Friday, February 28, 2003


An adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, with the lesbianism taken out, but the commentary on the destructive power of lies remaining. Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon are friends who graduate from college and start a private school for girls. They have to deal with Hopkins' horrible aunt (Catherine Doucet) who is determined to "help" them, even though she is just the opposite of helpful, but soon with the aid of a rich town woman (Alma Kruger) and a local doctor (Joel McCrea), they get the school up and running. Kruger enrolls her granddaughter, Bonita Granville, in the school; she's a hateful little snot who has been bounced out of school before and she proves to be trouble from the word go. Oberon and McCrea fall in love, but Granville, willfully misinterpreting a late night visit from McCrea, spreads the rumor that McCrea and Hopkins are having an affair--it turns out that Hopkins does indeed have a crush on the hunky doctor. Granville uses blackmail to get her weak-willed friend, Marcia Mae Jones, to go along with her lies, which also involve claims of physical abuse. Soon all the townspeople pull their children out of the school; the women bring a slander suit against Kruger, and things get uglier before they get better. All the actors are fine, but it's Granville and Jones who shine. Both push the over-the-top envelope but never break it, resulting in energetic, full-blooded performances that help make the melodramatic plot twists seem believable. Margaret Hamilton plays Kruger's maid, who gets to vent a bit against Granville for the audience, and Walter Brennan has a small role in the beginning as a cab driver. Doucet is good at being irritating and is almost as hateful as Granville. The ending of this movie is a bit happier than the ending of the play, although there is still the sense that at least one life has been, if not destroyed, at least derailed.

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