys."

Oscar
7 Nominations
1 Award
Best Actor

Golden Globes
2 Nomination
0 Awards
When “Gone With the Wind” swept the 1939 Academy Award, very few of those in attendance were surprised. However, one of the biggest surprises came when the film's lead actor, Clark Gable, lost out on the prize for Best Actor. The winner? Robert Donat, for “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”. It's easy to quibble over which was the better performance, but it's impossible to deny that Donat's work in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” is wonderful—subtle when the part requires it, and always with a clear understanding that any attempt to play the role as more than what it is would result in over sentimentalizing an already sentimental film. Donat spends a good portion of the movie in heavy makeup, as over the course of the story Chips ages from naïve schoolteacher into a wise old master. It's easy to see why the Academy gave Donat the Oscar over Gable, as Donat is essentially forced to carry the film on his own back.

A crisp and intelligent film in all aspects, it avoids the maudlin sentimentality that often hinders films of this sort. The film is at its most powerful when evoking an appealing view of the past, when manners and honor were primary values, and when spending one's life in service to others was a noble art.

Because of the single-character focus of the film, there are very few major supporting roles, with the only other noteworthy performances coming from Paul Henried and Greer Garson. Henried's role is essentially one-note, as he's forced to play the carefree best friend to the comparatively stiff Chips.

Garson, on the other hand, registers quite nicely in this, her film debut (for which she was also Oscar-nominated). Although not appearing until forty-five minutes into the story, Garson steals the heart of the picture as she brings a touch of romance into Mr. Chipping's lonely life. And in testament to the power of her performance in such a small role, Garson received her Oscar nomination in the Best Actress category, rather than the Best Supporting Actress category, as would have been more appropriate for a role of this size.

It's easy to see why Chips falls for her so easily, even if it's tough to imagine someone so beautiful returning his adoration. Garson's Katherine finds Chips' lack of savvy and cynicism endearing, and it's a testament to Garson's ability to portray this that we accept her affection for him. And yet, despite the good work from both Garson and Henried, it's really Donat's film.

Movies have always had difficulty with displaying the passage of time. One would imagine that with “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, this would come as a major problem in adapting the book, written by James Hilton. The screenwriters faced a difficult challenge in condensing 63 years of one man's life into a 115-minute film, but they pull it off rather admirably.

One device that works particularly well is the use of the same actor, Terry Kilburn to play several different generations of students from the same family, a decision that lends the proceedings an important sense of continuity. In this sense, it also helps to make the film's final scenes rather poignant, as Chips finishes his tenure at the school. The passage of time in the film is handled as effectively as it probably could have been, and the filmmakers were wise to use touches like the young Kilburn's presence to make the transition through the years feel as realistic as possible.

The one thing that keeps “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” from dating too badly is the refusal of the screenwriters to gloss over the more tragic and downbeat events that occur in Chips' life, including Britain's involvement in World War I. It would have been easy for the writers to cut out the melancholy material from the book and focus on only the positive events of Chips' career, but they wisely include events and utilized them to impressive emotional effect. Without these, the film would have likely been bogged down in schmaltz, but its embrace of the sadder aspects of Chips' life is instead quite moving.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips” is another classic from 1939, and remains worthy of a look, if only to witness a performance by Robert Donat that is one of the most fondly remembered in 20th century filmmaking. While there have been several remakes, including a musical and a mini-series, this original version remains the best.