Cast & Crew
After Karen Wright and Martha Dobi graduate from college, they turn Karen's Massachusetts farm into a boarding school, encouraged by Joseph Cardin, a local doctor. The school opens thanks to the wealthy Mrs. Tilford, who sends her difficult granddaughter Mary there. Karen and Joe fall in love, unaware that Martha is in love with Joe, and trouble begins when Martha's self-serving, frivolous aunt, Lily Mortar, comes to stay. One evening, Joe comes to visit Mary, who has gone out, and falls asleep in an easy chair in Martha's room. When he leaves a short time after awakening, Lily sees him and assumes the worst. A few days later, when Mary is caught in a silly lie, she feigns a heart attack, and Joe is summoned, precipitating a quarrel between Martha and her aunt. Lily leaves, but not before loudly confronting Martha with accusations about Joe. When Martha discovers that Rosalie Wells and another student have been listening at the door, she asks them to leave, and accidentally closes the door on Rosemary's arm. Martha apologizes and Rosalie doesn't plan to tell anyone, but when Mary finds a missing bracelet that belongs to another girl among Rosalie's things, she forces the frightened Rosalie into revealing her secret. Mary then goes to her grandmother's house and distorts her story about the argument, then bullies Rosalie into backing her up by threatening to reveal her theft of a girl's bracelet and by twisting her injured arm. Mrs. Tilford is shocked at the accusation and sees to it that all of the girls leave the school. Martha and Karen do not know why all of the girls are withdrawn from school and are incredulous when one of the girls's chauffeurs tells them why. They then confront Mrs. Tilford, but Rosalie is so frightened by Mary that she hysterically cries that it is true. Martha and Karen then sue Mrs. Tilford for libel, but, with Lily not there to testify, they lose. After the humiliation of the case and Joe's dismissal from his hospital over the scandal, Lily finally returns, acting as if everything is fine, and pretending that she thought her testimony would be irrelevant. Though they hope to start their lives over, the pressure has been too great, and Karen and Joe part when she admits that she, too, now believes the lies. Martha then admits to Karen that she does love Joe but he has never known. Martha decides to leave with Lily, but on the train, when Lily casually mentions the story of the missing bracelet, Martha realizes what has happened. She then goes to Rosalie and gently helps her reveal the truth. Now realizing the horrible wrong that she has done, Mrs. Tilford offers recompense, but Martha only asks her to tell Karen to follow Joe. Finally, in a cafe in Vienna, Karen and Joe are happily reunited.
Marcia Mae Jones
Marie Louise Cooper
Mary Ann Durkin
Best Supporting Actress
The idea for The Children's Hour had been suggested to fledgling playwright Lillian Hellman by her longtime companion, Dashiell Hammett. While reading an anthology of true-crime stories, Bad Companions, he came across an account of two Scottish school teachers whose lives had been ruined by the false accusation of lesbianism levied by one of their students. Hellman turned the story into her first hit play, though when it opened on Broadway she didn't know if she would be feted or arrested. At the time, any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State. The play was such a success and so widely praised by critics that the authorities overlooked its subject matter (the law would rarely be enforced until it was repealed in the '60s).
But the Production Code Administration's ban on homosexuality as a film topic was much stronger than any mere law. So strong, in fact, that independent producer Sam Goldwyn was the only filmmaker to bid for the rights. According to legend, when he was warned that he couldn't film the play because it was about lesbians, he replied, "That's okay; we'll turn them into Armenians." In truth, he was convinced to purchase the screen rights when Hellman argued that the play was really about the power of a lie. She even accepted his offer to write the screenplay, changing the lie about the two school teachers being secret lovers into a rumor that one had spent the night with the other's fiancΘ. Even so, the Production Code Administration forbade Goldman to use the original title or even publicize his purchase of the film rights. Hellman titled her screenplay The Lie, and it wasn't until after shooting was completed that the story department came up with the title These Three.
Goldwyn knew that he needed a director with a subtle touch to make the film work. He was studying Frances Dee's work in The Gay Deception (1935) when he realized he was more interested in the film's direction than her performance. So he contacted director William Wyler and offered him the film and a long-term contract. Wyler had started his career directing low-budget westerns at his second cousin Carl Laemmle's studio, Universal, but left in search of bigger projects. That was just what Goldwyn was offering him, though Wyler cautiously asked for a three-year contract rather than the five-year deal the producer had offered, just in case things didn't work out.
At first, Wyler had cause for concern. Goldwyn had already cast the leads in These Three with Oberon, Hopkins and McCrea. Of the three, Hopkins was the only really strong actor, and she had a reputation for temperament. Oberon -- though a recent Oscar® nominee for her first Goldwyn film, The Dark Angel (1935) -- was considered more of a great beauty than a great actress. And McCrea was a lightweight leading man. Wyler tried to convince Goldwyn to cast Leslie Howard in the male lead, but the producer was determined to build up his stable of contract stars. Unfortunately, Goldwyn later told the leading man that Wyler didn't want him, which caused problems on the set.
With his leads already cast for him, Wyler put most of his energies into finding the perfect child actress to play Mary, the student whose lies trigger the film's crises. He wanted the opposite of Shirley Temple, the most popular child star of the time, and found it in Bonita Granville, whose intense, complex performance brought her an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actress. During filming, Oberon feared that Wyler was throwing the film to her and even convinced McCrea to complain to the producer, but Goldwyn simply shouted, "I'm having more trouble with you stars than Mussolini is with Utopia!"
