Children's Hour, The (1961)

The Children's Hour (1961), produced and directed by William Wyler.

Two women run a girls school. One is engaged to a stalwart local doctor. When a spoiled spiteful girl accuses them of being lesbians, all the parents pull out their kids and everything goes to hell.

We've had hints earlier, but in the end, one of the women makes a wrenching confession: "I never thought about it until they accused us... but in my case... it's true."

This is how you do a "message" film. No lectures, no declarations, just a kindly, compassionate look into destroyed lives. As with any honest film, there will be a conflict of expected narratives. Who do you believe: children or adults? As in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), where the racial injustice story is touched off by a false rape accusation.

Audrey Hepburn cannot be other than sensitive, with the unusual combination of beauty and depth. This was James Garner's first film after suing Warner Bros to get out of the Maverick TV series.

The revelation is Shirley MacLaine. I was never sure about her acting before, but she is intensely moving and sympathetic here.

For the children: the demon-spawn girl is a bit much at times, but children sometimes do act out. Veronica Cartwright (age 12) is very fine as one of her terrified victims.

The risk of filming a stage play is that it will be talky and stagey-looking. You can see some of that here but it is good adaptation.

Wyler made the same story earlier as These Three (1936), but the actual subject matter -- and even the title -- had to be concealed then.

Alex North score.

Available on a very nice Kino Blu-ray. 1.66 aspect ratio.