The Children’s Hour (1961)

A breakthrough in Hollywood’s depiction of sexuality, William Wyler’s second film based on Lillian Hellman’s classic play doesn’t possess the shock value it once had, but still benefits from solid performances and the director’s powerful black-and-white images. Wyler had first filmed the play as These Three in 1936, transforming the rumors of lesbianism that destroy a small-town girls school into rumors of a heterosexual dalliance—at the time, the Production Code forbade any intimation of homosexuality in Hollywood films. It still did when Wyler filmed the remake, so he had to fight to get them to pass the film, which led to a Code amendment. It probably helped that he had two bona fide stars, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, in the leads. Almost 30 years after the play’s premiere, however, the suggestion that lesbianism could destroy lives seemed a little dated. MacLaine would later say that she finds it hard to believe that no one made any positive comments when her character came out or that the character didn’t fight for her newfound identity. Miriam Hopkins, who played MacLaine’s role in the original, plays her aunt in the remake. Wyler offered Merle Oberon, originally cast in Hepburn’s role, the part of the wealthy woman who spreads the rumor, but she turned it down.

(d. William Wyler, 107m, 35mm)

In attendance: Shirley MacLaine