17 July 2009

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

IMAGINE wanting to make a movie from a book that, at not insignificant points, quotes Vergil's Aeneid (followed quickly by an " Umph -- I need not -- of course -- translate") or from Julius Caesar's Commentary on the Gallic Wars (as the main character reassuringly chooses a particularly apropos passage for the boys to construe while undergoing a German air raid):

"Genus hoc erat pugnae -- this was the kind of fight -- quo se Germani exercuerant -- in which the Germans busied themselves. Oh, sir that's good -- that's really very funny indeed, sir -- one of your very best..."

Hard to imagine, no?

Now imagine actually keeping those parts -- as is -- in the Hollywood movie, and you've got 1939's Goodbye, Mr Chips with Robert Donat and Greer Garson. Saying that today's mainstream films aren't as smart as they once were is perhaps too easy, but to note how far they've been dumbed down is eye-opening (even for a reactionary curmudgeon such as I).

More importantly, remembering that both the book and the movie were so popular (Donat even won the Academy Award for his performance), if, when you finish either the 1933 James Hilton novella or the film, you don't have at least a twinge of a) wanting to be a teacher or b) (re-)learning Latin, then you're simply not being honest with yourself.

Sentimental? Sure. Heartwarming? Indeed. Worth the read/viewing? Immeasurably!

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