Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

Inciting Event: Mr. Chips meets the soubrette Kathie when his friend takes him to her show and then out for dinner with her. Chips unwittingly makes a fool of himself by saying all the wrong things. Since his relationship with Kathie creates the main forward motion of the plot, his meeting of her is obviously the Inciting Event.

One thing I like about this film’s opening is how it demonstrates a great set-up period in the very beginning, prior to the Inciting Event (which takes place about twenty minutes in). The main conflict doesn’t begin until Chips meets Kathie, which allows the opening scenes the time to set up his main problem—which is inability to connect with his students.

First Plot Point: While on holiday in Pompeii, Chips once again meets Kathie, who is there trying to overcome a broken heart. They fall in love. Although a big set-piece scene, this is actually a very subtle First Plot Point, primarily because the character’s departure from the Normal World and his reaction to the First Plot Point aren’t dramatically shown. Really, the only scene we’re given is the brief one in which he meets a lost student at the train station and is uncharacteristically relatable while helping the boy—showing that Kathie has already changed him.

First Pinch Point: Kathie invites Chips to a party at her house, which turns out to be a disaster, as Chips is wildly uncomfortable in the presence of the debauched theater crowd. Kathie’s old boyfriend shows up, ready to begin where he left off before jilting her, but Chips summarily shows him the door. This is a pinch that actually ends very positively. For all that it emphasizes all the reasons Chips and Kathie shouldn’t be together, it ends with their engagement.

Midpoint: Now married, Chips and Kathie return to school for the first day. Kathie is introduced to the faculty and the students and is immediately blackballed by school patron Lord Sutterwick, who knew her in her former showgirl life. Believing she is disgracing Chips, she runs away. Now Chips literally shifts directions, as he goes from being pursued by Kathie to pursuing her in order to get her back. He also proves himself more forceful and capable in his dealings with others, as when he faces up to Lord Sutterwick.

Second Pinch Point: Years pass and the plot recommences in 1939 with the threat of World War II hanging over the school. The story loses quite a bit of its focus in the second half. Whereas previously, the conflict was entirely contained in Chips’s romance with Kathie, now it focuses more on the school. This would not have been a problem, save for the fact that his overarching journey to becoming a beloved teacher was developed in a very episodic fashion, at best, in the first half.

Third Plot Point: Chips is disappointed to learn the headmaster position, which he thought was “in the bag,” has instead been given to his lifelong nemesis. Taken by itself, this is a fine low moment, but, once again, it presents a turning point that has little to do with the bulk of the conflict up to this point.

Climax: After the false victory (or, in this instance, better termed hollow victory) of finally Chips’s finally being named headmaster, Kathie is killed in a bombing raid while doing a show for the troops. In light of the first half’s structure, this would have been much better placed as the Third Plot Point. As it is, it’s placement at the turning point of the Third Act into the climactic period, not only makes it an awkward progression of the conflict, it also robs Kathie’s death of any great meaning, since it influences the rest of Chips’s journey in no substantial way.

Climactic Moment: Upon his resignation as headmaster after the war, Chips receives a standing ovation from the students who have finally grown to love him. As the capping moment in the conflict, what does this tell us about this story? That the true conflict was actually Chips’s relationship with the students (which is certainly borne out in James Hilton’s book, upon which this is based). As such, the fact that the bulk of the story focused exclusively on Kathie and not the students shows the fatal weakness in its structure.

Resolution: As a very old man, Chips converses with one of the new students: the great-grandson of his one-time opponent Lord Sutterwick.

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