Out of the Celluloid Closet

“The Children’s Hour” and Its Miserable Queer Messaging

I have this thing about remakes: I like to watch them back-to-back.

I’m aware that this makes me kind of a psychopath. For instance: when the new Candyman came out, I wanted to prime myself. So I did the only normal, natural thing a person could do in my position: spent the morning before the matinee watching the original 1992 Candyman so it would be fresh in my mind. This amounted to an entire day—basically five straight hours—of Candyman. But it worked the way I wanted it to: it allowed me to look at the films side-by-side, to see precisely what was kept in and what was left out, what was erased and what was supplemented.

So what did I do in the week following? The same exact thing. But this time, it was a side-by-side viewing of two William Wyler films, adapted from one story. 1936’s These Three and 1961’s The Children’s Hour.

In These Three, Martha (Miriam Hopkins) and Karen (Merle Oberon) are two young college graduates headed to an old family farm property to start a school for girls. They meet Dr. Joseph Cardin (Joel McCrea) and both women fall in love with him, though Joe himself only falls for Karen. When one of the students at the school—a totally heinous bitch named Mary Tilford, who happens to be the granddaughter of one of the small town’s wealthiest citizens—picks up on the romantic tension between the three adults, she concocts a lie to get her out of going to school there. The lie builds, of course, instantly destroying the school and the lives of the three people running it. It isn’t until the last minute that the child’s lie is revealed as a fiction, and we get a tonally dissonant happy ending that tries its best to make up for the weirdness that preceded it.

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