Greer Garson, the Oscar-queen of the forties received her first nomination for playing Katharine the lovely wife in the movie Goodbye Mr. Chips, her movie debut. Now I'm pretty sure that there was only one option for the name of the winner and it wasn't Greer Garson. Frankly, she had the least chance to win. She was a newcomer and did not have a very baity role.
Goodbye Mr. Chips is a very good (though a bit sentimental) movie about a shy, kind and friendly teacher, who's an icon of his school. It's quite probably the first high-profile "inspring teacher movie", it's the origin of films like Dead Poets Society. Robert Donat (in somewhat an upset) won the Oscar which seemed to be going to one of his more highl-profile adversaries. Although I thought that he was occasionally very moving, I cannot say that I agree with his win (I don't know if I would vote for Gable, Stewart or Olivier). But as I said he's quite great and he himself makes the movie.
With the help of a great SUPPORTING player, Ms. Greer Garson. That leading nomination is not that justified as she's quite far from being the lead (or the co-lead for that matter). I think Fritz put it quite well in his review about Garson: in those day it wasn't about the length of the performance. There were stars and no stars. Garson was going to become a real superstar in the forties so you get the picture now I think.
My biggest problem is not the length of the role, you know that it never influences me (Geraldine Page, Patricia Neal etc), but Katharine's character is bit one-dimensional and underwritten. Too bad. That would also be a disadvantage if she was nominated supporting (though she probably would have won that way), because not even the greatest performers can do miracles with a thin part.
However, I must say that I was totally charmed by Greer Garson's presence throughout her time on screen. Greer's beauty, elegance and dignity can always shine and save her from being pale as actually (despite the fact that I thought that the part was underwritten and weak) I never felt that she was herself weak. Also, it's quite great that had I not known that this was her first motion picture performance I really would not have noticed since she moves with such experience, confidence and strength. This is instantly visible and impressive.
She makes it perfectly clear how life-loving and romantic this woman is. She truly wants to be with Chipping, loves her very much and supports her no matter what happens. I may even say that this performance is the origin of the caring wife roles.
Her first scene is rather usual and predictable. Chipping wants to save her, but things turn out oddly and they have to stay together for a while and share a coat. Right here Garson shows a face of Katherine, which is quite loveable, but unfortunately it never changes. I never really felt that her performance was going from point A to point B. There's absolutely no development, all she has to show is charm.
I would not be fair though if I wouldn't mention the very memorable Christmas scene, where she is really heartwarming and moving. When she says that her husband will be the headmaster once, Garson is so astonishingly real, that there wasn't doubt that he will be one day. This is quite probably the most memorable (and unfortunately last) sequence with Garson in it. Too bad.
To sum up, this was a heartwarming and charming performance, which wasn't full of opportunities, but Garson did her best in my opinion and was able to show her immense charisma for the first time on screen. I thought I was giving her less, but I wouldn't be fair if I gave her at least this much.
So I said that I would write on Friday, but things turned out more brightly and I had time. What do you think? It's time to give your last predictions as I made my prediction contest a bit more difficult now.