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The Children's Hour (1961)


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Release Date: Jan 1, 1961 Wide



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Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 7,050

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Movie Info

Based on the 1934 play by Lillian Hellman, The Children's Hour is set at an exclusive girl's school managed by best friends Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. When student Karen Balkin is punished for one of her many misdeeds, the mean-spirited youngster rushes to her wealthy aunt Fay Bainter, and, randomly choosing a phrase she has undoubtedly read in some magazine, accuses Hepburn and MacLaine of having an "unnatural relationship." As Balkin's lies grow in viciousness, the student's parents


Drama, Classics

Lillian Hellman

Dec 3, 2002

MGM Home Entertainment

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All Critics (12) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (6) | Rotten (1) | DVD (1)

Heavy-handed and can't shake its languor.

August 29, 2014 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Though well-acted by Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, this second version of Lillian Hellman's play about the malice of lies is not as powerful as the first, in 1936, also helmed by William Wyler.

August 9, 2010 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Closer to the play than Wyler's first effort at the story, but oddly less compelling.

August 24, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Well-acted, albeit dated treatment of a then-taboo topic

June 5, 2003
Kalamazoo Gazette

Audience Reviews for The Children's Hour

Thrillers like this, with this amount of tension and political incorrectness, don't get made anymore. Maybe it's because the subject matter is so intense, polarizing, and prejudicial, but sadly, this film still has impact and social significance even fifty years later. Even though it's dealing with homosexuality in a negative light, it is the closest thing to an iconic gay film up to that point. The story deals with a school, run by former college friends, who are working towards the goal of taking on more girls and having a flourishing business. They are very close, and Martha (MacLaine) becomes jealous when Karen (Hepburn) finally sets a date for her wedding to Joe (Garner). A comment, a look, and a shadow lead to a lie, perpetrated by an arrogant child, and leads to both the women being singled out as gay. They lose a libel trial and every one of their students. It's not a story about two women overcoming the lies of a small child, but the destruction that gossip and lies have on the lives of the innocent. Though there are hints that Martha actually is gay, the story deals far more with their descent into bankruptcy, ruin, and depression. It's definitely an actor's film. Hepburn is cool and collected throughout the ordeal, which you can believe because she is the first lady of austere resoluteness. MacLaine acts her younger age, by being emotionally uninhibited at all times. Martha doesn't think through her words before speaking them, and nearly has temper tantrums when the news breaks that she and Karen have been accused of being lesbians. Garner gives his regular stone stiff performance, which works for the film. The real joy to watch in this film is child actor Karen Balkin as Mary, the one who tells the lie. The cunning maneuvers she pulls in blackmailing another little girl to keep perpetuating the lie, can be linked to Salieri bringing down Mozart in the third act of "Amadeus". Though lesbianism isn't given any positive light in this film, it's still a terse thriller that holds up even now.
November 29, 2013

Super Reviewer

Director William Wyler is known for getting the best from his actors and The Children's Hour is certainly no exception. James Garner, Audrey Hepburn and (especially) Shirley MacLaine are at the top of their game.

I don't know why this film doesn't get more press. Maybe the taboo nature of the material got it swept under the proverbial rug? It was certainly ahead of its time in terms of social statement and point-of-view. Or maybe it's just that schmucks like me don't shout its praises loudly enough. Whatever the reason, this is a film that should not be missed.
February 21, 2012
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

Martha: But why this lie? She found the lie with the ounce of truth. Don't you see? 

"What Made These Women Different?"

The Children's Hour was a risky film to make when it was released. The subject matter was extremely controversial for that time period. Today, the only people who care about a person's sexual orientation is ironically the same people that meet every week to preach how God loves everyone. So watching this movie 50 years later, it is hard to see how this could ever be seen as controversial. It does, however, hold up as a well made film on intolerance and a pretty powerful one at that.

William Wyler made a risky choice to direct this movie and he did a really good job with making a movie with a theme of lesbianism under the strict guidelines of the time. The movie is about two teachers running an all girl school. There is a girl named Mary who is constantly in trouble and decides to tell he grandma a lie about the two teachers, in an attempt to not have to go back. When her grandma believes her, the rumor flies and soon all the girls are taken out of the school and the two women lives are totally destroyed. 

Never have I watched a movie and have hated and been more annoyed by a character as I was with this little Mary bitch. The child actress was perfect who played her too. She had an annoying little voice and was ugly as all he'll and when you add those things to an obnoxious and downright despicable little girl, you get a character that is really easy to hate. There's many wise casting decisions in this one though. The three leads are amazing. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McClain as the two teachers and James Garner as one of the teachers fiancé. All three excel with the subject matter and are really good at getting the emotions of the characters across. 

The movie overall was really powerful, but the ending just cemented how powerful it was. For the time period, with how subtle they had to be with this subject; the movie was astonishingly well made.
November 19, 2011
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

Originally this was a moderately well-received play by Lillian Hellman, which director William Wyler filmed in 1937 (as These Three). Not satisfied with his first attempt, Wyler directed this remake about When two teachers of girl's school, Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) and Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn), are accused of lesbianism, they're entire world comes crashing down. Karen loses the man she loves and so happens to have been engaged to for two long years, Joe (James Garner). Martha loses her life, basically, and everything that she's ever had. And this is all because of a vicious little brat that anyone with common sense wants to slap when they watch this movie, Mary Tilford (played by Karen Balkin). To say in the least, the end in completely unexpected. It makes you think that the world is over, and it takes time to adjust to the fact that this is "just a movie". Heart breaking and wonderfully filmed, the The Children's Hour is a terrific movie with outstanding actresses. Hepburn and MacLaine light up the screen!
October 3, 2010
Dean McKenna

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • The Children's Hour (1961) (DE)
  • The Children's Hour (1961) (UK)
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