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  • Warning: Spoilers
    There are spoilers in this review.

    What a dark, brilliant film. Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Maclaine, and James Garner are absolutely wonderful in this timeless gem of a movie. The immutable power of a child's false witness is seldom portrayed better than in this film. History has shown that just a few impressionable adults and one vengeful child can produce a mountain of misery: for example, witness the abominations of the Salem witch trials or the Wenatchee, Washington child sex ring.

    Karen Balkin is absolutely perfect in the role of Mary Tilford, the vicious little rich girl who easily puts Patricia McCormack from `The Bad Seed' to shame as she falsely accuses her teachers of having a lesbian relationship. She ruins several lives with her deceit, breaks up an engagement, shuts down a school, and destroys the loving bond of her family. It is wrenching to watch the desolation that ensues because of her bald-faced dishonesty: yokels stop in front of the abandoned school and point and stare, a delivery boy smirks at them, and the whole town turns their backs on them. The end of this film is unutterably sad and poignant; Maclaine, the best actor in the group, wrings every last bit of pathos from her character, and the devastation is unapologetically crystal-clear.

    The unfairness of life and its attendant majority group of people who readily accept easily-believed lies was never made more lucid than in this film. The sad thing is that this sort of thing goes on every day, all over the world, which makes this film a cautionary tale about judging your neighbor too quickly.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) are best friends since college and they own the boarding school Wright and Dobie School for Girls with twenty students. They are working hard as headmistresses and teachers to grow the school and make it profitable. Karen is engaged with the local doctor Joe Cardin (James Garner), who is the nephew of the powerful and influent Mrs. Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter). While the spiteful and liar Mary (Karen Balkin), who is Amelia's granddaughter and a bad influence to the other girls, is punished by Karen after telling a lie, Martha has an argument with her snoopy aunt Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins) in another room. Lily accuses Martha of being jealous and having an unnatural relationship with Karen. Mary's roommate Rosalie Wells (Veronica Cartwright) overhears the shouting and tells Mary what Mrs. Mortar had said about her niece. The malicious Mary accuses Karen and Martha of being lesbians to her grandmother and Amelia spreads the gossip to the parents of the students that withdraw them from the school. Karen and Martha lose a lawsuit against Amelia and have their lives destroyed. Further, Karen calls off her engagement with Joe when he asks her if what was said about Martha and she was true. The lie ends in a tragedy.

    "The Children's Hour" is a cruel and heartbreaking story that shows how destructive power of a lie may be. William Wyler is among my favorite directors and this film is a little gem with a magnificent screenplay. Shirley MacLaine has awesome performance in the role of a woman that does not accept her (homo) sexual preference and the girl Karen Balkin is amazing in the role of one of the meanest characters I have ever seen. In the mid 90's, in São Paulo, Brazil, the owners of the Escola Base were falsely accused of pedophilia in a national scandal and had their lives destroyed. Years later, it was proved that they were innocent, in a case of life copycatting fiction. My vote is nine.

    Title (Brazil): "Infâmia" ("Infamy")
  • A 'classic' film, (whatever that may be), can almost never be re-made in quite the same way again. It's something that we've thought about for quite a while, though - and noted filmmakers (including Gus Van Sant and Sydney Pollack) have tried and failed to re-make films to jazz up their appeal, and make them more accessible to a wider audience. It's something that passed through my mind quite a few times as I watched "The Children's Hour" today. Quite clearly, this is a film that more people deserve to see and know about, and it would certainly be interesting to try and re-make it, but we would definitely lose something in the translation.

    The largest reason for this is because it is a film of a definite period - the issues raised in the film are widely discussed these days, whereas in the period the film was set, homosexuality was something to be feared and despised. Similarly, we do not have the various elaborate codes of honour that are so prevalent in the film, and dictate the actions of almost all characters. It's a pity, then, that this film will be alien to lots of people today. The answer, however, is not in a re-make (the film is itself a re-make of a 1936 film by the same director called "These Three", and an adaptation of a play of the same name by Lillian Hellman), but a re-release of this fine example of moviemaking.

    Boasting a terrific cast including Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner, "The Children's Hour" is the story of two teachers, Miss Dobie and Miss Wright, who found a school for young girls in an idyllic town in America. Then, out of boredom, spite and plain maliciousness, a child tells a vicious lie that will bring about the downfall of the school, the teachers, and all caught up in the horrible set of affairs. It is quite possible to see the creeping evil and hatred that stems from Mary, the child concerned (played wonderfully by Karen Balkin). Eventually, it reaches out and destroys all it touches.

    The photography is great (it was nominated for an Oscar) - there are many scenes which are so wonderfully composed that each frame paints a thousand words: the climax of the movie is a great example. The relationship between MacLaine and Hepburn is delicately and sensitively portrayed, especially for a cast who didn't know what they were doing (according to MacLaine in an interview for "The Celluloid Closet"). James Garner is also good in his role as the doctor about to marry Hepburn, although the movie is clearly not aimed at giving him the best lines. There are also many, many superb supporting roles - and the film's strength comes from a great ensemble performance.

    It doesn't really matter what the child accuses the teachers of (indeed we only find out a good hour into the film, although it has been strongly implied), because the film isn't really about homosexuality. As MacLaine points out in "The Celluloid Closet" (a cracking documentary about the history of homosexuality in the movies), it is about "a child's accusation". It is also about the power held by a town to bring about the downfall of two perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary young people. The are lines in the film that one should never forget and it should also make us think about the way our words shape the situations in which we live: ("unnatural" is a great example).

