Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1936. The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Screenplay by Lillian Hellman, based on her play The Children’s Hour. Cinematography by Gregg Toland. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Richard Day. Costume Design by Omar Kiam. Film Editing by Daniel Mandell. Academy Awards 1936.
First of two film adaptations of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, though in this case the lesbian angle has been nixed and the story concerns a love triangle instead. Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins are two college friends who graduate and start a girls’ school in Oberon’s grandmother’s old house. The local society dame (Alma Kruger) gets them started by enrolling her granddaughter (Bonita Granville), who turns out to be a vicious bully who gives the school no end of trouble. When the girl runs away from school one day and decides she’s never going back, she tells her grandmother that Oberon’s fiance (Joel McCrea) has been getting it on with both the ladies. Kruger spreads the story to the parents of all the other children without substantiation, and the women watch as their life melts completely away because of a child’s lie. Despite washing up the play’s original theme, the film is actually more entertaining than director William Wyler’s own remake in 1962 (with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine being accused of being lovers), if only because this one has a few light moments in between the melodrama and isn’t concerned with treating its issue with such sobriety. Hellman wrote the screenplay herself, adapting her dialogue pretty faithfully with the obvious revisions made to suit the censors; according to sources, the changes weren’t objectionable to her, as she felt the play’s theme was more focused on the result of the lie than its nature. This is most likely the case as the film packs as good a wallop in its last third as the remake does. Hopkins went on to play Aunt Lily in the remake.