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This version of Lillian Hellman's play "The Children's Hour" is by far
more satisfying than the Audrey Hepburn-Shirley MacLaine remake in the
1960s which retained the lesbianism theme while revolving around a
Instead, this earlier William Wyler version changes the slanderous lie to a heterosexual one--and none of the power is lost in the telling of a tale about a manipulative young girl's lie that destroys the lives of three innocent people.
The acting is all on an extraordinarily high level here--everyone, from Merle Oberon to Miriam Hopkins to Joel McCrea and especially little Bonita Granville (as a liar who even stoops to blackmail to keep her lie afloat). As the terrorized girl, Marcia Mae Jones is every bit as adept as the others in making the entire story a convincing one.
The power of a lie to destroy others has never been more effectively played out than it is here. Under William Wyler's direction, the screenplay has been expanded with enough outdoor scenes to keep the film from seeming like a filmed stage play.
Joel McCrea has never been more effective in a sympathetic role. He and Merle Oberon are impressive and wholly believable as the young lovers. Miriam Hopkins has a difficult role and she handles it brilliantly. Bonita Granville fully deserved her Oscar nomination as the monstrous girl, sparing nothing to make her one of the most hateful brats in screen history.
Well worth watching for some brilliant performances and a compelling story.
I seldom highly rate the performances of child actors as they can often
irritating, so contrived and not in the least convincing. But in this
it is the children that make me watch this movie time and
Bonita Granville (who was unfortunate not to get an Academy Award for
gives a remarkable performance as Mary Tilford - a real nasty piece of
if ever their was one! She is spiteful, evil and malicious and when she
finally gets a slap in the face, one cannot help but rejoice (though too
little too late). Marcia Mae Jones must not be forgotten. Her portrayal
the absolutely terrified Rosealie, is also very believable and when she
cries and screams, you almost forget that she is just acting.
For me, the adults only have secondary parts: Joel McCrea is dependable, as always, Merle Oberon is wooden and Miriam Hopkins', who gives the best performance of the three, gets my sympathy as Miss Dobie who would sacrifice her own happiness for the two people she loves most in the world. I just love the tender and self-controlled way she treats Rosealie when she finally gets the truth from her. Watch it and see what I mean. Great!
Three innocent people have their lives shattered by malicious gossip.
THESE THREE is a vividly acted, excruciatingly dramatic look at how unrequited love & evil lies can undermine relationships and destroy reputations. Lillian Hellman authored the script (and altered the emotional bias) from her original play, The Children's Hour and director William Wyler created a film which never lets up in its emotional intensity. The viewer feels terribly for the three protagonists as they suffer unjustly and equally powerless to do anything about it.
Teachers Miriam Hopkins & Merle Oberon both love doctor Joel McCrea. One will win him, the other will hurt quietly. All three act at a perfect pitch, each performer complementing and supporting the other two, most especially when their characters experience the devastation created by a wicked student (played with chilling persuasion by Bonita Granville).
Two fine character actresses now in danger of being forgotten have important supporting roles. Catherine Doucet plays Hopkins' silly, vindictive aunt, a vain woman completely capable of doing the wrong thing every time. Alma Kruger plays Granville's wealthy grandmother, proud & patrician, she is seduced into doing much harm through her unwise love.
In a small role, Walter Brennan is a joy as a rustic taxi driver. Marcia Mae Jones is quite compelling as a child struggling against enormous iniquity. Marvelous Margaret Hamilton, as Kruger's no-nonsense hatchet-faced housekeeper, gets to deliver one of cinema's most satisfying face slaps.
Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Greta Meyer as a Viennese waitress.
I saw (the movie of) "The Children's Hour," and had also read the play
before seeing "These Three." So I approached this film, when I was
able to see it, with trepidation. After all, I knew that Lillian
Broadway smash (which centers on an allegation of lesbianism) had been
altered and softened for more middle-American audiences.
Imagine my happy surprise to discover that the central conflict, the poison of a child's vindictive lie, remained compelling and believable even though the allegation was now pre-marital adultery instead of lesbian. When the play was filmed intact, again by William Wyler, the new movie had less to answer for to the original play than it did to this stunning early version.