    All in all, a lovely film from director William Wyler ("Ben-Hur", "Roman Holiday", "Funny Girl"), and one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience - re-release, please!
  • Lillian Hellman is an American Icon. A woman ahead of her time, in every department. Her women are never easy to read but they are real. From the icy Regina in "The Little Foxes" to the sisters of "Toys In The Attic" - Jane Fonda played her, brilliantly, in "Julia", Here, her women walked a slightly edgier plane."The Children's Hours" was a big Broadway success and William Wyler, one of the best, directed the film version as "These Three" in the 1930's, washing away any reference to homosexuality. I think that may be one of the reasons why he remade it in 1961 under its original title "The Children's Hour" Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Fay Bainter and Miriam Hopkins who also was in the original in Shirley MacLaine's part. The film is compelling and looks wonderful and I think it's more a document of its day by one of the most courageous writers of her day. The strange thing here is that the women are the ones who remain firmly in their day, they show us the outrage from their perspective and that's why it feels "dated" They would behave very differently today but not the rich southerners. I believe, they would also remove their children from the school. just like they did then. The oppressed have move on but the oppressors, have diminished in numbers, but they havent changed much. A fascinating film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Children's Hour More than just an ounce of truth... ((((SPOILERS))))) THE CHILDREN'S HOUR has gotten a rather bad rap over the years. It has gained this reputation that it is somehow a noble effort, but nonetheless a failure. That because of its subject matter and the era in which it was made, the need to gingerly handle the subject of lesbianism makes the end result seem dishonestly incomplete at best or just cowardly at worst. The fact that it is a tragedy which ends in the death of a gay character, underscores this need by some to devalue its importance and deride its power because it doesn't meet the harsher standards of political correctness.

    It is probable that if the film (or more accurately Lillian Hellman's original play) were to be filmed today, much of it would be altered. Even if a new version were set in the 1960s of the movie or the 1930s of the original play, the filmmakers would face considerable pressure to make the gay characters more defiant, the homophobic characters more transparently belligerent and the presumed nature of the lesbian relationship more explicit. And that would be the wrong thing to do. Even though the film was made on the eve of an era that saw censorship beginning to crumble, it depicts a time when homosexuality was barely mentioned, let alone something to inspire defiant pride.

    It has been suggested by Hellman, director William Wyler and star Shirley MacLaine that the gay angle of the story is really secondary to the story's main concern, that being the power of lies to destroy. I think this is more than a little disingenuous, a way of sidestepping the issue. Homophobia is the point of the story, whether the "lie" in the story is really a lie or not. That's why the 1936 film version, THESE THREE (also directed by Wyler), doesn't work, despite being well made and well acted. THE CHILDREN'S HOUR rings true, despite its evasive nature.

    Both films deal with two women who run a small, exclusive girls school whose lives and careers are destroyed by stories told by a couple of their pupils. In THESE THREE the story is sanitized so that it deals with accusations that one of the teachers has had an affair with the other's fiancé; THE CHILDREN'S HOUR returns to the play's original plot wherein the two teachers are accused of lesbianism. THESE THREE, though melodramatically played, has little dramatic weight: unsubstantiated accusations of an affair that everybody denies ever happened, might raise eyebrows, but hardly would carry such dire consequences, especially since the two children making the claims are shown to be so unstable and unreliable. And the film's desperate attempt at a happy ending doesn't help.

    Homosexuality has to be the linchpin of THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, because little else would create such irrational fear. The "lie" of the story would have to be so very threatening in 1961, otherwise it would not be credible that parents would overreact so fiercely or that the words of three upstanding citizens would be rejected over the claims of two foolish little girls. I think the film paints a fair and accurate picture of a time when homophobia wasn't considered a bigotry, but a logically parental concern. As such the film is neither pro-gay nor anti-gay, rather a consideration of a time of ignorance.

    Faye Bainter's Mrs. Tilford is what we would now call homophobic, but she is not an evil person. She is foolish to the extent that she can't see how manipulative and dishonest her grandchild is, but her actions against the school and its teachers are based on the prevailing social outlook of the time. She acts out of genuine concern, not hysterical outrage. Indeed, her view of homosexuality is not all that different from that of MacLaine's Martha Dobie, one of the accused teachers. It is Martha's suicide, upon admitting her true romantic feelings toward Audrey Hepburn's Karen Wright, that disturbs many who criticize the film. Martha is no more comfortable with homosexuality than Mrs. Tilford, but her fear of homosexuality is intensified and internalized. But Martha's death is not mandated to appease the moral atmosphere of the time, as some have suggested, nor because of her own self-hatred, but because that is the unfortunate logical path the story has to take. In a tormented confession, Martha reveals the contempt and shame she has for her feelings, but this is not meant to represent the honesty of homophobia, but rather the dishonesty of traditionally accepted mores. Pride and defiance are not options to Martha; she has neither the understanding nor the strength to endure the battle between her feelings and the moral convictions that society has taught her. As a tragic figure she is more than an appropriate symbol of her time. As a character, she is beautifully and sympathetically embodied by MacLaine in one of her finest performances.

