The original talking point about Wyler's film was that Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour had been shamefully bowdlerised, with the lesbian theme masked behind a plot which has the two teachers victimised because gossip says one has slept with the other's fiancé. The film tries to hint at the original theme, not very satisfactorily, by shooting certain scenes so that it remains momentarily ambiguous as to who loves who. Paradoxically, though, as Wyler's more outspoken 1962 remake The Loudest Whisper demonstrated, this expurgation proves to be the film's strength. No longer having to worry about attitudes to lesbianism, and no longer adrift in areas of special pleading, it can simply expose the social mechanism whereby (as in the McCarthy witch hunts) idle malice can wreck innocent lives. It's still a stagey piece, but its closed world of lies and hysteria suits Wyler's rat-trap style to perfection, and the performances couldn't be bettered.
Cast and crew
Marcia Mae Jones