See the two movies side by side, and you'll see how prudery and fear of censorship can produce a work that triumphs over the bluenoses.
I feel that "These Three" is in many ways the superior film. It is not as dark as "The Children," and only at the end does the lighter mood become suspect. It is also a more energetic film and feels less like a filmed stage play then "The Children's Hour" which treads the boards more theatrically, more obviously more stagily, and more talkily than it could every have been on stage.
"These Three" is an absorbing film that somehow manages to retain its
integrity despite being different from the play, "The Children's Hour,"
on which it is based. Having seen the later film, "The Children's
Hour," about two teachers accused of lesbianism, I wondered how the
1936 film would measure up. The answer: Brilliantly.
Part of the reason for this is, as Lilliam Hellman, the playwright herself stated - the play isn't really about lesbianism, it's about a children's lie. And the vicious, destructive lie of a child is still central here, though now it concerns the supposed affair of Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea, who is engaged to marry Merle Oberon, Hopkins' partner in a girls school. Another reason for the film's success is the flawless direction by William Wyler, and last but not least, a sympathetic trio. Hopkins is a standout with her strong, passionate performance.
Bonita Granville, the bad seed, is such an evil, blackmailing brat, that I'm sure when 1936 audiences saw Margaret Hamilton slap her, they broke into applause. I nearly did, and I was watching it alone! It's an unrelenting performance, though she's such a walking horror show, it's remarkable anyone believed her in her "earnest" moments, which were calculated, as only a monster's can be! Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The power of a girl's lie is at the heart of the story involving two
school teachers and one man.
Lillian Hellman's THE CHILDREN'S HOUR was a play about lesbianism, reportedly based on an occurrence in a Scotland school in the 1800s in which two teachers were the focus of a rumor in which they were involved in a too-close-for-comfort affair, a scandal for the times. The fact that William Wyler in 1936 decided -- because of the Code's policies of the time -- to drop the lesbianism and instead opt for emphasizing the issue of gossip (regardless of what kind of gossip) as per one of the more malicious girls only emphasizes the themes of the movie version. And the fact that Oscar nominated Bonita Granville plays her sheer nastiness with so much relish only makes it the more disturbing when she resorts to blackmail to force Marcia Mae Jones (equally brilliant) to keep up with her lie, because even in the face of truth she will not let up, until of course she is humiliated by Agatha (played by the future Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton) and will have to face the consequences of her actions.
A great story that only vaguely hints at lesbian overtones, THESE THREE is very moving and for once Miriam Hopkins plays a truly likable character, as she was mainly known for having a rather icy presence. Her character thankfully does not kill herself as the play would have it, and her final scene as she walks out in triumph makes for a strong exit in the face of slander. Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea both acquit themselves in their roles though would be more known for future films, and overall, an intense movie-viewing experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1931 the noted Scots Criminologist, William Roughead, published a
volume of his great essays on famous crimes entitled BAD COMPANIONS.
One of the essays was called "The Great Drumshleugh Case". Set in
Edinburgh in 1811 it told the story of two women running a school for
society girls in the Scots capital, and how a malicious little girl
spread a rumor that ruined them and the school. The little brat told
everyone that the two women were secret lovers. The book was read by
Lillian Hellman, who took the story and fashioned the story of her
play, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR from it, only changing it to America and
putting a man (a doctor) into the picture as the third part of the
"triangle" in the child's lie.