    The film's message is not that homosexuality destroys Martha, but that ignorance poisons the waters. Martha's death is undeserved, but not a punishment of her lesbianism. Martha is a good person, a person who has our sympathy, not our pity. The injustice of her death confirms the film's empathy for the homosexual character. Unlike the faux happily-ever-after conclusion of THESE THREE, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR forces the viewer to question conventional morality.

    The film ends on a strangely ambiguous note. Martha confesses her feelings to Karen, but Karen evolves into an enigma. Even before Martha reveals her true feelings, Karen finally rejects her fiancé (played by James Garner), by forcing him to express the doubts about their relationship that she herself has apparently being harboring all along. But she accepts Martha's confession of love, yet makes no attempt to reciprocate. The film hints, but won't confirm that the "lie with the ounce of truth" is as true about Karen as it was about Martha. Karen seems to have gone from denying her feelings toward Martha to accepting them and then repressing them. The film ends with Karen leaving Martha's funeral, apparently strong-willed and defiant, but it is not clear just why. It's not likely that Karen feels vindication over Mrs. Tilford's apology, yet it is equally unlikely that Martha's death could possibly have inspired feelings of pride and defiance. The final shots of Hepburn possess an undeniable power, perhaps foreshadowing the changes in the way society would eventually view homosexuality. Martha's martyrdom makes Karen a stronger person, whatever her sexual inclination. It's not a happily-ever-after ending, but it is a promise of better endings to come.
  • My favorite review of this film is a short, concise one entitled WOW written in 2000 (read it and you'll read my feelings exactly!). I believe it says a lot that over 40 years later, we still want to comment and view this movie (a movie that is not necessarily a popular classic that people know about). I had never heard of this movie until looking on Netflix and deciding to rent all the Audrey Hepburn movies. While she is fabulous, I thought Shirley M was the shining performance in this movie. James Garner is so genuinely loving and likable (as usual!) The other characters are also fabulous but for length I won't list them all! I highly recommend this film to someone who appreciates dramatic film with good character development. It is definitely not what I expected from something on an Audrey Hepburn list (which makes me love her more)! Some raters feel that this movie has homophobic undertones and is not appropriate for today's society (because we are so open minded now???). As someone who has worked with youth of today in a small town, I believe it is still relatable. I think it would open up a good discussion because I felt hope in the midst of tragedy (I don't want to give away anything but basically a "what could you have done instead" dialog).

    I weeped at the end but would watch it again as it is superb. I would give it a 10 but having only seen it once, I feel biased as I'm sure there are minor flaws somewhere! I give it a 9.9/10 instead!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Sad, well done movie about how the lies of a vengeful child can destroy everything they touch. The story concerns two single female teachers running a small girl's school. The school is finally making money and one of the teachers in newly engaged until a malicious student makes up lies about them to avoid being punished for her misdeeds. The lies spiral out of control and soon enough the school is out of business and the women find their lives ruined before it is finally realized that the student was lying all along, much to the horror of the adults who were all too ready to believe her.

    This movie is a strong reflection of the time it was made in. While even today, homosexuality is controversial, in this movie, it is only spoken of generally in code and hinted at with words like "unnatural acts." The story doesn't set out to lecture, but rather shows how easy it is for one lie to lead to another, and how idle gossip can become much more venomous if given the chance.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Audrey Hepburn stars in William Wyler's film, based on Lillian Hellman's play, The Children's Hour. It's a story about a girls' school and its two teachers Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine). Things seem to be going well in their school until a trouble maker, Mary (Karen Balkin) makes up a rumor about the teachers' relationship, based on her thoughts and what she has heard. Everybody in the town start to believe in the story Mary has made up, leading Karen and Martha to despair.

    If you didn't guess already, this is a survey of homosexuality. In the movie, they don't dare to say the word out loud. But we see discussions behind doors and windows, we see the gestures of the characters. We follow the events as outsiders. To which the almost expressionistic black-and-white cinematography gives a great touch. The strong grip of nature, relying on the experience of an individual and simplified milieus fit for the story better than well.

    The rumor did much more harm than Mary could have guessed. It destroyed the relationship between Karen and her husband to-be Joe Cardin (James Garner). It destroyed everything they had worked hard for. But it also made Martha think about her real feelings about her good friend. The film is open for interpretation and it is not made clear whether the rumor was true or not in the first place. Or did the rumor just make Martha realize something, did it change her or did her mind change her because of the rumor. Wyler makes it clear that, actually, it doesn't matter whether the rumor is true or not. All the people are so shocked of this horrible sin that they blindly follow a child's story and drive two women into despair.

    Even that The Children's Hour approaches the case of being a lesbian carefully, I found this movie very brave. The censorship of Hollywood had loosened but still they had trouble bringing this up on the screen. I'm amazed with the result and I'm sure this touched many people in the 60's and made a lot of people broaden their horizons - and it still can. Many people even today are shocked to here about homosexuality. There still are many people who just can't accept it and that's what makes this movie timeless.

    The acting is superb - one of Hepburn's greatest performances but I liked the acting of Shirley MacLaine as well. Many people might know the director William Wyler as the director of Ben-hur; he's one of the greatest American filmmakers. This was another proof of his talents, The Children's Hour was very capturing, the characters were sympathetic - easy to relate to - and well built. It's no masterpiece but it is an incredibly capturing melodrama. Slightly expressionistic imagery and Wyler's calm, mature approach subject make this a remarkable film.

