|Directed by||William Wyler|
|Produced by||Samuel Goldwyn|
|Written by||Lillian Hellman|
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||Daniel Mandell|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Following graduation, college friends Karen Wright and Martha Dobie transform Karen's Massachusetts farm into a boarding school with the assistance of wealthy benefactor Amelia Tilford, who enrolls her malevolent granddaughter Mary. Karen and local doctor Joe Cardin begin to date, unaware Martha is in love with him.
Complications arise when Martha's aunt Lily Mortar comes for a visit. One evening, Joe falls asleep in a chair in Martha's room while waiting for Karen to return to the school, leading Lily to jump to the wrong conclusion. When she and Martha quarrel, Lily decides to leave, but not before confronting her niece with her suspicions about the young woman's true feelings for Joe.
Martha discovers Rosalie Wells listening at the door and accidentally closes it on her arm, slightly injuring her. When Mary finds a missing bracelet that belongs to another student among Rosalie's things, she forces her into revealing what she overheard outside Martha's room. Mary, who harbors a pathological hatred for her teachers, then tells her grandmother a grossly distorted version of the argument between Martha and Lily, suggesting Martha and Joe engaged in an illicit sexual affair, and she coerces Rosalie into verifying the story by threatening to reveal her theft of the bracelet. Mrs. Tilford is shocked by the revelation and has all the parents withdraw their daughters from the school, leaving Martha and Karen mystified.
When one of the girls' chauffeurs tells the women the reason behind the mass exodus, they confront Mrs. Tilford. Terrified her theft will be revealed, Rosalie insists the story is true. Martha and Karen sue Mrs. Tilford for libel but lose their case when Lily fails to testify on their behalf. She later claims she assumed her corroboration was unnecessary.
Although the women have been humiliated and Joe has been dismissed from the hospital due to the scandal, the three hope to repair the damage to their lives, but Karen and Joe go their separate ways when she confesses she believes the story Mary told. Martha admits to Karen she loves Joe but assures her she never told him.
Martha decides to leave with Lily, who later mentions the missing bracelet. Realizing what happened, Martha confronts Rosalie and convinces her to reveal the truth. Aware of the wrong she has committed, Mrs. Tilford offers Martha compensation, but Martha asks only that she tell Karen the truth and urge her to reunite with Joe.
Lillian Hellman's play was inspired by the true story of two Scottish school teachers whose lives were destroyed when they falsely were accused of engaging in a lesbian relationship by one of their students. At the time, 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.
Because the Hays Code in effect at the time 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 prevented even the use of or a reference to the play's original title, Hellman changed the title of her script to The Lie. After principal photography was completed, the film was christened These Three.
Goldwyn had already cast the three leads when he offered William Wyler, who until then had helmed mostly B pictures and Westerns, the opportunity to direct the film, along with a five-year contract. Although Wyler wasn't completely happy with Goldwyn's casting choices, he accepted the offer but insisted on a three-year contract instead. He tried to convince Goldwyn to replace contract player Joel McCrea with Leslie Howard, but the producer refused, although he unwisely told McCrea about Wyler's preference, which led to difficulties between the actor and director during filming.
For film trivia fans who love spotting continuity errors there is a great opportunity during the fairground scene, when Joel McCrea buys Merle Oberon a slice of cake. In the space of three shots, the slice has turned from dark chocolate cake to vanilla sponge and back to chocolate again. Miss Oberon seems to be pleased with it regardless though.
The Lux Radio Theater aired an adaptation of the film on December 5, 1937, with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Dobie, Errol Flynn as Dr. Joe Cardin, and Mary Astor as Karen Wright. Alma Kruger and Marcia Mae Jones reprised their roles as Amelia Tilford and Rosalie Wells, respectively. In addition, Constance Collier appeared as Lily Mortar.
- Miriam Hopkins ..... Martha Dobie
- Merle Oberon ..... Karen Wright
- Joel McCrea ..... Joe Cardin
- Alma Kruger ..... Amelia Tilford
- Bonita Granville ..... Mary Tilford
- Marcia Mae Jones ..... Rosalie Wells
- Catherine Doucet ..... Lily Mortar
- Margaret Hamilton ..... Agatha
Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times observed, "Miss Hellman's job of literary carpentry is little short of brilliant. Upon the framework of her stage success she has constructed an absorbing, tautly written and dramatically vital screen play. To it, in turn, a gifted cast headed by Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea has contributed lavishly of its talents, aided by superb direction and exceptionally fine photography. In its totality the picture emerges as one of the finest screen dramas in recent years . . . Strong, turbulent and caustic, These Three is an unusual picture and it has been brought to the screen with perception, beauty and a keen sense of drama."
Variety said of Bonita Granville and Marcia Mae Jones, "Theirs are inspired performances" and added, "Hellman, if anything, has improved upon the original in scripting the triangle as a dramatis personae of romantic frustration, three basically wholesome victims of an unwholesome combination of circumstance. McCrea was never better in translating a difficult assignment intelligently and sympathetically. The well bred restraint of Hopkins and Oberon in their travail with the mixture of juvenile emotions at their boarding school is likewise impressive."
Writing for The Spectator, Graham Greene observed, "I have seldom been so moved by any fictional film . . . After ten minutes or so of the usual screen sentiment, quaintness and exaggeration, one began to watch the incredulous pleasure of nothing less than life."
Film Daily wrote, "Tense, dramatic, this is one of the most powerful pictures that has come to the talking screen ... Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon give splendid performances, but it is the work of little Bonita Granville, as the troublemaker, which will attract the most attention."
John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that "quite a good piece of work has been done with this somewhat problematic drama", adding, "With all the drastic alterations made in the plot, it is surprising how many of the original episodes and scenes have been retained."
TV Guide rated the film 4½ out of five stars, calling it "gripping, adult cinema" and commenting, "Oberon gives one of her best dramatic performances and McCrea is also quite fine. The two child actresses have the showiest parts, but the real performances to watch are those of Alma Kruger and Miriam Hopkins. Hopkins, in particular, has rarely been better, her intense, high-strung quality perfectly suited to the role of a woman unable to stop her world from falling apart around her."
Awards and nominations
- British Film Institute website
- These Three at Turner Classic Movies
- Nugent, Frank S. (March 19, 1936). "Movie Review – These Three". The New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
- Variety review
- "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily (New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.): 9. February 25, 1936.
- Mosher, John (March 28, 1936). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 71.
- TV Guide review
- These Three at AllMovie
- These Three at the Internet Movie Database
- These Three on Lux Radio Theater: December 6, 1937.