The Children's Hour (1961) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Children's Hour (1961)

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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 withdraw their children from the school. Hepburn and MacLaine sue Bainter for libel, only to lose their case when MacLaine's aunt Miriam Hopkins refuses to testify as a character witness. The trial takes its toll on the relationship between Hepburn and her boyfriend James Garner. When Bainter discovers that her niece has been lying, she tries to make amends, but it is too late. Director William Wyler had also helmed the first film version of Children's Hour, 1936's These Three, which due to censorship restrictions of the time did without the lesbian angle (the little girl's accusations involved a supposed romantic triangle between the two ladies and a male friend). Miriam Hopkins, who plays a supporting role in The Children's Hour, originally essayed the Shirley MacLaine role in These Three.

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Cast

Audrey Hepburn
as Karen Wright
Shirley MacLaine
as Martha Dobie
James Garner
as Dr. Joe Cardin
Miriam Hopkins
as Mrs. Lily Mortar
Fay Bainter
as Mrs. Amelia Tilford
Karen Balkin
as Mary Tilford
Jered Barclay
as Grocery Boy
William Mims
as Mr. Burton
Hope Summers
as Agatha (Tilford's maid)
Florence MacMichael
as Bit Part (uncredited)
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Critic Reviews for The Children's Hour

All Critics (7)

Heavy-handed and can't shake its languor.

Full Review… | August 29, 2014
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.

Full Review… | August 9, 2010
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

From a moral point of view, this is a terribly outdated drama (even if daring for then) that serves as a portrait of an ugly time when it would be considered a danger for children to be "exposed" to lesbian teachers - which the film sometimes also seems to agree as being "unnatural".

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

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.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

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.

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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