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 byWilliam Wyler
Screenplay byJohn Michael Hayes
Based onThe Children's Hour
by Lillian Hellman
Produced byWilliam Wyler
StarringShirley MacLaine
Audrey Hepburn
James Garner
Fay Bainter
CinematographyFranz Planer
Edited byRobert Swink
Music byAlex North
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 19, 1961 (1961-12-19)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
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, James Garner and Fay Bainter (in her final film role).


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

When Mary is caught in a lie, Karen punishes her by refusing to let her attend the weekend's boat races. Mary fakes a fainting spell to get out of trouble, and so Karen calls Joe to perform a check-up on Mary. Aunt Lily hovers over Joe, and when Joe kicks her out of the room, she complains to Martha about it. Martha is apathetic to Aunt Lily’s complaints and instead tells her Aunt Lily that she wants her to leave the school. Aunt Lily remarks that Martha is always in a bad mood when Joe is in the house and implies that Martha is obsessed with Karen, which upsets Martha. Two of Mary’s roommates overhear this conversation and relay it back to Mary. Mary runs away to her grandmother’s house and unsuccessfully tries to convince her grandmother to let her stay home and not return to school. On the ride back, Mary tells her grandmother that Karen and Martha are always punishing her because of the things she knows. She whispers something in her grandmother’s ear. Her grandmother goes into the school alone, where she runs into Aunt Lily, who is leaving the school, and asks Aunt Lily to clarify her comments about Martha and Karen’s relationship. Aunt Lily remarks that Martha’s fixation with Karen is “unnatural.” Horrified, Mary’s grandmother leaves the school, tells Mary she does not have to return, and notifies the other parents about what she has learned.

Karen learns that the story is from a father of a departing student and confronts Amelia about Mary accusing Martha and Karen of being lovers. Mary is foiled at convincing others that she personally saw the interactions between Martha and Karen. Mary coerces Rosalie to corroborate her story. Joe is frustrated by the situation, saying that he has finished cleaning up his grandmother's home, and maintains his engagement to Karen and his friendship with Martha. The two women intend to file a suit of libel and slander against Mrs. Tilford.

A few months later, Martha and Karen are isolated at the school, having lost all of their students and ruined their reputations after losing the lawsuit. Aunt Lily returns, and Martha confronts her about the fact that Aunt Lily refused to testify on behalf of Martha and Karen. Joe refuses to sever ties with Karen and Martha, still wanting to marry Karen, and loses his job as a result. He comes to the school and tells Karen and Martha that he found a job in a rural area, insisting that Martha come with him and Karen.

Karen attempts to embrace Joe, but he turns away from her, which results in an argument. Karen insists that Joe tell her whether he believes that there was a relationship between her and Martha. Joe hesitates before telling Karen that he believes it's untrue. She then says that nothing ever happened and that she could not continue with the engagement knowing that he doubted her, and calls off the engagement.

Rosalie's mother (Sally Brophy) discovers a cache of items among her daughter's belongings, including the bracelet inscribed to Helen Burton. Mrs. Wells takes her daughter to Mrs. Tilford who, while walking over to meet her granddaughter, Mary, on the stairs collapses on the floor.

Karen tells Martha that Joe will not come back. Martha is distraught at Karen's cryptic explanation and urges her to not let Joe go. Karen, however, wants to leave town with Martha the next day. She believes they can go where they will not be recognized and can start a new life, but Martha does not. As Martha tries to talk herself into believing she and Karen are just good friends, she realizes that she does truly love Karen. While Karen does not believe her, tries to dissuade her and maintains her own heterosexuality, Martha comes to believe she has loved Karen ever since they met and that she was simply unaware of the true nature of her feelings. Despite Karen's assurances to the contrary, Martha feels responsible for ruining both their lives and is appalled by her feelings towards Karen.

Mrs. Tilford visits the two teachers. She has learned about the falsehood perpetrated by her; the court proceedings will be reversed and the award for damages settled. Karen refuses Mrs. Tilford's gesture.

Martha no longer wants to continue with the conversation. She goes upstairs to her bedroom, and Karen follows her, once again telling her that she plans to leave the school and start over somewhere, and hopes that Martha will come with her. Karen leaves her for a walk on the school grounds. Aunt Lily asks Karen about the whereabouts of Martha as her door is locked. Karen breaks loose the door's slide lock with a candleholder and discovers Martha has hanged herself in her room. After Martha's funeral, Karen walks away alone, while Joe watches her from the distance.



Hellman's play was inspired by the 1810 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 wrought on 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 Goldwyn 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 1995 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 leading roles in four different major movies released in 1963: The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, The Thrill of It All with Doris Day, The Wheeler Dealers with Lee Remick, and Move Over, Darling again with box office queen Doris Day.

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]


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] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 86% based on seven critic reviews.

Awards for nominations[edit]

Award[8] Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[9] Best Supporting Actress Fay Bainter Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Fernando Carrere and Edward G. Boyle Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Franz Planer Nominated
Best Costume Design – Black-and-White Dorothy Jeakins Nominated
Best Sound Gordon E. Sawyer Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[10] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures William Wyler Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[11] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Shirley MacLaine Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Fay Bainter Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture William Wyler Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Audrey Hepburn 4th Place
Shirley MacLaine Won
Top Female Supporting Performance Fay Bainter Nominated

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Balio 1987, p. 171.
  2. ^ "Lesbian sex row rocked society". Edinburgh Evening News. 25 February 2009. Archived from the original on September 8, 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b "These Three". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Shadow Ranch Park". 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. ^ Cite error: The named reference Monaghan was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "14th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  11. ^ "The Children's Hour – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  12. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

External links[edit]