The Children's Hour (film)

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The Children's Hour
A half-length portrait of two women, dran in black on a pink background. One woman stands in front, looking to the side. The other woman stands behind her, with her hands placed on the arms of the woman in front. She is slightly taller than the woman in front and looks down at her face from behind. Next to the face of the woman in front reads, in white letters, "DIFFERENT...". Below the picture reads "AUDREY HEPBURN, SHIRLEY MACLAINE, JAMES GARNER". Beneath these names reads "THE CHILDREN'S HOUR", with a small sketch of a man next to the title. In a white border to the poster reads the name "WILLIAM WYLER".
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by William Wyler
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes
Based on The Children's Hour 
by Lillian Hellman
Starring Shirley MacLaine
Audrey Hepburn
James Garner
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Franz Planer
Edited by Robert Swink
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • December 19, 1961 (1961-12-19) (United States)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.6 million[1]
Box office $3 million[1]

The Children's Hour (released as The Loudest Whisper in the United Kingdom) is a 1961 American drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by John Michael Hayes is based on the 1934 play of the same title by Lillian Hellman. The film stars Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner.

Plot summary[edit]

Former college classmates Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) and Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) open a private school for girls in New England. Martha's Aunt Lily (Miriam Hopkins), an aging actress, lives with the two of them and teaches elocution. After two years of engagement to Joe Cardin (James Garner), a reputable obstetrician, Karen finally agrees to set a wedding date. Joe is related to wealthy Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter), whose granddaughter Mary (Karen Balkin) is a student at the school. Mary is a spoiled, conniving child who often bullies her classmates, particularly Rosalie Wells (Veronica Cartwright), whom she blackmails when she discovers her stealing another student's bracelet.

When Mary is caught in a lie, Karen punishes her by refusing to let her attend the weekend's boat races. Furious, the young girl exacts her revenge by inventing a story about Martha and Karen being involved in a lesbian relationship, a tale based on fragments of a quarrel Mary's roommates accidentally overheard. She tells her grandmother she observed the two women kissing each other, and the woman immediately informs the other parents, who rapidly withdraw their daughters from the school, leaving Karen and Martha mystified about the sudden exodus. When one father finally explains what is happening, Karen angrily confronts Mrs. Tilford, together with Joe and Martha. Mary repeats her story and coerces Rosalie into corroborating the lie. The two women file a lawsuit against Mrs. Tilford for libel and slander but lose their case.

When the story is circulated by the local media, the reputation of the two teachers is destroyed. Only Joe keeps in contact with them, and he offers to take them away and start a new life. However, his trust in Karen is shaken, and he asks her if the rumors are true. In the ensuing quarrel, Karen ends their engagement, claiming she needs time to think everything over. When Martha learns about the break-up, she confesses she had always felt more than friendship for Karen and, upon hearing the false accusation, had finally realized the extent of her hitherto-repressed feelings. Upon this new acknowledgment of her feelings, she breaks down, blaming herself for ruining both of the women's lives.

Rosalie's mother (Sally Brophy) discovers a cache of stolen items, including the bracelet Mary used to blackmail her, among her daughter's belongings, and the two girls are questioned. Mrs. Tilford learns that the story was a fabrication and visits the two teachers. She apologizes for her actions and assures them if the court case is reopened, they not only will be cleared of all charges but will be well-compensated for the trouble she caused. Feeling the damage to their lives cannot be undone, Karen refuses to accept the apology.

Afterwards, she briefly talks to Martha about their future, and suggests going somewhere far away to start a new life together. Martha tells Karen she would rather talk about it in the morning and Karen leaves the house to take a walk. In her absence, Martha hangs herself. At her funeral, Karen walks away alone, while Joe watches her from the distance. Rosalie as well as some of Martha's former students notice Mary at the funeral and look at her with scorn and disgust.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Hellman's play was inspired by the 1809 true story of two Scottish school teachers whose lives were destroyed when one of their students accused them of engaging in a lesbian relationship, but in the Scottish case, they eventually won their suit, although that did not change the devastation upon their lives.[2] At the time of the play's premiere (1934) the mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State, but authorities chose to overlook its subject matter when the Broadway production was acclaimed by the critics.[3]

The first film adaptation of the play was These Three directed by Wyler and released in 1936. Because the Hays Code, in effect at the time of the original film's production (1936), would never permit a film to focus on or even hint at lesbianism, Samuel Goldwyn was the only producer interested in purchasing the rights. He signed Hellman to adapt her play for the screen, and the playwright changed the lie about the two school teachers being lovers into a rumor that one of them had slept with the other's fiancé. Because the Production Code refused to allow Goldman to use the play's original title, it was changed to The Lie, and then These Three.[3]

By the time Wyler was ready to film the remake in 1961, the Hays Code had been liberalized to allow screenwriter John Michael Hayes to restore the original nature of the lie. Aside from having Martha hang rather than shoot herself as she had in the play, he remained faithful to Hellman's work, retaining substantial portions of her dialogue.

In the 1996 documentary film The Celluloid Closet, Shirley MacLaine said she and Audrey Hepburn never talked about their characters' alleged homosexuality. She also claimed Wyler cut some scenes hinting at Martha's love for Karen because of concerns about critical reaction to the film.

The film was James Garner's first after suing Warner Bros. to win his release from the television series Maverick. Wyler broke an unofficial blacklist of the actor by casting him, and Garner steadily appeared in films and television shows over the following decades, including immediately playing the lead in four different major movies released in 1963.

Miriam Hopkins, who portrays Lily Mortar in the remake, appeared as Martha in These Three.

The film's location shooting was done at the historic Shadow Ranch, in present day West Hills of the western San Fernando Valley.[4]

Box office[edit]

The film recorded a loss of $2.8 million.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times observed,

In short, there are several glaring holes in the fabric of the plot, and obviously Miss Hellman, who did the adaptation, and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the script, knew they were there, for they have plainly sidestepped the biggest of them. They have not let us know what the youngster whispered to the grandmother that made her hoot with startled indignation and go rushing to the telephone . . . And they have not let us into the courtroom where the critical suit for slander was tried. They have only reported the trial and the verdict in one quickly tossed off line. So this drama that was supposed to be so novel and daring because of its muted theme is really quite unrealistic and scandalous in a prim and priggish way. What's more, it is not too well acted, except by Audrey Hepburn in the role of the younger of the school teachers . . . Shirley MacLaine as the older school teacher . . . inclines to be too kittenish in some scenes and do too much vocal hand-wringing toward the end . . . James Garner as the fiancé of Miss Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins as the aunt of Miss MacLaine give performances of such artificial laboring that Mr. Wyler should hang his head in shame. Indeed, there is nothing about this picture of which he can be very proud.[5]

Variety said, "Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine . . . beautifully complement each other. Hepburn's soft sensitivity, marvelous projection and emotional understatement result in a memorable portrayal. MacLaine's enactment is almost equally rich in depth and substance."[6] TV Guide rated the film 3½ out of four stars, adding "The performances range from adequate (Balkin's) to exquisite (MacLaine's)."[7]

Nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Balio 1987, p. 171.
  2. ^ "Lesbian sex row rocked society". Edinburgh Evening News. 25 February 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "These Three". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "Shadow Ranch Park". Laparks.org. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (15 March 1962). "The Children's Hour (1961)". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Children's Hour". Variety. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "The Children's Hour". TV Guide. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
Bibliography

External links[edit]