Hellman's almost word-for-word-faithful adaptation of her play for Wyler confirmed her oft-repeated claim that The Children’s Hour was not really about lesbianism so much as the pernicious power of a lie. "The bigger the lie, the better," Hellman affirmed. A point of view she would gain a great deal of first-hand experience with when, in 1952 she was blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee; and later in 1979, charged with falsifying the details of her memoir, Pentimento. (Author Mary McCarthy [The Group] on Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'!")
Mademoiselle de Maupin by Theophile Gautier
A salacious seed is planted when the schoolgirls read the scandalous 1834 French novel in
which a woman disguises herself as a man and has affairs with both sexes
In 1960, in an effort to rectify the compromises he felt imposed upon him by MGM and the Hays Code in 1936, William Wyler returned to The Children's Hour vowing to make a more faithful version of the play. Taking advantage of the permissive atmosphere of the times, Wyler even went so far as to say he’d be willing to release his film without the MPAA seal of approval if need be. (Many newspapers at the time refused to carry ads for films lacking the Production Code seal. Similarly, many theaters wouldn’t exhibit non-approved films.)
|Audrey Hepburn as Karen Wright|
|Shirley MacLaine as Martha Dobie|
|James Garner as Joe Cardin|
|Fay Bainter as Amelia Tilford|
|Miriam Hopkins as Lily Mortar|
|The Hateful Eight...er, 12-year-old|
Making her film debut, Karen Balkin as Mary Tilford
All I know is William Wyler movies occupy a lot of space on my DVD shelves: Roman Holiday, The Heiress, The Little Foxes, Funny Girl, The Letter, and of course, The Children’s Hour; a film whose every frame supports his reputation for vivid storytelling and extracting superior performances from his cast. The Children's Hour was the no-win recipient of five Academy Award nominations (supporting actress, cinematography, costume, art direction, sound).
|Children Will Listen|
|Veronica Cartwright as Rosalie Wells|
One of the best criers in the business
In this her last film, Fay Bainter garnered The Children's Hour's sole acting Oscar nomination, and deservedly so. She's a forceful and dynamic presence in every scene. In the role that won Bonita Granville an Oscar nomination in 1936's These Three, Karen Balkin (who sometimes bears an unfortunate resemblance to Charles Laughton) gives an outsized performance that wouldn't be out of place in a comedy like The Trouble With Angels. Still, I wouldn't say she's exactly ineffective in the role, as by the third act you're apt to find the character she plays loathsome in the extreme. She makes The Bad Seed's Rhoda Penmark look like Shirley Temple
|The ever-likable James Garner is solid as always,|
but isn't called upon to do much more than stand around looking all heterosexual and stuff
Miriam Hopkins, who actually did play the MacLaine role in These Three opposite Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea, is a hammy delight as Martha's affected, self-dramatizing aunt.
|Playing an overly-theatrical B-level stage actress, Miriam Hopkins is seen here clutching the mementos of her career. In this instance a glamour portrait which is actually a publicity pic of Hopkins from the 1936 film, Becky Sharp.|
As someone commented in an earlier post for the movie Hot Spell, Shirley MacLaine can come off a little shrill in scenes requiring displays of anxiety or excitability. But like many gifted comic actors, she can really deliver the dramatic goods when playing hostility and pique. In a film that codifies lesbianism as simply an absence of glamour, MacLaine is really very good (this is where the film in its own small way is rather progressive) and grants her sympathetic character a depth and humanity refreshingly devoid of caricature. She resorts to no gimmicks or tricks to signify Martha's latent homosexuality, playing the role honestly and without artifice. In recent interviews about The Children’s Hour, MacLaine likes to relate how Wyler got cold feet during the making of the film, resulting in several non-explicit scenes of Martha showing her affection for Karen (brushing Hepburn’s hair, ironing her clothes, and cooking) ending up on the cutting room floor.
It's arguable and certainly up for debate whether Martha's self-disgust ("Oh I feel so damn sick and dirty I can't stand it anymore!") is wholly related to her discovery of her true sexual identity, and not, at least in part, also attributable to genuine guilt-based self-recrimination. Both her ill-temper towards Joe and her impatience with her silly Aunt are brought on by her repressed feelings for Karen. She must certainly feel considerable guilt in having her overheard outbursts with these two serving as the catalyst for the chain of events resulting in the severest harm coming to the one individual she most loves.
Of course, she could have achieved the same thing by merely hopping on a train (which Martha actually does at the end of These Three), but as I said earlier, this is Hollywood, and it would be several more years before the movies would grant any gay character a happy ending...and if you found a pun in that sentence, shame on you!
|A production still of the libel suit courtroom sequence that was deleted from the final film.|
The theatrical trailer for William Wyler's These Three (1936)
|The Children's Hour had its title changed in the UK|