    The film's built on strong emotional scale. People scream, yell, cry and moan. It portrays pure grand emotions, and the topic's pretty harsh. But the director has placed a satirical twist to the film. Showing the people whispering, talking quietly about it but never saying it out loud. They're so afraid of it that they can't even say the word. Perhaps all the people are so insecure and vulnerable that they try to dodge the whole subject. Not even trying to search for themselves. It's never too late to find your identity and stop pretending. If looking at the film from this angle it breaks out from being just a provocative film about an unmentioned taboo. It's reaches an universal level studying the true identity of man.
  • This is a great movie. This film was certainly ahead of it's time. It was extremely controversial when it came out in the early 60's and has to do with gay rights. It's based on avery famous play from Lillian Hellman and it's directed by WilliamWyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday, Ben-Her), and it stars Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Miriam Hopkins, Fay Bainter, Karen Balkin, and Veronica Cartwright. The acting is amazing from everyone but Shirley MacLaine steals the show. This coming from a huge admirer of Hepburn. Heart breaking and wonderfully filmed, the "Children's Hour" is a terrific movie. See it!
  • I just watched "The Children's Hour" for the first time this evening. I must say that I was very impressed. Hepburn and MacLaine gave brilliant performances as the two headmistresses of a girl's school. The cinema photography was outstanding and the direction and writing were fantastic.

    Turner Classic Movies ran this gorgeous film this evening and the comments that were made after the run brought several thoughts to mind. After viewing the movie, I decided to get on-line and see what others had to say about this film.

    The one comment that was made tonight was that it was thought that the film didn't really `appeal' to the heightened sensibility of the audiences of the 60's. However, I felt that the movie was timeless in its observations and portrayals of its two main characters. Grant it, homosexuality was NOT the main focus of this movie but it does play a very important, albeit, small role.

    In today's society, homosexuality is more widely accepted than it was at the time this play was written. However, there is one area in society that it is still 'taboo' to be gay and that is in the teaching profession. There are STILL, more than 40 years after this movie was made, teachers that cannot be who they really are for fear of losing their jobs, the respect of their peers and the trust of parents. Grant it this is not in every part of the country, in every town, but it is still as thus in small-town America. I know this for fact, as I am the life-partner of a teacher. I know what it is like for him to have to hide who he really is and the torture that he goes through because of it. Children can say some very vicious things and I have seen what it can do to a person first-hand. This is why I feel that this picture is very 'true to life'; because in so many ways this is still the way things are today.

    Indeed, more people should see this movie! Maybe people would think before spreading rumors. This is a prime example of what one comment can do to a person's life and how it can snowball.
  • In this remarkable film, a child's malicious lie destroys the lives of two young teachers. The child lies to avoid school because "everyone there hates me." The lie is believed because it is compounded by idle ramblings. Then it is upheld by a girl who is lying only to protect herself. This piece plays remarkably well today as it shows that children do lie even when they don't really know what they are talking about. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine are remarkable in this work as they show the emotional upheaval that a simple lie can cause.
  • jotix10028 July 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    William Wyler showed he wasn't afraid to tackle again this Lillian Hellman's play. He had directed the film years before, but the tone had been changed during the first version of "The Children's Hour". In fact, there is no gayness to speak of in the previous adaptation, "These Three".

    Even for 1961, when the film was released, lesbianism, was not treated, or seen, in the same fashion one encounters it everywhere today. In fact, the dialogue of the film doesn't include the word "lesbian" at all! Lillian Hellman was a woman committed to show the ills in society she lived in. Hypocrisy is dealt with in most of her work. In this film, she emphasizes the fatal consequences of how a lie can destroy lives, as it's the case here. Because of a brat's hatred for authority and discipline, Karen's and Martha's reputation suffer greatly because the adults are so bent into condemning them without much of an investigation to see if the accuser is lying, or not.

    Martha at the end reveals her feelings for Karen, which we suspected all along. There were no indications or tell tell signs between these two young women of any kind to substantiate the charges. In fact, Karen is extremely hurt by just being accused of being a lesbian, when she, for all appearances, is in love with young and handsome Dr. Cardin.

    When the truth is realized, we see how things change, but it's too late for Martha, who has taken things in her own hands. At the last scene we watch most of the people that have been instrumental in accusing Karen and Martha at the cemetery as they all feel guilty of what they have done to ruin these women.

    William Wyler got good acting in general of his small cast. Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn make good contributions as Martha and Karen. Miriam Hopkins is the self-centered aunt Lily. Fay Banter is Amerlia Tilford, the woman who is instrumental in ruining the women. James Garner is good as Dr. Cardin, and Karen Belkin makes an impression with her evil Mary Tilford.

    The film seems today as somehow dated. Mr. Wyler finally was able to do justice to Ms. Hellman's play.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 2007 in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, a male teacher with seniority was politely asked to resign by the high school where he had worked for several years because his personal website (where his name did not even appear) contained suggestive photos of himself and his lover; it was somehow found and reported on to the principal. So you see, the premise of "The Children's Hour" is not at all out-of-date!

    What is absolutely fascinating about this film, and what makes it unique in all the dramas which have been made on the subject of homosexuality, is the treatment of the road of self-discovery taken by these two very different women.

