Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • An aged teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school recalls his career and his personal life over the decades.

  • An old classics teacher looks back over his long career, remembering pupils and colleagues, and above all the idyllic courtship and marriage that transformed his life.

  • In his eighty-third year, Charles Edward Chipping, fondly referred to as "Mr. Chips", recalls the fifty-eight years he has been at Brookfield, one of the oldest and most respected boys schools in England. Although revered by his charges and his colleagues alike, his years at Brookfield were not always so harmonious. As this was his first teaching job, his first students exploited his inexperience, which in turn led him to being a strict disciplinarian. Although he got out of his students what was required academically, they and his colleagues felt him to be stuffy, overly regimented, and not a naturally good teacher. The latter was evidenced when he was passed over for a seniority based position. It wasn't until about twenty years after his teaching started that that failure to be promoted, plus meeting the beautiful and gregarious Katherine Ellis while on an international vacation, his first, changed his life. Kathy, who was much younger than him, and who would eventually become "Mrs. Chips", opened his eyes to the fun in life, and saw his potential that couldn't see. She also provided his students and colleagues a different perspective on him. Over the next forty years, as he and the school saw the passing of many monumental world events, Mr. Chips experienced many personal triumphs, plus a few personal tragedies. But the one constant was the admiration and love from those around him.

  • In 1870, Mr. Chipping arrives in the traditional Brookfield Boarding School to give history classes in the lower school. He has a rough first day with the indiscipline of the class, and Headmaster Wetherby advises him that he needs ability to exercise his authority, otherwise he would be fired. He gives a severe punishment to the class achieving the respect of the students. When Wetherby dies in 1888, the old-fashioned senior Mr. Chipping expects to be the next headmaster, but he is not promoted. His German colleague and friend Max Staefel invites him to travel on vacation with him to Austria, where he meets the progressive British Katherine. The shy and lonely Mr. Chipping and Katherine fall in love with each other, and soon they get married. Back to Brookfield, the enchantment of Katherine makes Mr. Chips popular with his colleagues and students, and he is promoted to housemaster. Katherine makes him believe that he could be the headmaster if he wanted, but she dies in the delivery with their baby. With the beginning of World War I, Mr. Chips is promoted to headmaster until his death after sixty-six years of service to Brookfield.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1870, Mr. Charles Chipping (Robert Donat), an unsophisticated, very shy young man, starts a teaching career at Brookfield, an English boys school created in 1492. Chipping is a kindhearted man who takes pity on a homesick young boy he meets on his and the boy's first train ride to Brookfield. But his shyness, the new boy's sobbing response to his efforts cause the other boys in the compartment to think the new teacher has tormented the new boy. This sets the stage for the chaos that ensues in his first classroom meeting as a Brookfield teacher. Because the school's headmaster threatens Mr. Chippings with dismissal at his failure to control the boys, the new teacher goes too far in his discipline to the point that later in the year the school loses its traditional cricket rival match because he keeps his class, and the team's star, for extra work when the match is on.

    Mr. Chipping is now disliked by the boys and looked upon condescendingly by his fellow instructors. This hurts him because of his deep affection for teaching and the boys he works with. But his shyness keeps him from making changes in his life for many years even after he is greeted warmly by the grown man who was that frightened new boy on his first train ride to Brookfield. A change occurs when the headmaster passes over him (despite his seniority) for a post as the head of one of the "houses", the dormitories the boys live in, when the current head retires at the end of the year. Because of these two events Mr. Chipping allows his one friend, Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), a German master, to convince him to take a walking tour of Austria together. The terminally shy teacher skips his usual English beach summer "holiday" to climb some Alps. During a dense fog, Chipping encounters Katherine Ellis (Greer Garson), a modern young Englishwoman who is enchanted by his kindness and old-fashioned manners. Although Chipping falls in love with Kathy, he thinks that their different personalities and ages would make any relationship impossible. He forgoes the celebration at the local inn when he is seen as her rescuer, again showing his shyness, and she leaves the inn uncertain of his true feelings. When they meet again in Vienna, their love deepens, especially when he gets up the courage to ask her to dance a waltz during their last night, and they dance the night away. Just as Kathy is boarding the train to England with her friend Flora, she kisses him goodbye full on the lips. Startled, he runs after the departing train yelling out to Kathy, "Do you...?" and she responds, "Yes, I do..." and he ends by saying, "You will just have to marry me now, you know!" She agrees but more cannot be said between them as the train pulls away. Fearful that despite their new engagement he may never find Kathy again, Mr. Chipping is reassured by his friend, Max, who with Kathy's friend Flora have already picked out the wedding church.

    At the beginning of the new term at Brookfield, the students and staff read the newspaper's report of Chipping's marriage and believe the shy schoolmaster has found a similarly dour partner to share his life with. Then Chipping arrives with his wife in his new suit and are shocked to see how attractive and charming Kathy is. With her gentle guidance, "Chips," as she calls him, allows his kind nature to emerge and thereby gains the respect and affection of students and faculty. Although Kathy dies in childbirth, Chips's enduring love for her helps him to maintain his blossomed personality and advance his career. Years later, when an elderly Chips is given notice of his termination by a new headmaster who wants to "modernize" the school, the boys, along with their parents, many of whom as students had also grown to love Chips, demand that the headmaster ask Chips to stay on. Several years later, when Chips does retire, he maintains a cottage near the school and continues his closeness with the boys, entertaining them after school and listening to their troubles. When World War I begins and many of the masters enlist in the army, Chips is asked to return to the school and serve as its headmaster, the position for which he and Kathy had wished years before. After the war, Chips returns to retirement, but still stays in close contact with the boys. He dies dreaming of all his past students not long after young Peter Colley III, the youngest of a family of boys whom Chips had taught through the years, waves to him and says "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." [With much help from Turner Movie Classics website.]

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