Wyler's second filmic adaption of Lillian Hellman's controversial play THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, the first attempt is THESE THREE (1936), 25 years later, he marshals his favorite girl Hepburn with the blossoming MacLaine to lead the pack and recounts the taboo lesbian tale with a more provocative approach.
As an indoor drama with flourishes of false accusations, venomous manipulations, fierce rejoinders, highfalutin buffooneries and affecting confessions among its players, a somewhat gnawing touch of agitation originates from the setup of an evil child (Balkin), whose performance and mien is fiendishly maddening, perhaps it is an intentional option to cast an unappealing girl to magnify the dark side of a child, but if the utter repulsion is the aim, it absolutely scores the bullseye.
Unlike in the sensational BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961, 7/10) of the same year, Hepburn strips down to an unostentatious skeleton to portray a woman with unsullied discretion and devoted commitment to her friend, but her pride is too demanding for her spunky fiancÚ (Garner) to respect, the woman of independence theme runs gloriously in the ending where Hepburn's textbook smile and dignified swanking are emitting gratifying signals both on and off screen. Nevertheless, the obvious and more taxing work is from MacLaine, a closeted lesbian at that time, whose darkest secret has been catalyzed by a contumacious girl's fallacious slander, her confession scenes is one heck of a sensation which persists to impress audiences from generations on. Shamefully, the only acting nomination from the Academy is for the venerable Bainter, who is in every way deserves it and even the win as the moral yardstick at then to reprimand the "unspeakable sin" and becomes the victim of her own (and her granddaughter's) deeds, one may wonder, what will she act if ever she finds out the truth of the story, it's a vivid rendition full of nuances and certainly upgrades her role's credibility from a one-note slant. While Miriam Hopkins is a complete laughingstock here and it is also the big screen debut for the freckle-faced Veronica Cartwright, who can effortlessly give Balkin a good run for her money.
In conclusion, Wyler and the team pluckily open the Pandora's box and lay bare the elephant in the room with calculated cautions, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR is a significantly edifying allegory should be seen by as many as us possible, and an essential prerequisite is if you can fast-forward all those scenes with Karen Balken in it (there are quite a few close-ups which overstay their welcome).