    MacLaine wants Hepburn to buy some new clothes in an early scene, because she remembers how stylish her friend liked to be in her university days, and she even shares the memory of her first sight of Hepburn, when she said to herself, "What a pretty girl!" By the time the action of this movie begins, these two women have already lived and worked together for at least ten years. There was university together. Then, they both started teaching and accumulated several years' worth of experience; and it must certainly have taken a while to save up the money to set up the private girls' school of their dreams. That is a long relationship, a very committed relationship. Many similar career women in the 1960's, back to the 1870's (!) - famous women novelists, scientists, musicians, artists, poets - are now casually described in academia as lesbians, if they had any kind of a lengthy partnership with another woman at all. It has become a fashionable, politically correct label. But are these labels accurate?

    Years ago, a sisterly friendship was accepted as just that. Now some kind of sex act is required and assumed. Nobody is supposed to be able to exist without regular orgasms. Nonsense! The culture has turned us all into Pavlovian dogs who salivate on cue. It is not true that 'everybody is doing it.' It wasn't true in past generations, and it isn't even true today.

    The women in "The Children's Hour" were not 'doing it' either. But the movie is thrilling because it is not concerned with the spasms of body parts, but with the deep things of the heart.

    MacLaine adored Hepburn, and always had. Hepburn was surely conscious, at some level all those years, of that adoration. Every lasting friendship between two people has unspoken dynamics, reasons why the individuals relate strongly to one another, key roles they play in each others' life story; sex may or may not be involved at all.

    But, in this case, we can be sure that sex was involved, at a repressed level to start with. MacLaine came to realize that even touching Hepburn's hand was a pleasure which formerly she had chosen not to analyze too closely.

    Mary, the awful, precocious schoolchild, whom we have seen reading some 'dirty book' in bed at night with a flashlight, evidently got her hands on something very graphic indeed, and this is what horrified the grandmother when she whispered what she couldn't say aloud, in the back of the rich old lady's limousine. There was more to this account than merely a story of 'kissing'.

    As MacLaine says in her own great scene, somehow that monstrous little girl had sensed by intuition 'a grain of truth' to wrap her lie around. That 'grain of truth' becomes a snowball, by the end of the movie. MacLaine has confessed her love for Hepburn. Without histrionics, but with quiet honesty, Hepburn has confessed the same to her friend: "I love you, too." And Hepburn, even faced with total vindication and financial security from the libel award, never once considers contacting James Garner and putting their marriage plans back on track. Why not? The answer is that she herself has slowly come to a realization of her own need to make a life with MacLaine. She goes for her walk, ready for the future ahead.

    But it is MacLaine, looking lovingly out the window at Hepburn, almost blissfully, secure for the first time that she is loved and valued by the person she cares about the most, who still knows that the future ahead for the two of them will entail a higher price for her than she is willing to pay. She cannot face the inevitable physical expression of her love for Hepburn. She is also burdened by a dysfunctional family background, with her only relative being the crazed, delusional aunt who has sponged off of her, and then let her down when she ignored those telegrams pleading for her to come back to testify for the two of them.

    MacLaine and Hepburn do know, as they reveal in one of their final conversations, that there are lesbians, someplace, out there somewhere, who do accept themselves and who do somehow make lives for themselves. But MacLaine says, "We are not like that."

    Hepburn has the strength to try. MacLaine isn't strong enough.

    This is what Hepburn senses as she walks back towards the house, as she has been thinking things over on her walk. The aunt's calling out, looking for MacLaine, makes her really alarmed. But by the time she breaks down MacLaine's door, it is too late.

    Hepburn's second walk, after the funeral, so purposefully reminiscent of the previous walk, is the quick step of a soldier, marching to battle. She is not afraid. And she is free to make any choice she wants. The stick figures of the townspeople standing at the edge of the graveyard can never touch her again.
  • William Wyler's atmospheric drama has two teachers (Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) be accused of lesbianism by a guileful schoolgirl, and then have that rumour ruin their job, their lives and their friendship.

    Somewhat of a taboo for the 60s, Wyler bravely tackles the subject with honesty and integrity, and his cast work well to bring the tense atmosphere to us. As the engaged, straight, Miss Wright, Audrey Hepburn suffers commendably, fighting always for the truth – as she sees it, and as a result, losing her fiancée. Shirley MacLaine is the more ambiguous character of the two. It is not on whether the allegations were true (it is clear from the off that they are just slander of the worst kind from a bored, vindictive little girl) that the mystery of the film lies, but in whether her character does secretly love Hepburns', as more than a friend.

    The children are less apt in their roles. None of them have names worth remembering, but the main one who spreads the rumours does it with such exaggerated facial expressions that it is difficult at times of most intense drama not to laugh, and the other girl, who aids her in the spreading of lies, is also laughable in her "fear." However, if the intention was to make us dislike the children as much as possible, then they have succeeded.

