The Children’s Hour (1961)


“Cooking always makes me feel better… Well, I suppose I’ll have to feed the duchess, even vultures have to eat. I baked a cake. And you know what, I found a bottle of wine. We’ll have a good dinner.”

Cake makes everything better. My favorite type of cake to make is Funfetti.

Attached is a recipe on how to make Funfetti cake homemade:

LGTBQ Film Series #2:

“The Children’s Hour” (1961), directed by William Wyer, showcases one of Audrey Hepburn’s best performances in her career, and she stars alongside Shirley MacLaine and James Garner, in this heartbreaking story about how one little rumor and a lot of intolerance tear two women’s lives apart.

The films screenplay was written by John Michael Hayes, but is based on the 1934 play of the same title by Lillian Hellman. This is the second on screen adaptation of this play, as there was a 1936 film titled “These Three,” which was a more watered-down version. However, Hayes kept faithful to much of the dialogue used in it, because that screenplay was written by the playwright, Hellman, herself.

Supposedly, Hellman got the idea from her lover at the time, Dashiell Hammett, who had read about an 1810 scandal in William Roughead’s book “Bad Companions” (1930). A pupil named Jane Cumming accused her schoolmistresses, Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, of having an affair. Dame Cumming Gordon, the accuser’s influential grandmother, advised her friends to remove their daughters from boarding school and within days, the school was deserted and the two women were left without their livelihood. Pirie and Woods sued and eventually won in court (a variant from the film), but given the damage done to their reputations, their victory was hollow. One of the schoolteachers had an elderly aunt who was a former actress, so all of the characters were pulled directly from this story, except for Joe Cardin (played by James Garner). The title of the play comes from an 1860 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), also titled “The Children’s Hour”. The poem describes three daughters and their dad playing together, but the concept is the structure: the first hour belongs to the children, and the remainder to the adults.

The film begins with the two women, Martha Dobie (MacLaine) and Karen Wright (Hepburn), as they go through the day to day activities of running their private girls school. Karen is happily in love with a man, Joe Cardin, and looks forward to a future with him that includes marriage and children, though she wants to prioritize her career at the moment – a point of contention with the couple. Martha, is quick-tempered and easily jealous, but it isn’t into later in the film that she realizes her own sexuality and her buried feelings for her friend. The director, Wyer, had initially included scenes that hinted at Martha’s homosexuality, but ended up cutting them for fear of not receiving the seal of approval from Motion Picture Production Code, as any story about homosexuality was forbidden at the time.

Due to the secrecy and oppression surrounding homosexuality at the time, many viewers have wondered how the young Mary gets the idea to accuse her teachers of lesbianism, as it seems likely that she would not have known about lesbianism on her own. Hellman subtly included a potential answer to this question at the start of the play (also included in the film) when the children are passing around a forbidden book. The book is “Mademoiselle de Maupin” by Théophile Gautier, a French novel published in 1835, which centers on a woman who disguises herself as a man and has both a woman and a man fall in love with her. This could be the explanation for where the concept of lesbianism entered Mary’s mind in the first place.

Fascinatingly, despite the fact that the film ponders the incredibly serious subject of prejudice against a person for their sexual orientation, MacLaine made a point later on, of saying that nobody on set ever discussed the ramifications of the issues that are implied in the film. She said, “none of us were really aware. We might have been forerunners, but we weren’t really, because we didn’t do the picture right. We were in the mindset of not understanding what we were basically doing. These days, there would be a tremendous outcry, as well there should be. Why would Martha break down and say, ‘Oh my god, what’s wrong with me, I’m so polluted, I’ve ruined you.’ She would fight! She would fight for her budding preference. And when you look at it, to have Martha play that scene – and no one questioned it – what that meant, or what the alternatives could have been underneath the dialog, it’s mind boggling. The profundity of this subject was not in the lexicon of our rehearsal period. Audrey and I never talked about this. Isn’t that amazing. Truly amazing.” It is shocking to watch in the 21st century, and be confronted with the unapologetic disgust that people faced for their sexuality and the level of scandal something like this could have caused. It is, thankfully, somewhat difficult to imagine in this day and age – but the discrimination was as intense as a witch hunt – bent on punishing anyone who dares to be open about whom they love. It is frightening the depths that a person might go to, from their own lack of understanding.

It is a compelling and harrowing film – that is evocative in its lesson. Like the 2007 film, “Atonement,” “The Children’s Hour” illustrates the devastating power of a lie, through the ignorance and selfishness of a child. It is less of a story that represents the LGTBQ community, but works more as a portrait of the prejudice they have faced. With incredible performances on all accounts, the film will move you to tears and force you to reflect on mans ability to have compassion over fear. An excellent and undoubtedly important piece of cinema.

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