For his performance as Mr. Chipping, Donat received the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1939. In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked Mr. Chipping the 41st greatest film hero of all time.
For the first time in 58 years, because of a cold, retired schoolteacher Mr. Chipping (Robert Donat) misses a first-day assembly at Brookfield Public School. That afternoon he falls asleep in his chair and his teaching career is related in flashback.
When 25-year-old Charles Edward Chipping first arrives as a Latin teacher in 1870, he becomes a target of practical jokes on his first day. He reacts by imposing strict discipline in his classroom, making him disliked but respected. Twenty years pass and he becomes the senior master. He is disappointed in not receiving an appointment as a housemaster within the school for the following year. However, the new German teacher, Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), saves him from despair by inviting him to share a walking holiday to his native Austria.
While mountain-climbing, Chipping encounters Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson), a feisty English suffragette on a cycling holiday. They meet again in Vienna and dance to the Blue Danube Waltz. This piece of music is used as a leitmotif, symbolizing Chipping's love for her. Staefel remarks that the Danube does not appear blue, but Chipping remarks it only appears so to those who are in love. On another part of the same boat, as Kathy looks at the river, she 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, charming everyone with her 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 pupils; he teaches the sons and grandsons of many of his earlier pupils.
In 1909, when he is pressurised to retire by a more "modern" headmaster, the boys and the board of governors of the school take his side of the argument and tell him he can stay until he is 100, and is free to pronounce Cicero as SIS-er-ro, and not as KEE-kir-ro.
Chips finally retires in 1914 at age 69, but is summoned back to serve as interim headmaster because of the shortage of teachers resulting from the First World War. 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 translating 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 Honour every Sunday the names of the many former boys and teachers who have died in battle. Upon discovering that Max Staefel has died fighting on the German side, Chips also reads out his name in chapel.
He retires permanently in 1918. He is on his deathbed in 1933 when he overhears his friends talking about him. He responds, "I thought you said it was a pity, a pity I never had any children. But you're wrong. I have! Thousands of 'em, thousands of 'em ... and all ... boys."Robert Donat as Mr. Chips M.A. (Cantab.). The 34-year-old Donat ages 63 years (1870-1933) over the course of the film. He remarked: "As soon as I put the moustache on, I felt the part, even if I did look like a great airedale come out of a puddle."
Greer Garson as Katherine. Garson was initially offered a contract for MGM in 1937, but refused all the minor parts she was offered until she was given this role.
Lyn Harding as Dr John Hamilton Wetherby D.D. (Cantab.), headmaster of Brookfield when Chips first arrives.
Paul Henreid as Max Staeffel M.A. (Oxon.), the German master.
Terry Kilburn as John Colley, Peter Colley I, II and III, several generations of pupils from the same family taught by Mr. Chips
John Mills as Peter Colley as an adult
Scott Sunderland as Sir John Colley
David Croft as Perkins - Greengrocer's boy (uncredited)
David Tree as Mr Jackson B.A. (Cantab.), new history master at Brookfield.
Simon Lack as Wainwright (uncredited)
Judith Furse as Flora
Milton Rosmer as Chatteris
Frederick Leister as Marsham
Louise Hampton as Mrs. Wickett
Austin Trevor as Ralston
Edmond Breon as Colonel Morgan
Jill Furse as Helen Colley
The exteriors of the buildings of the fictional Brookfield School were shot at Repton School, an independent school (at the time of filming, for boys only), located in the village of Repton in Derbyshire, whilst the interiors, school courtyards and annexes, including the supposedly exterior shots of the Austrian Tyrol Mountains, were filmed at Denham Film Studios near the village of Denham in Buckinghamshire. Around 300 boys from Repton School stayed on during the school holidays so that they could appear in the film.
Richard Addinsell's score for the film has been included in a CD of his work. The liner notes of the CD include the lyrics for the Brookfield School song which is heard over the beginning cast credits as well as throughout the film itself. The lyrics in the body of the film are all but unintelligible, but per the notes, the lyrics are as follows:
Let the years pass but our hearts will remember,
Schooldays at Brookfield ended too soon.
Fight to the death in the mire of November,
Last wicket rattles on evenings in June,
Grey granite walls that were gay with our laughter,
Green of the fields where our feet used to roam.
We shall remember, whate’er may come after,
Brookfield our mother and Brookfield our home.
According to MGM records the film earned $1,717,000 in the US and Canada and $1,535,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $1,305,000.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. It was up against Gone with the Wind in all seven categories; Robert Donat won for Best Actor, beating Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable and James Stewart, though Goodbye, Mr. Chips lost to Gone With the Wind in five of the six remaining categories, while Mr. Smith Goes to Washington won Best Original Story. (Best Sound went to When Tomorrow Comes.)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips was remade as a musical in 1969, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark.