Goodbye Mr. Chips 1939 Based on the novella by James Hilton. Directed by Sam Wood. A romantic drama with nuanced performances that can’t help but tug at your heart. In 1870, 24 year-old Charles Edward Chipping (Robert Donat – Academy Award Best Actor) arrives at Brookfield Academy (a venerable public school for boys) to assume the position of Latin Master. He’s agonizingly shy and has no teaching experience. The boys are so raucous, he unwittingly grounds them on the eve of a pivotal sports match. This seals his fate: respected, but not liked.
On a vacation walking tour of Austria with German master, Max Staefel (Paul Henreid), the men meet two Englishwomen, Flora (Judith Furse) and her friend, Kathy (Greer Garson). A connection is made. The four meet again in Vienna and have a lovely night out during which Kathy persuades him to waltz. They fall in love, marry, and become the talk of a new school year. Kathy charms everyone, students and faculty alike. Chipping loosens up and becomes the most beloved master on campus.
Some years later, Kathy dies. Chipping stays on, retiring only in very old age while staying in a house on the grounds where boys continue to visit. The sweep of changed attitudes, history/war and generations of boys are beautifully depicted. Immensely moving. (Not to be confused with the musical starring Peter O’Toole.) Rent on Amazon Prime.
Pride and Prejudice 1940 Based on the Jane Austen novel and the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. To my mind, the most authentic version. A story of the five Bennet sisters: Jane – Maureen O’Sullivan, Lydia – Anne Rutherford, Kitty – Heather Angel, Mary -Marsha Hunt, and Elizabeth – Greer Garson, and the vicissitudes of their finding mates while the family endeavors to stay in the good graces of pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Edna May Oliver) and Elizabeth skirts matrimony with prissy, egotistical Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper), male heir to their home.
Eligible bachelors Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester), his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy (Laurence Olivier), and the no-account George Wickham (Edward Ashley Cooper) get involved with Bennet family girls, but the story’s axis spins around Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam who read each other wrong from the moment they meet to final reveal. A thoroughly engaging story. Olivier bristles with propriety and pride while Garson exudes warmth and lively intelligence. If Irving Thalberg hadn’t died, this film might’ve starred Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Mrs. Miniver 1942 Inspired by the novel by Jan Struther. Directed by William Wyler. A romantic drama taking us through WWII with housewife Kay Miniver (Greer Garson), devoted husband, Clem (Walter Pigeon), and their kids Toby (Christopher Severn), Judy (Clare Sandars), and Vin (Richard Ney). Class differences, romance, patriotism, the discovery of a wounded German pilot, a civilian death in crossfire, deprivation, perseverance, and the staunch community of a fictional British town offer an effective microcosm of what it must’ve been like. Nuanced and touching.
The film went into pre-production in the autumn of 1940, when the United States was still a neutral country. Its script was rewritten to reflect increasingly pro-British and anti-German outlook as the United States moved closer to war. Much of the finale church sermon was used by President Roosevelt and printed in propaganda leaflets. Six Academy Awards. A 1950 sequel The Miniver Story was made with Garson and Pidgeon reprising their roles. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Julia Misbehaves 1948 An adaptation of Margery Sharp’s novel The Nutmeg Tree. Directed by Jack Conway. A charmer. When “mature” showgirl Julia Packett (Greer Garson) receives an invitation to the wedding of daughter Susan (Elizabeth Taylor) whom she hasn’t seen since a baby, Julia is shocked and pleased. It seems the thespian’s wealthy husband William Plackett (Walter Pigeon) was pressured to break up their nascent marriage by his domineering mother (Lucille Watson). Without resources, she tearfully gave up her child. The couple never bothered with divorce.
Loaned money for wardrobe and transport, Julia sails to France. On the way, she meets and flirts with acrobat Fred Ghenoccio (Cesar Romero). She substitutes for an inebriated member of the troop in Paris (great physical comedy) and misses a meeting with William – who had come to turn her back. At the house, her mother-in-law sends her packing, but Julia insists on seeing her daughter. Susan secretly sent the invitation and pleads with her to stay.
Unbeknownst to Julia, William caught her show in Paris and is once again enamored. Warm and witty, she impresses everyone but Mrs. Packett. The hits and misses of a second romance parallel that of Julia and William. Susan hardly realizes she’s in love with family friend Ritchie Lorgan (Peter Lawford) – not her fiancé – who’s made no secret of his feelings. Her mother helps things along.
Taylor turned sixteen during the filming of Julia Misbehaves and received her first onscreen kiss from Lawford. She pursued him, but the actor had been warned she was off-limits. Also during production, Lawford introduced Garson to E. E. “Buddy” Fogelson, an oil and cattle millionaire from Texas, whom she married the next year. Rent on Amazon Prime.
It Happened One Night 1934 based on the short story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Directed by Frank Capra. Determined to marry a man her father has pegged a fortune hunter, spoiled heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away. On a Greyhound bus, she meets journalist Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who recognizes her. They make a deal, if she gives him the exclusive on reuniting with her fiancé, he won’t out her. Adventures and misadventures give the couple time to fall in love, but assumptions come close to ultimately keeping them apart.
Even with formulaic set-ups, the film is fast, wry and appealing. Won all five top Academy Awards. Colbert initially balked at pulling up her skirt while trying to hitchhike complaining it was unladylike. Upon seeing the chorus girl who was brought in as her body double, however, the outraged Colbert railed, “Get her out of here. I’ll do it. That’s not my leg!” Rent on Amazon Prime.
Palm Beach Story 1942 Directed by Preston Sturges. Delightful. In love with husband Tom (Joel McRae), but afraid they’re so far down on their luck she’s become a burden, Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) decides to divorce him, fly south, and snare a rich man (not in that order) who can help get Tom back on his professional feet. The way she’s funded to travel and circumstances during which Gerry loses all her luggage on the train to Palm Beach are sheer screwball Sturges.
Timid millionaire John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) comes to her rescue in spades, taking her on a shopping spree to rival any woman’s most extravagant fantasies, giving her a lift on his yacht, then playing host at the family mansion. Tom follows Gerry by air. When everyone meets, she introduces her husband as her brother. Her initial plan to marry the money falls apart but everything comes out well. Of course.
Sturges’ first title, Is Marriage Necessary? was rejected by the censors who also rejected the submitted script because of its “sex suggestive situations… and dialogue,” “light treatment of marriage and divorce” and similarities between the John D. Hackensacker III character and John D. Rockefeller. Changes were made. Rent on Amazon Prime, Free with Netflix.
Midnight is alas unavailable
Featured photo: Public domain cropped screenshot of Greer Garson from the trailer for the film That Forsyte Woman.