    But the message is clear – lies of such a powerful decree – even if they are spawned off what is guessed to be the truth, will damage others. It's a hefty topic, and one that lacks slightly, due to the censorship of the time, no doubt, but the behaviour and actions of the characters still ring true today – the hypocrisy of the kind aunt, the spreading of cruel lies just for fun, the boyfriend's abandonment, and how, at the end of the day, it is always the innocent that suffer, yet some, like Hepburn's character, are brave enough to walk out in the public, with their head held high in the air, because they know they were innocent.
  • When Martha Dobie and Karen Wright are accused of lesbianism, they're entire world comes crashing down. Karen loses the man she loves and so happens to have been engaged to for two long years, Joe (James Gardner). Martha loses her life, basically, and everything that she's ever had. And this is all because of a vicious little brat that anyone with common sense wants to slap when they watch this movie, Mary Tilford. To say in the least, the end in completely unexpected. It makes you think that the world is over, and it takes time to adjust to the fact that this is"just a movie". But a terrificly wonderful movie at that. Heart breaking and wonderfully filmed, the "Children's Hour" is a terrific movie with outstanding actresses. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MaClaine light up the screen! A definite 10.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As with several projects involving Lillian Helman, the backstory is nearly as interesting as the written work. In this case, her trailblazing play "The Children's Hour" was morphed into a film called "These Three". Because lesbianism was one aspect of the plot, the story had to be sanitized to meet the Hays Code in place at the time. The changes imposed on it actually resulted in a striking and memorable film. Years later, the same director (Wyler) attempted to tackle the original story in it's unaltered form, but, ironically, it was unable to match the level of the first movie. Here single, closely knit teachers Hepburn and MacLaine are just realizing their dream of running their own girls school when a bitter, vengeful child creates a snowballing, vicious rumor about them out of spite. Influential and "well-meaning" Bainter (the grandmother of the child) takes the rumor to heart and soon the school is in jeopardy, Hepburn faces losing her handsome doctor fiancée (Garner) and MacLaine is forced to face some painful truths about herself. The film is attractively shot and well-appointed in its details. Hepburn is lovely and does a fine job. MacLaine gets a meaty part with several strong moments. Garner shows surprising vulnerability along with his customary charm. Hopkins (a lead in "These Three") hams it up enjoyably as MacLaine's melodramatic aunt. Bainter lends her typically strong presence and was Oscar nominated (even if she occasionally looks like Herbert Marshall in drag.) Balkin (as the deplorable child) is appropriately spoiled and malicious, though it's hard to understand how the adults can't see through her machinations. One of her victims is Cartwright, who would later appear in "The Birds" and "Alien". Though the subject matter was still taboo even in 1961, enough of the elements come through in the film to get the points across. Unfortunately, the treatment of the subject is rather unenlightened and at times awkward. However, due to the timid approach to the material, creative use was made of visuals and unheard dialogue in order to avoid explicitly stating many of the details. Situated benignly into the dialogue (whether intentional or not one can't tell) are phrases like "in the closet" and "sissy". Alex North ingeniously interpolated the childhood song "Skip to My Loo" into his score whenever Balkin is around. (The song's lyrics detail spoilers like "fly's in the buttermilk" and "cat's in the cream jar" which are certainly in line with the type of ruination she causes everyone.) She must have been a little TOO annoying as she scarcely worked again after this. When all is said and done, the film is a well-heeled curiosity falling short of greatness, but offering a great early glimpse of attitudes toward homosexuality on the big screen.
  • DL-53 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Synopsis: Karen Wright, (Audrey Hepburn), and Martha Dobie, (Shirley MacLaine), have been best friends since they were seventeen. They open an elite girl's school together and are on their way to becoming moderately successful. Karen is engaged to Dr. Joe Cardin, (James Garner), but has refused to set a wedding date until the school is actually successful. Dr. Cardin has a young cousin, (once removed), Mary Tilford, (Karen Balkin), attending said school. Unfortunately, Mary is a compulsive liar with a spiteful nature. Mary proceeds to tell lies, made up of fact and fiction, to her loving grandmother, Mrs. Amelia Tilford, (Fay Bainter), in the hopes of not having to return to the school where she is continually disciplined for her obvious lies, (obvious to everyone but her grandmother). Mrs. Tilford, (who is Joe's aunt), believing her granddaughter, does the one thing she thinks to be morally right and that is to unknowingly spread these lies to other parents. Parents pull their kids from the school and Karen, Martha and Joe are left to defend themselves unsuccessfully against the lies of a little girl. The truth is finally revealed, but with the damage already done, only tragedy is left as the victor.

    Recommendations: Sensitively directed by William Wyler, this film was and is groundbreaking. Technically speaking it has authentic black and white art direction, perfect cinematography, believably authentic costumes and excellent work done by the sound engineers. Still it is the acting by the glorious Audrey Hepburn, the brilliant Shirley MacLaine, the sensitive James Garner and the annoyingly real Miriam Hopkins, who plays Martha's aunt and employee, who bring this movie to life. Having said all that, it is the supporting work of Fay Bainter that completes this film, with her heartbreaking grace and aching search for moral fortitude, she becomes the conscious of this film and the conscious of the times. She is brilliant. In closing, I know that the ending of this film has troubled many an opened minded individual who thinks that the decision taken by one of the two heroines is a painful and a seemingly easy cop out, but I say to those people that if you watch this film carefully you will realize that her decision is not the only option given, it is just the option that she regrettably chooses. This film, viewed with an open mind, even with its heartbreaking ending, did and does more for equality than is apparent to the eye. Brilliant.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Despite various plot holes and other problems with the presentation, this film provides a sad tale of unrequited love gone horribly wrong due to the meddlings of a spoiled child.