There have been two film versions of the story: this 1936 version (with Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrae) where the two women are made into heterosexuals, and a 1962 version (with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner) where MacLaine admits that she did love Hepburn but commits suicide. The later version is closer to the Hellman play. In the play there is no "comeuppence scene", where the little brat gets hers. However, the scene where Margaret Hamilton slaps Bonita Granville is justifiably among the most satisfying "comeuppence scenes" in Hollywood film (ranking up there with George Sanders tearing into the lies of Anne Baxter in ALL ABOUT EVE). Indeed, the slap Ms Hamilton administers to Ms Granville makes up for anything the wicked Witch of the West tried to do to Dorothy Gail in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Although Mr. Roughead's essay is a good place to start one's study into the background of the incident (which, in 1811 was a possibly deadly one to be involved in - that same year, in England, two male homosexuals were executed for sodomy), a full length study was published in 1983 - SCOTCH VERDICT by Lillian Faderman. Ms Faderman does not excuse the young girl from her malicious attack, but she does produce some evidence that the two ladies may have been having an affair, and she shows that the young girl herself would end up being victimized by the publicity. The girl, Jane Cumming, was an illegitimate granddaughter to Lady Cumming Gordon, and her birth did not endear her to the grandmother or her family. Despised for that reason her attitude of defiance and dislike (leading to lashing out against her teachers) is partly understandable. But Jane Pirrie, one of the two teachers, brought a series of expensive legal actions against the grandmother, which ended in displaying ALL the dirty linen (including Jane Cumming's birth). As a result, when Lady Cumming Gordon finished paying the expenses (she lost the final case) Jane was even more disliked than before, and banished from contact with the family. Not a happy result at all.
"These Three" is an extremely effective look at the damage a lie can cause. Bonita Granville gives a tour-de-force performance as Mary Tilford, a vicious student who ruins the lives of her two schoolteachers (Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins) by telling a lie about their private lives. Based on a play by Lillian Hellman (whose original plot dealt with lesbianism, which was changed for the film version to get past the censors), "These Three" is still a very good film. Miriam Hopkins also stands out as one of the victimized teachers. All in all, one well-acted and well-directed drama.
Karen Wright (Merle Oberon) and Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins) are best
friends since college. When they graduate, they decide to move to
Lancet to the farm that Karen has inherited from her grandmother to
build a boarding school for girls. On the arrival, they meet Dr. Joseph
Cardin (Joel McCrea) and he helps them to restore the farmhouse working
hard. One day Karen meets the influent Mrs. Amelia Tilford (Alma
Kruger) that helps them to get students including her spoiled
granddaughter Mary Tilford (Bonita Granville). Out of the blue,
Martha's arrogant aunt Lily Mortar (Catharine Doucet) arrives at the
school and offers to give classes. Meanwhile Joseph proposes Karen and
they are engaged to each other.
When the spiteful and compulsive liar Mary, who is a bad influence to the other girls, is punished by Karen after telling a lie, Martha has an argument with her snoopy aunt Lily in another room. Lily accuses Martha of being in love with Joseph and having encountered him in her room. Mary's roommate Rosalie Wells (Marcia Mae Jones) overhears the argument and tells Mary what Mrs. Mortar had said about her niece. The malicious Mary accuses Martha of being the lover of Joseph 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 disrupted with the scandal. Further, Karen calls off her engagement with Joe since she is not sure that he is telling the truth.
"These Three" is a cruel and heartbreaking story that shows how destructive the power of a lie may be. William Wyler is among my favorite directors and this film is a little gem with a magnificent screenplay. In 1961, he remade this movie changing the title to "The Children's Hour" and using the theme of lesbianism instead of a triangle of love, and a tragic ending. Both movies are worthwhile watching and it is hard to pointy out which version is the better. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Infâmia 1936" ("Infamy 1936")
Anyone who loves great Classic films and great veteran actors of the real silver screen, view this film and see acting at its very best. Bonita Granville (Mary Tilford)"Nancy Drew Films" made you despise and hate her horrible role as a real BRAT! Merle Oberon, "The Lodger" '45 gave a great supporting role with Joel McCrea(Dr. Joseph Cardin) "The Virginian" '46. Miriam Hopkins(Martha Dobie) "Wise Girl"'37 showed her great beauty and charm as a love sick woman. If you look real close, you will see Margaret Hamilton (Agatha) "Wizard of Oz"'39 as a wise old housemaid who gets after the Brat (Mary Tilford). Last but not least, you can catch Walter Brennan(Taxi Drive)"Sea of Lost Ships"'54, driving a bomb of a cab in the very beginning of this great film classic. Enjoy this great FILM.
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