August 14, 2014

Greer Garson, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

as KATHERINE ELLIS / MRS. CHIPS
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Before Greer Garson went on to dominate much of the 1940’s with 5 consecutive Oscar nominations, she popped up on the shortlist for Best Actress in 1939. Perhaps she got the nomination because voters were blinded by their love for Goodbye, Mr. Chips and didn't know any better. Perhaps she got the nomination due to studio politics and MGM wanting to prep her for star status. Perhaps it was a combination of the two factors. But the fact of the matter is, to say that her role in the film is leading anything is a load of flaming hot rubbish with a sprinkling of lies and deception on top. Her nomination is definitely one of the most flagrant examples of category fraud I’ve seen from the 1930’s, and it’s essentially the female equivalent to Spencer Tracy’s San Francisco nomination. But unlike Tracy, Garson is better. And despite the size of her role, there’s much to like here. 
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In the film, Mr. Chips describes Katherine as “so very nice looking…charming.” Now I had read here and there about Garson’s alleged “charm” in her films and hadn’t thought much of it going into the film, but hot damn! Charming doesn’t quite encapsulate the full meaning of how I felt about Garson in this role. She positively oozes with some sort of juju that puts you at ease and makes you like her whether you want to or not. Her voice is soft, fresh, honeyed…and every line she says kind of just wins you over inexplicably. It’s a terribly simple part, that of the devoted wife, and she exists in the film only to make the film’s one true lead a better person (see her line: “as long as you believe in yourself you can go as far as you dream”). The film doesn’t want to do much with her besides reiterating her role as the female who inspires and uplifts her man—this is clearly evident when the suffragette Katherine describes herself as a “strong minded female who rides a bicycle and wants to vote” and yet all she does for the rest of her performance is fawn over and coo at Chips. And yet, despite showing up for the occasional motivational check in a handful of scenes over the course of 40 minutes or so before abruptly disappearing forever, she makes a lasting impression purely by virtue of her infectious charm. It’s a perfect case of an actor really elevating unchallenging material. Watching her here makes her subsequent 6 nominations in 7 years seem unsurprising—after all, if she could get into Best Actress for a small performance with a basic stock character, then she could get in for anything. But to expand on this, Garson shows that she’s more than capable of holding her own with plain material and that she possesses a lovable appeal which clearly had Academy members coming back for more. I resentfully give this a 



9 comments:

  1. No comment. for now. :)

    If you liked her in THIS, you should definitely prepare to hand her a lot of Oscars for the performances to follow, especially Blossoms & Mrs Miniver.

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    1. oh dear. well, we'll see I guess. perhaps the novelty of her charm will wear off over the next few performances :)

      It's a 3, but it's a very weak 3. I hate that it's such a tiny part and wanted to give her a 2 at first but she does a well enough job that it just felt right to bump her up.

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  2. She's pure charm here, and reading this I think you will really like her in Blossoms in the Dust, her best for me.

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    1. Hmm....Alex really liked her in Blossoms and I saw that you did too. This definitely ups my anticipation even though movies starring or centering around children makes me want to jump off a bridge.

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  3. Greer <3 I haven't seen this, though.

    I'm a burgeoning fan of hers, though I recognize her limitations as an actress and the ways in which the Hollywood system trapped her into these type of "noble" parts. She hated the ways in which she couldn't escape the image of Mrs. Chips and Mrs. Miniver, and thus could never really succeed past the 40's. It'll be interesting to see how you react to her as the years go by, since you're stuck with her for 5 years after a brief respite in 1940.

    I'm curious, if this were in the right category would your rating improve any more? She probably would have won Supporting Actress were she nominated there.

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    1. Won??? :))
      She's got nothing on Hattie or Olivia.

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    2. Not saying she SHOULD have, but the stir she made with this small a performance to get a Best Actress nomination could have overcome the Gone with the Wind mania. Maybe ;)

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    3. I'm slightly interested in seeing how I feel about Greer as the years go on, though not so much. I'm at my 4th Bette perf now and I'm finding the repetition in her work to be less and less interesting as the years go on.

      I think I may bump Greer up a statue if she was supporting. I do think it makes a difference when it comes to evaluating a performance as lead vs. as supporting. I grade under different criteria in that case, and with supporting I consider a few factors that I don't when I'm critiquing a purely lead role.

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