    Hepburn as Wright is wonderful as usual but it is MacLaine as the burgeoning lesbian Dobie who provides a truly magnetic performance. The pair are co-owners and teachers in a small, exclusive boarding school, the Dobie-Wright School for Girls. Mary Tilford is a student there who is also something of a bully to the other girls; she regularly finds herself on the wrong side of her teachers. After a particular incident in which she is told told off for lying, she manages to concoct a story about Dobie and Wright being lesbian lovers. Naturally and predictably the story is passed around among the children's parents and the school is effectively closed.

    What follows is a sometimes overacted yet more often spot-on tale of the despair about being the victims of a powerful lie - one which alters the course of their lives forever. The fact that Dobie is a latent lesbian and has been in love with Wright complicates their plight, however it does provide the audience with a rarely-seen-on-film heartfelt "coming out" which rings sorely and sadly true even in our enlightened day.

    Interesting also to note that Veronica Cartwright (Lambert in 1979's "Alien") features as a girl bullied by Mary Tilford. Also Miriam Hopkins who plays Aunt Lily was in the 1936 version of this film ("These Three") as Martha Dobie.
  • Lilliam Hellman was a modern female writers and ahead of all of the female writer of her time (except for my fave Zora Neale Hurston). The film "The Children's Hour" based on Hellman's play tells the story of two young women whose lives and reputations are destroyed after a horrible little girl tells everyone that the two young women are lesbians. In a time period from which the play was set does not use the words "lesbian" or "homosexual" and are substituted with "unnatural." Homosexuality in the play/film was treated the same way as it was back then: a tragic and horrible disease punishable by death for certain. It is a painful film to watch. Audrey Hepburn is lovely as always as Karen and she was also one of the few actresses who was not afraid to take on a role that was avaunt garde. She has tender and sweet moments with James Gardner, who is also wonderful as Dr. Joe Cardin, Karen's fiancée. And then there is my favorite: Shirley MacClaine who steals scenes with such agony as Martha, a young woman who realizes that she is in fact different and is a lesbian, but lives in a time and place that would not never allow her to be free to express her feelings. In a touching and agonizing scene, Martha reveals her true feelings for Karen. MacClaine breaks your heart and many can relate to her. She wins us over and breaks our hearts. Other supporting actors included are Fay Bainter as Mrs. Tilford, the rich and powerful woman who is made the pawn of spreading the lies told by her granddaughter; the wonderful Miriam Hopkins is Martha's judgmental and hypocritical Aunt Lilly Mortar; Veronica Cartwright is sweet and innocent as the young girl tortured into confirming the lie. And of course, the little girl we all love to hate: Mary played by Karen Balkin. Mary is a nasty little girl and throughout the film all you want to do is strangle her. Why the character of Mary Tilford didn't make the AFI list of 100 Greatest Villains I will never know because here is an "innocent" child telling a horrible lie without realizing the consequences of her actions. "The Children's Hour" is a very hard film to watch at times, but one of the most important films pivotal to the 1960s.
  • Based on a stage play by Lillian Hellman, The Children's Hour is a story about taboo, the implications of lies and the naive and selfish mentality of children. Being based on a play, the film is as melodramatic as you'd expect; but as the cast is made up of such a talented bunch of actors, the melodrama never gets in the way of the plot, or point of the film. The Children's Hour stars two of it's days biggest female stars; Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine, who play teachers, and owners, of a private girls boarding school. Their lives fall into disarray when a spiteful student accuses the two women of having a lesbian relationship. Nowadays, we've moved on a bit so the women of this film's problem wouldn't be all that great today; but when put into the context of the film's setting and the moods at the time, it gives the film a very potent social commentary. The film balances this with a character study of it's main characters, and together these two elements blend into one very good film indeed. Add a brilliant script and some fine acting performances into the mix; and you've got a film that's damn near perfect.

    Despite the fact that it stars two of the biggest stars of it's day in Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine; the standout performance of the film for me comes from the young Karen Balkin, in the role of the troublesome child at the centre of the scandal. Balkin steals every scene she's in, even when on screen with the two leads, and despite the fact that her character is repulsive; I always found myself waiting for her to come back on screen. It's a shame she only made one other film after this one. The film is really well written, and we delve into the character's nightmare; we get to learn more about them as people, as well as learning about the social implications of the scandal. The film balances these two elements perfectly, and this always ensures that the film has enough intrigue to keep the audience's interest. The central point of the implications of lies is very potent at all times, and this was the most interesting aspect of the movie to me. How so many people can form their opinions of someone on the words of a child is made more frightening by the fact that this sort of thing could, and most probably has, actually happened. On the whole; like most of Audrey Hepburn's work in the sixties - this is an excellent film and comes with high recommendations!
  • Elizabeth-32822 February 2002
    "The Children's Hour" is a great movie that was very much ahead of its time in 1961. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine play teachers who are accused by a deceitful student of having a lesbian relationship. This causes much friction in the school community, as the two women are shunned. And as might be expected when your whole world is turned upside down, these rumors cause tragedy.

    Audrey Hepburn is radiant as always, and Shirley MacLaine gives one of her best, most underrated performances. James Garner and Fay Bainter are also great in their supporting performances. "The Children's Hour" is a fantastic drama that you definitely don't want to miss!
  • The Children's Hour is a powerful film dealing with the effects of lies and discrimination. Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn give terrific performances as 2 girl school teachers accused of being lesbians. Their lives are ruined by an obnoxious little girl who spreads lies. The film is dated in that society today wouldn't bat an eyelash over such a sitation (in fact their school today would probably set attendance records) but you can substitute any minority or ethnic group for the 2 lead characters and see how people can suffer at the hand of discrimination. The movie is based upon the Lillian Hellman play and recommended for movie buffs of all ages.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The big screen finally got to see The Children's Hour as Lillian Hellman meant for it to be seen, a searing drama on the power of self hate of one's sexuality.

