The Children’s Hour

The Children’s Hour
Directed by William Wyler
Written by John Michael Hayes from the play by Lillian Hellman
1961/USA
The Mirisch Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Mrs. Lily Mortar: God will punish you.

Martha: He’s doing all right.

In which we meet a child more evil than little Rhoda in The Bad Seed.

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since college.  They are now teachers and have opened a private girls school together. Karen is engaged to local doctor Joe Cardin (James Garner).  The women are saddled with Martha’s querulous, grandiose aunt Mrs. Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins).

The school is finally turning a profit, spurring Karen to set a wedding day with Joe.  This puts Martha in a very bad mood, one that aunt Lily proclaims is “unnatural”, along with Martha’s lack of interest men.  The argument is overheard by two of the little girls who unfortunately repeat it to the uncontrollable brat Mary.  When Mary is punished for one of her many acts of misconduct, she reports this – with embellishments – to her grandmother (Fay Bainter).

The grandmother checks out the story with aunt Lily, who has just been asked to return to New York, and she corroborates the argument with Martha.  Within days, every single student has been pulled out of school.  Although the accusation is completely untrue, things continue to go downhill for everybody concerned.

This film has held up quite nicely.  Did Wyler ever make a bad picture?  The acting is great, with MacLaine being the standout acting against type, and the story is powerful.  I got so involved I could have strangled that child if she was in the room!  Recommended if the subject matter appeals.

The Children’s Hour was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Bainter); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; and Best Sound.

2 thoughts on “The Children’s Hour

  1. As a teenager, I was deeply moved by this film. Very glad to know it holds up. I can not think of a “bad” William Wyler picture. One of our greats. And so under recognized.

    • I last saw this as a teenager as well and never forgot it. Wyler’s lack of recognition is surprising considering the many great movies he made. Maybe it is because of his lack of a showy visual style. He’s just great at people though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *