The Children's Hour

1961, Movie, NR, 107 mins


A fairly faithful rendition of Lillian Hellman's study of implied lesbianism in an all-girls school. William Wyler directed both versions of this story, the first being THESE THREE, a much milder adaptation of the play. Hepburn and MacLaine are headmistresses of a private school for young girls. Balkin is the ill-tempered, undisciplined, pre-teen granddaughter of Bainter, the town's leading dowager. Every other word out of Balkin's mouth is false, and when she is punished for one of her lies, she runs to Bainter and tells her that MacLaine and Hepburn have an "unnatural relationship" without fully understanding what she is talking about. The effect of this lie is devastating. When she sees how her grandmother responds, Balkin elaborates further and gets taken out of the school, with other parents soon following Bainter's lead. MacLaine and Hepburn are against the wall as their income drops to nil. They begin a libel suit against Bainter but lose the case in a shocking turn of events when Hopkins, MacLaine's dotty aunt, succumbs to small-town pressure and refuses to testify on her niece's behalf. Further complications arise when Hepburn's doctor-fiance, Garner, wonders if there might be some truth in the allegations. Hepburn gives Garner his walking papers and thinks that it might be best if the two women try to make a go of it somewhere else. MacLaine now realizes something deep within her that she had not acknowledged before; she really does love Hepburn in more than just a sisterly fashion. MacLaine cannot bear the guilt she feels and hangs herself. The lie is finally exposed, but it is too little and far too late. The film fades as Hepburn leaves MacLaine's funeral and walks past Bainter, Garner, and all the other townspeople who were gulled by the lies of a 12-year-old.

Five Oscar nominations were awarded but none given for THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. It deserved a better fate. The performances range from adequate (Balkin's) to exquisite (MacLaine's), and the movie broke new ground for 1961. These days the story wouldn't be all that controversial, but in 1934, when the play was first presented, it dealt with a different set of mores. leave a comment

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