    This Pre-Stonewall gay drama is about two teachers who run a select school for wealthy young adolescent girls. One of them, Audrey Hepburn, has been engaged for a couple of years to Doctor James Garner, but she never quite gets around to getting married. The business of running the school with her friend and business partner Shirley MacLaine consumes all the time for both of them.

    A really bad seed of a kid, Karen Balkin, gets disciplined once to often as she sees it by Hepburn. The young girl concocts a story about seeing the two of them in a sex act and tells her guardian and grandmother Fay Bainter. Bainter does her own 'investigation' and confirms it in her eyes. The word spreads and the kids are withdrawn from the school rather than be tainted by being around those horrific lesbians.

    The Code was coming down. Though the word lesbian is never used in the film, that's what it's all about. Back in the day, Samuel Goldwyn took this story and made it a straight triangle story with Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea. Back in the day the Code said that homosexuality could not even be discussed let alone dramatized. Now we're seeing what was a landmark drama about gay people, Lillian Hellman's vision as it really was.

    Just denying it isn't enough because there's a grain of truth to it. Repressed sexuality is a terrible thing and it's taking a strain on both of them. Shirley MacLaine finally cracks under it and admits that she's been crushing out on Hepburn ever since they first met in college. Remember that she lived in a society in the Thirties when The Children's Hour was first written where being gay was in some eyes worse than being an ax murderer. Finally coming out with it in the end was too much for her and it brings on terrible consequences for MacLaine.

    Back in the day when I was a working investigator for New York State Crime Victims Board, I recall a case where a man killed someone and wounded two other people. The Assistant District Attorney told me after the case was over that it was because the perpetrator was involved sexually with the deceased and the deceased was not in the closet whereas our perpetrator was. The victim wanted to tell the world about what he thought was the new love of his life. The perpetrator flipped out at the mention of it and killed him and wounded two friends. Self hate, internalized homophobia can be an awfully evil thing. Hellman could easily have written her play that way as well.

    Audrey Hepburn also, though she doesn't articulate it, wonders why is it she's stayed shut away in that school and doesn't commit to finally take the plunge and marry Garner. The Children's Hour is more than a play about the love that dare not speak its name, you can't even think it in the world of that time.

    MacLaine and Hepburn give two of their best performances of their respective careers. Miriam Hopkins who was in These Three, plays MacLaine's aunt who's a silly creature and who betrays the two women rather than be thought she condones the alleged lesbianism. Fay Bainter gave her final big screen performance here and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

    William Wyler who directed These Three back in the day finally got to do the version as Hellman wrote it. He does as well for Hellman here as he did in The Little Foxes. He gets some of the best work out of all the players involved, even James Garner who's playing a distinct third fiddle here in a woman's picture in every sense of the word.

    The Children's Hour came to the screen in 1961. Brokeback Mountain which in many ways has the same themes as The Children's Hour for gay men was set originally in 1963. Both are great examples of the strides gay people have made in their quest for a place in the sunlight.

    Yet that case I described from my working years took place in the early Nineties. The closet might be thought of as a refuge, but it's a terrible prison for too many.
  • For years, the Hays Code banned any depiction of or reference to same-sex relationships in movies. Movies would occasionally depict it indirectly - such as in "Ben-Hur" - but it was practically unheard of to see any overt discussion of homosexuality in movies. "The Children's Hour", adapted from Lillian Hellman's play, must've been a shock at the time. Hellman based her play on a case that happened in Scotland in 1809, but I suspect that this sort of thing happened a lot. In the 21st century we're so used to tolerance of LGBT relationships that it comes as a surprise to us that anyone ever found them repulsive (but make no mistake, there are plenty of people who would just love to criminalize any "non-traditional" relationship).

    As expected, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine turn in fine performances. The chilling performance comes from Veronica Cartwright ("The Birds" and "Alien") as the girl who spreads the rumor. She seems so innocent, but clearly has a sociopathic side. This is one movie that everyone should see. A sobering reminder of what lying can cause, and a look at how society in general used to view LGBT people.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    William Wyler directs Lillian Hellman's provocative adapted play. A sensational story that exhausts emotions. The sensors must have really been put to task considering the early 1960's mores. Shirley McClaine and Audrey Hepburn, friends since high school, have partnered in running a private school for girls. Its been several years of operating without profit; but good news...the school has finally made some money and Hepburn becomes engaged to her doctor boyfriend James Garner. Things are all of the sudden no longer roses and wine, but poison ivy. Spoiled schoolgirl Karen Balkin decides to get back at her two teachers by spreading rumors that they are lesbians. The aggravating girl's grandmother Fay Bainter spreads the falsehood and all of the students are taken out of the school. Suspicion, tension and anxiety. Just how do you defend yourself against such sensational accusations? McClaine is flawless and Balkin is so real you want to reach out and grab her by the throat. Also in the cast: Miriam Hopkins, Veronica Cartwright, William Mims and Hope Summers.
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