These Three (1936)

These Three (1936), directed by William Wyler.

Two recent graduates open a girls school in the country. One of the students is a spoiled devil-child who alleges sexual shenanigans between one of the women and the other's fiancé. How do you fight back against salacious gossip? Can the adults survive even if they are vindicated?

In Lillian Hellman's play the two women are accused of being lesbians. The Code did not allow that and the author did a rather skillful adaptation using more acceptable vices.

Even the original title was not allowed, which seems a feeble gesture in retrospect. The Code couldn't prevent people from knowing what they knew, or from reading the characters' unspoken thoughts. You get the strong impression that director Wyler and producer Samuel Goldwyn didn't mind sticking a thumb in the censor's eye and some of the scenes and glances suggest the original story, even if they couldn't follow through for the whole film.

Wyler later remade the film using its original title and concept: The Children's Hour (1961).

Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon both present the surface story as well as the unspoken crypto-plot. And in both versions one of the women must be slightly guilty as charged: in thought if not in deed. In both versions one of the three leads cannot get past the accusation.

Wyler wanted Leslie Howard instead of Joel McCrea. My first thought is yes, Howard would have been better at the pain and tragedy of the character. But McCrea was more traditionally stalwart and manly and maybe that was needed in this version.

Bonita Granville is just excellent as the vicious accuser, both despicable and pitiable, possibly mentally ill. She was nominated for an Oscar. I see her in other films from time to time, seldom in a prominent role. A couple of years after this she made four quick "Nancy Drew" films which are fun.

Photographed by Gregg Toland.

Available on DVD.