This didn't mean that Goldwyn was giving Wyler a free hand. They fought on the set constantly, though the director usually got his way. Wyler shot Hopkins' big confession scene, in which she admits to being in love with McCrea, from behind the actress, showing Oberon's reaction to her speech. Goldwyn objected. After screening the film with Wyler and Goldwyn's nine-year-old son, Sam, Goldwyn shrieked at the director for an hour, claiming that the audience wouldn't understand the scene if they couldn't see Hopkins' face. Finally, Wyler asked Sam if he understood what the scene was about. The child explained it perfectly, to which Goldwyn replied, "Since when are we making pictures for nine-year-olds?" But the scene stayed as Wyler had shot it, and the critics loved it.
These Three brought Goldwyn the best reviews of his career. Though he had had hits before, he had never enjoyed such a critical success. Novelist Graham Greene, who reviewed films for England's the Spectator, wrote "I have seldom been so moved by any fictional film....After ten minutes or so of the usual screen sentiment, quaintness and exaggeration, one began to watch the incredulous pleasure of nothing less than life." With this film, critics began talking about "The Goldwyn Touch," which his PR department described as "something that manifests itself gradually in a picture; the characters are consistent; the workmanship is honest; there are no tricks and short cuts; the intelligence of the audience is never insulted." (in A. Scott Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography). But though the producer tried to take credit for this quality himself, most historians now feel "The Goldwyn Touch" was largely a result of Wyler's perfectionism and taste.
Ironically, when Wyler directed a faithful screen version of The Children's Hour in 1961, after the Production Code had been amended to allow homosexuality as a screen subject, the film fell flat. One problem was Hellman's limited participation in the film. Although she and Wyler had maintained a close friendship since working on These Three, scheduling conflicts had prevented her from doing more than a few quick re-writes. More important, however, was the director's failure to adjust to changing times. By the '60s, the child's accusations that her female teachers were secret lovers just didn't seem as scandalous as they had in the '30s. The lie had lost its power over time, and, despite the censors' blue pencil, remained much more convincing in the original These Three.
Producer: Sam Goldwyn
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Lillian Hellman. Based on her play The Children's Hour
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Miriam Hopkins (Martha Dobie), Merle Oberon (Karen Wright), Joel McCrea (Dr. Joseph Cardin), Catherine Doucet (Mrs. Lily Mortar), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Tilford), Bonita Granville, (Mary Tilford), Marcia Mae Jones (Rosalie Wells), Margaret Hamilton (Agatha), Walter Brennan (Taxi Driver).
by Frank Miller
The wicked very young....and the wicked very old.- Karen Wright
In Lillian Hellman's original play, and in all written material on the film, the character of the young doctor is "Joseph Cardin." In the film itself, however, the character played by Joel McCrea is called "Bill Cardin" in scenes at the beginning of the film. No explanation, other than continuity error, has been found for this change. This film was the first of eight pictures that William Wyler directed for Samuel Goldwyn during the 1930s and 1940s. Hellman's play was partially inspired by an actual case in Scotland in 1810 which resulted in a ten-year libel suit brought by the teachers involved. On screen credit does not mention the play on which the film was based. According to contemporary news items and information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the play was not to be mentioned on screen or in any publicity materials prepared for the film by agreement among Hellman, Goldwyn, and the Hays Office. An inter office memo to Will H. Hays, dated January 6, 1935, notes that a news item had been broadcast on radio station WMCA that Dorothy and Lillian Gish were reportedly going to Hollywood to appear in a film version of The Children's Hour. The memo indicates that Joseph I. Breen, director of studio relations for the Hays Office in Hollywood, did not know of such a project and "in fact it is his understanding that they are all skeptical about its picture possibilities." No other information about a film version of the play to star the Gish sisters has been located, and it is possible that the radio item was supposition.
Hellman's play, which modern sources state was purchased for $50,000, follows the same basic story as the film, but the gossip that is spread about the teachers in the play concerns their lesbian relationship rather than an implied ménage a trois. Because the Production Code would not even allow even an accusation of lesbianism on screen, the title and central issue was altered. A news item in Hollywood Reporter on August 17, 1935 noted that when the play was purchased the main characters would have to be changed from two women to a man and a woman, however, the two women characters remained in the final version of the story. Once the final version of the screenplay was submitted to the Hays Office, very little was deemed problematic. requested that the word "damn" be deleted from one of Karen's speeches; it was not in the completed film. Subsequent to the film's preview for the Hays Office, Goldwyn was informed that "These Three has turned out to be an outstanding picture. The questionable elements in the original stage play have been entirely eliminated." The picture was issued a Purity Seal and was approved without eliminations in most states and foreign territories. According to Hellman's autobiographical works, she was happy with the film and felt that the malicious result of false accusation and gossip was the central issue of the story rather than the nature of the gossip.
Portions of the film were shot on location at UCLA and in Franklyn Canyon, both in Los Angeles, according to news items. A news item also notes that Helen Laughlin, who acted as a technical advisor on the film was the Dean of Women at UCLA. Modern sources include Frank McGlynn, Anya Taranda, and Jerry Larkin as additional cast members. Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn performed on a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the story on December 6, 1937. A remake of the film, also directed by William Wyler, was made in 1962 under the title The Children's Hour, and starred Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, and James Garner. Miriam Hopkins played the part of the aunt in that production, which retained the accusation of lesbianism theme from the play, although the word was never actually used.
Released in United States 1936
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1936