In 1934 noted American playwright Lillian Hellman introduced her play "The Children's Hour" to audiences around the world. Over the next couple of years the play would become a substantial hit. The central theme of "The Children's Hour" is what happens when two young headmistresses are accused of having a lesbian affair by a disgruntled young student. Of course the charges are not true but that will not stop the powers that be in town to destroy everything the two young women have worked so very hard to create. In 1936, producer Samuel Goldwyn and director William Wyler would bring this powerful play to the silver screen. Since something called The Production Code (a set of motion picture industry censorship guidelines) forbade the subject of lesbianism to be broached in films, Goldwyn and Wyler decided to change the name of the film to "These Three" and substituted the charges of lesbianism between the two teachers to a heterosexual love triangle involving the two young teachers and a doctor in town who is the fiancee of one of them. As it turns out these changes did not detract from "These Three" one little bit.
"These Three" (a rather odd name for a film, don't you think?) stars Merle Oberlon and Miriam Hopkins as recently graduated young teachers who come to town with visions of creating a school in a run down old house that one of them has inherited from her grandmother. Shortly after they arrive in town the girls meet up with a local doctor named Joe Cardin (Joel McCrea) who embraces the idea of the school and vows to help them make it become a reality. In the course of renovating the property Dr. Joe and Karen Wright (Oberlon) fall head over heels for each other. Meanwhile, Martha Dobie (Hopkins) also has feelings for the dashing young medic but vows to keep her feelings to herself rather than compete for his affections with her best friend. Funding for the school was obtained by the generous donation of the town's most prominent citizen Mrs. Amelia Tilford (Alma Kruger) who promises to send her young granddaughter to the school. Bonita Granville plays young Mary Tilford who is evil incarnate. Most critics agree that it is Granville who steals the show in this film. Mary is not at all happy in this school. She is in an incorrigible brat who as Dr. Cardin observes at one point "could use a good dose of the hairbrush." It is Mary who conjures up and spreads the story about the alleged love triangle going on within the confines of the school. As one might expect the results are devastating for just about everyone involved in this unhappy incident.
Throughout the course of "These Three" my wife and I kept turning to each other and remarking just how fabulous this film is. The acting is first rate by virtually every single person in this movie including several of the children. A special hats off to Marcia Mae Jones who plays the part of schoolgirl Rosalie Wells. You will also find a very young Walter Brennan as well as Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in 'The Wizard of Oz") with bit roles in this film. My wife and I continue to be amazed at the quality of the films that were made in the 1930's and 1940's. "These Three" is just another example of what happens when great writing and fine acting come together. As I mentioned in the headline above, "These Three" certainly rivals anything that the great Alfred Hitchcock ever made. Very highly recommended!
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These Three, a 1936 film with Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea was an adaptation of the original Lillian Hellman play, The Children's Hour, in which two women running a boarding school for girls lose their careers after one of the students accuses them of lesbianism. In These Three the story was changed to fit the Production Code's standards and the theme of lesbianism was replaced with a heterosexual love triangle. Otherwise, virtually all of the play's dialogue remained intact in the film and Hellman (who had worked on the screenplay) was reportedly satisfied with the result, saying the work's central theme about gossip was unaffected. Bonita Granville and Marcia Mae Jones played the gossip-mongering children in perhaps the best roles of their careers; Granville received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
The movie was remade as The Children's Hour (1961) with the lesbian theme of the play intact. This version starred Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner, with Fay Bainter and Hopkins in supporting roles.