“They’ve got secrets, Grandma — funny secrets!”
When the spoiled granddaughter (Bonita Granville) of a socialite (Alma Kruger) becomes angry at her boarding-school headmistresses (Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins) and seeks revenge, she spreads malicious lies about a love triangle between Oberon’s fiance (Joel McCrea) and Hopkins, and involves her innocent classmate (Marcia Mae Jones) in the deception. Meanwhile, Hopkins’ self-absorbed, histrionic aunt (Catherine Doucet) does nothing to help her niece during the time of crisis.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Boarding School
- Bonita Granville Films
- Evil Kids
- Joel McCrea Films
- Love Triangle
- Merle Oberon Films
- Miriam Hopkins Films
- Morality Police
- Play Adaptation
- Walter Brennan Films
- William Wyler Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “compelling adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour” still “seems bold” despite the fact that “Hellman did away with the play’s lesbian theme”. He notes that the film’s “strength lies in its exploration of several interesting females (young, middle-aged, and old) and their relationships with one another: we can compare the friendship of Oberon and Hopkins with that of Granville and her outcast pal Jones” (though I would argue their power-driven interactions hardly constitute a ‘friendship’) “and the [strained] relationship between Hopkins and… Doucet with that of Granville and Kruger”. (McCrea is the “only male with a large part”.)
I agree with Peary that this probably represents one of Oberon’s “finest performances”, and the rest of the cast is top-notch as well — most notably Doucet as “Aunt Lily”:
… and Granville and Jones in key juvenile roles. Indeed, Granville’s sociopathic Mary Tilford gives The Bad Seed‘s Rhoda Penmark a run for her money (not an easy feat), and Jones effectively radiates the soul-crushing fear felt by a young girl caught in the grips of a vicious bully.
Note: Director William Wyler re-adapted the play in 1961 as The Children’s Hour, starring Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, and utilizing “the lesbian theme” — but many feel this earlier outing is the better adaptation.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bonita Granville as Mary Tilford
- Marcia Mae Jones as Rosalie
- Catherine Doucet as Aunt Lily
- Gregg Toland’s cinematography
Yes, as an early Wyler classic.