Saturday, May 4, 2019

And the Child Will Lead





This is my entry in the Audrey Hepburn at 90 Blogathon hosted bu Sister Celluloid.




It's always been hard for me to understand society's hostile view of homosexuality in the period before Stonewall.  Although I grew up raised to view homosexuality from an evangelical Biblical view (in which it is cast as a sin against God), I was also raised to accept others as they were.  Which is something of an oddity when you consider that I have gone on the right side of that equation in my life.  I am heterosexual by nature (and/or upbringing), but I accept the idea of an alternative lifestyle as being equal to my own choice.

Anita Bryant made headline news in the 70's when she campaigned for the repeal of a law that prohibited schools from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  It was called "Save Our Children" and based on some concept that "being gay" was somehow contagious.  At least that's the impression I got.  I think she thought that gay teachers had some secret agenda to indoctrinate their charges with the decision to become gay.

From the early days of the Hays Code, homosexuality had been deemed verboten; you couldn't talk about it directly and any ostensibly gay characters in a film had to come to an untimely end if they were even presented in the first place.  When Lillian Hellman wrote her play that was produced on Broadway, The Children's Hour, which she based on a real 19th century event, it was optioned by Hollywood.  The original play contained the basic premise of one of the students at a girl's school accusing two of her teachers of being lesbians.

But when Hollywood came to call in 1936,  William Wyler , the director,  had to change the name of the movie to These Three, and the basic premise was changed from a lesbian relationship to one in which one of the two women had had a sexual encounter with the other's fiance.  By 1961, some of the strictures of the Hays Code had been relaxed, and Wyler was able to film the play in it's more original form.






The Children's Hour (1961):

Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha (Shirley MacLaine) are old college chums who now run a girl's boarding school.  Martha's Aunt Lily (Miriam Hopkins) helps out.  Karen is engaged to Joe (James Garner), a doctor, but she is also an independent woman.  She has postponed any potential marriage to her beau because she wants the school to be a success first, and she is reluctant to ditch Martha with the school until it can survive on its own.

Going to the school is Mary (Karen Balkin), the granddaughter  of  Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter).  (Amelia is also the aunt of Joe.)  Mary is a spoiled child, always in trouble at the school, and a selfish conniving little brat.  She constantly uses her manner to get her way, and when that doesn't happen, she isn't above pretending to have all kinds of illnesses to manouever people into feeling sorry for her.

Karen is not one to fall for this subterfuge, however.  When Mary is caught telling a lie, Karen reacts by refusing to allow her to attend a special event.  Mary reacts with typical brattiness, but that doesn't help her situation.  So she tells her Aunt Amelia that she knows a secret about Karen and Martha.  She claims she has seen them in intimate situations (in other words, that they are lesbians).

No one believes her until Mary blackmails a fellow student, Rosalie (a young Veronica Cartwright).  It seems that Mary knows Rosalie is the resident kleptomaniac on campus, and threatens to reveal the fact unless Rosalie corroborates her story.  The result is Amelia is convinced of Mary's story and uses the information to spread the story, and most of the girls are removed from the school by their parents.

Karen and Martha decide to file a lawsuit against Amelia and they plan to use Lily's testimony to help them win their case.  Except Lily doesn't show up for the court case and the two lose.  As the impending closing of the school becomes more and more possible, Karen and Martha commisserate with each other.  Martha then reveals that she thinks she does have those kinds of feelings for Karen and is ashamed of them.

But the fact remains that the two women were not lesbians, and when Amelia finds out that Mary lied she tries to make amends with them.  But Karen is adamant that she is not going to accept the apology.  Martha, for her part, is so ahamed of her feelings she takes drastic measures.  And Karen, who has determined that Joe was not entirely convinced the rumors were untrue, chooses to break off with him.

This movie is a hard one to watch for someone who has such libertarian attitudes towards the private lives of the individual.  I feel for both Karen and Martha in the destruction of their lives; it doesn't matter whether or not the rumors were true, they should have been left alone.

The Children's Hour received 5 Academy Award nominations, although it failed to win any.  Significantly neither Hepburn or MacLaine were nominated for Best Actress.  (Hepburn was nominated in the same year for Breakfast at Tiffany's).  The only actress to receive a nomination was Fay Bainter for her portrayal of the vindictive Aunt Amelia.

The movie is a good example of the intolerance of society towards those who don't fit in to what the society at large considers "normal".  And it still rings somewhat true, even today.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.

Quiggy



12 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for writing up this gem of a film, with two performances that deserved more attention than they got! And thank you for joining the blogathon!

    Yours,

    Sister Celluloid

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    1. It was a very interesting foray. Thanks for reading.

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  2. I always find it fascinating when a film director revisits an earlier project. It is a particular high point for me in The Children's Hour that Miriam Hopkins, who was a heartbreaking Martha in These Three played the Aunt from Hell is this production.

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    1. Haven't seen the original. All I know about it I gleaned from wikipedia, Thanks for reading.

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  3. Great review! I really appreciated your thoughful presentation of it. I've only seen it once, but it's that kind of film you don't forget!

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    1. So far I've only seen it once, too. but I will probably watch it again sometime. Thanks for reading.

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  4. Interestingly, the play's author, Lillian Hellman, didn't think that the story was about homosexuality. She thought it was about "a lie." That's why Hellman was okay with eliminating the homosexual angle for the 1936 version. Anyhow, I thought both version were good. I would love to see a third version (the 1961 version is franker, but the original play is even franker).

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    1. Well, it was censored because of the homosexuality in the original, even if Hellman thought it was about something different. I abhor censorship in any form. But religious censorship (which I think was behind the original) is the most abhorrent. Thanks for reading.

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  5. Very progressive of them to tackle material like this during that era. Shirley Maclaine I could see being up for it, but it shows a lot of intelligence and foresight on the part of Hepburn to associate herself with this material and align with the future.

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  6. Great article on this great adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play, well played by MacLaine, Hepburn, Bainter, Hopkins and Garner. It always makes me sad, reminding me of how many gay people still commit suicide. Great writing, though, and well filmed by William Wyler.
    - Chris

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    1. It's a good movie. Wish I hadn't waited so long to watch it. Thanks for reading.

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